This passage presents a real challenge to what I’ve been thinking and saying about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Ever since reading Luke 12, I’ve been assuming such blasphemy has something to do with ignoring the intuitive, improvisational urging of the Holy Spirit, and yet here Paul is, twice ignoring very clear indications that the Holy Spirit does not want him to go to Jerusalem. If my reading of Luke 12 is right (and now I’m really not sure that it is), then Paul is guilty of the one sin that Jesus names as entirely unforgivable.
I won’t argue that I’m somehow right regardless – that wouldn’t be humble. But this passage does make me wonder – can the Holy Spirit pull us in two ways at once? Paul, here, is split between two communities. He’s been with the gentiles of Europe for quite a while now, and although he occasionally gets visitors from the believers in Jerusalem, he’s far distant from them. Yet they’re a community that matters a great deal to him. He’s not interested in founding a radical new way of following Jesus that is completely separate from the old way. He’s not interested in creating a kind of splinter group out of the Gentile Christians. He’s a bridge between these two communities, and it’s important to him that they stay together.
So the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Gentile communities, and telling them very clearly that if Paul goes to Jerusalem, they’re going to lose him. Understandably, they’re not anxious to lose the person who has been both their leader and their friend. Yet the Holy Spirit is also speaking to Paul, and telling him that if these two communities that he loves draw too far apart, they’ll be lost both to each other and to Christ. The Holy Spirit is speaking to him and his friends, and he’s listening, but that doesn’t mean he can avoid making a hard choice.
Perhaps this passage is telling us that following the promptings of the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean surrendering our free will. The spirit can make things clear and teach us many things, but it can’t decide for us. We are not mere puppets of a crafty God who is trying to complete some kind of cosmic plan. God loves us so much that God will choose our freedom over any kind of divine plan every single time. The Holy Spirit isn’t here to dictate to us, only prompt us, nudge us, show us a variety of choices. Maybe the only real blasphemy is when we choose not to listen at all, so that we can avoid having to make a hard choice.