Dear members and friends of our ELS:
There is silence in the courtroom. The judge has invited the victim to address the accused, who has now been found guilty. The assembly waits with interest to hear what will be said. Will emotional outbursts be heard because of the hurt endured? Surprisingly, when the victim speaks directly to the perpetrator, the anticipated deep-seated resentment toward the shackled, guilty, and yet now remorseful defendant is lacking. In place of the expected righteous anger, a spirit of mercy is shown. Even forgiveness is announced, calling on the name of God to grant this to the very person who caused the indescribable harm. It is a touching moment.
What Christian is not moved by such a pardoning and magnanimous spirit? At the center of the Christian faith is the reality of what is most needed by every person in this world—forgiveness. The need is, above all else, the forgiveness that comes from God. But it includes forgiveness expressed by fellow sinners toward one another. The apostle Paul describes the pardoning spirit this way: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
A quick overview of Scripture reminds us how forgiveness is God’s main business for His perfectly created, but now fallen world. We think of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son; the account of Zacchaeus; the repentant woman caught in adultery, who heard the pardon of the Savior; the healing of the paralytic where it was first things first—“Your sins are forgiven.” Paul’s powerful sermon at Pisidian Antioch is summed up this way: “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38, emphasis added).
God wants every person to sorrow over his or her sin so that God Himself may apply directly to the individual the forgiveness that He already has won for all people through the work of His Son (1 John 2:2). This is God’s foremost aim, as He has His Holy Spirit make that application of forgiveness to our sin-damaged hearts through use of His Word and the Sacraments. We are eternally grateful that this is God’s chief message to us throughout our lives! Luther exclaimed: “I am completely steeped in, and saturated with, the article of the forgiveness of sins. I am dealing with it constantly, day and night; and all my thoughts are of Jesus Christ, my only Savior, who has atoned and paid for all my sins” (TR 6, 6827).
If forgiveness is God’s chief business for the world, the church also has this as its highest endeavor. A tombstone out East is adorned only by a single-word inscription: “FORGIVEN.” It’s a comprehensive summary of a lifetime. What more needs to be said?
So, if God—our Creator—can and does forgive each of us our own sins, should we not gladly be moved to carry on the same “business of forgiveness” toward our fellow spiritual beggars all around us?
May God help us do so.
Rev. John A. Moldstad, ELS President