During the September 29 service Masayo Kagita gave an inspiring witness of her journey to Christianity. During her speech she said repeatly and with joy, “I am forgiven!”
It is not surprising that Masyo mentions this, since forgiveness is central to Christian belief. And since it is Reformation season, I will also mention that the concept of forgiveness is a core part of Martin Luther’s Turmerlebnis (Tower Room Experience). Martin Luther was tormented by the feeling that he could never be good enough, always committing some offense or another, and therefore deserving of God’s wrath. It was in the tower room of the Wittemburg Cloisters while studying Romans that he came to the realization that God’s grace is not earned. Our sins are forgiven because Jesus Christ has already paid the balance. No longer did his deeds need to be weighed on a scale and found wanting. This epiphany was the spark that motivated Luther to further acts resulting in the Reformation. One can imagine the great weight that was lifted and the energy that was released from Luther’s psyche once he was confident that by God’s grace his sins were undeniably forgiven.
Fast forward from 16th to 21st century. Now we know that forgiveness is not only essential from a theological point of view, but necessary for human well-being. Unresolved guilt over time can erode relationships, hamper creativity, and productivity. It can even make it difficult to experience joy. Carrying guilt literally makes us feel heavier and prevents us from functioning as we should.
(see Guy Winch, Ph.D., “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Guilt,” psychologytoday.com/us/blog, Nov. 9, 2014).
Pastor Longan used to say, “The Bible is about us”. We need God’s forgiveness for our own good and we also need to forgive others in order to have relationships, societies, even nations. And likewise, scripture instructs us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We need to be forgiven and to forgive in order to survive.
Sin and guilt breaks us, but when we seek and accept God’s forgiveness we are renewed. The pieces are put back together again and we are whole.
When Masayo proclaimed, “I AM FORGIVEN!” she was witnessing to her own Turmerlebnis. And so it is for all Christians. “Now God declares us ‘not guilty’ of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.” (The Living Bible, Romans 3:24) We can make a new start with joy and lightness of spirit because the burden of guilt has been lifted. Our chains are broken, and we are free to be the church that God has intended us to be. By His grace may it be so.