In Scotland there is a blasphemy law on the books. It has been around for hundreds of year. However, the last person to get brought up on blasphemy charges was a couple hundred years ago. Right now there is a debate in the larger society (and it has made its way into the government) as to whether this law should still be part of the Scottish law code. I am no expert on these things, and I have my own opinion about governmental enforcement of religious beliefs, but it is really an interesting debate in the wider culture. My supervisor, Dr. James Eglinton, was interviewed about it. (You can listen to it here. It starts at 8.46.)
In the interview, Dr. Eglinton makes a few interesting points. He notes that even if we don’t have blasphemy on the books as a law there are still blasphemy trials that occur in our culture. They may not happen over whether someone has spoken ill of the God of the Bible, but they still happen. We only need to take a quick look at Twitter and see that if we say something that people have deemed insensitive or inappropriate (no matter how long ago), we are going to get attacked (no matter from the right or the left). Beware what you say or you may get brought up on blasphemy charges.
This leads to a couple fascinating observations. First, the rules of blasphemy today are not clearly laid out. A person does not know if or when a particular comment is going to result in a charge of blasphemy against the new societal gods. Second, there is no forgiveness or atonement for one’s blasphemy. Sure a person can apologize for whatever offense they may have caused, but who knows how long that apology will last? (Just see Kevin Hart.)
The demands and penalties of these new blasphemy laws are heavy. It is hard to know what can be said and what can’t. Once you have committed the offense, you are most likely going to be branded with a scarlet letter for the rest of your life (or at least until you fade into oblivion). There is an exhausting and heavy burden that is laid on people these days. A burden that society will not lift from you nor absolve you of if you transgress.
I was thinking about all of this this week. Over Christmas dinner, I was discussing Matthew 11 with a friend. There is something amazing in that passage and it touches on these blasphemy laws (both old and new). Jesus tells us in this passage that God knows himself perfectly. He knows himself in a way that we cannot know him. However, at the same time he has chosen to reveal himself to us. He has done this in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the divine human mediator between us and God. He reveals God to us. Yet, our knowledge of God is still mixed with error.
Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 112 and 113 discusses what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain, to blaspheme. As you read through those questions and answers you realize rather quickly that for Christians our lives are literally taking on the name of the Lord, and to take his name in vain is to live a life that misrepresents God to others around us. Quite literally, the way we live can be blasphemous. To not live a blasphemous life would require perfect obedience because everything we do in some way will misrepresent God. This could be overwhelming or depressing if we left it at that. However, herein lies the difference between blasphemy as the Bible looks at it and blasphemy as our society looks at it.
In both contemporary society and the Bible blasphemy is a serious thing. The big difference, however, is that the Bible offers a way for blasphemy to be forgiven, to have your blasphemy atoned for. Matthew 11 Jesus points us to the fact that he is the divine human mediator between God and man and as the chapter closes he tells us that there is hope for all those who find themselves exhausted by the world standards, for those who eagerly need atonement for their sins. He says that in coming to him, in knowing him, in seeking to know God through him we will find rest. We will find that the yoke he places on us is easy and that his burden is light. We hear in other places that Christ came to die for our sins even while we were yet sinners, even while we were yet blasphemers.
We are all going to commit blasphemy. The big question that faces us today is, is there forgiveness for the blasphemy you commit? The powers of this world demand your blood for your blasphemy. Blasphemy against the God of the Bible demands blood as well. However, the God of the Bible provided that blood and for all those who come to Christ, they find that they are washed in his blood from every spot and stain. The God of the Bible demands perfection and he provides this perfection in his Son, and it is in coming to him that we are able to find the rest for which we long.
Cameron Clausing is the assistant pastor at Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN and a PhD candidate in systematic theology at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the Trinitarian theology of Herman Bavinck. He and his colleague, Greg Parker, have a new translation of Bavinck's book A Sacrifice of Praise coming out in 2019. He blogs at theclausings.com.