Jancy was a gifted student in the college and an outgoing student. She has lot of friends in the college. Everyone sought after her to organize college functions. She was chosen as a student leader of the college. She had leadership qualities and she made use of her talents to help lot of students who faced certain problems in life. She was such a promising girl. But somehow she got involved with one Rosen, a classmate of the college and she became pregnant. She did not reveal this to her parents but went to woman’s health center for counseling and she was coercised to undergo abortion. After the abortion, a vague, relentless sense of guilt had taken root in her that fateful day. And she could not get rid of it.
Gupta was a boy of fifteen. He and his friends went to a toys’ shop. While watching the toys playing, slowly without anybody’s notice, he lifted a toy and put it in his school bag. He had stolen something just for the sheer thrill of doing so. Now decades later, this act of stealing bothered him. Though he would be willing to restitute it but it was too late. But the guilt feeling persisted in him.
Our personal stories may seem drastically different from each other, but we are all far more similar than we care to admit. We all sin; some are hidden and some are known. Other sins are thrust into the glaring life of public scrutiny and condemnation. Some are in the prison and others are released from the accusation because of lack of evidences. The truth is, each one of us is in desperate need of forgiveness. Pope Francis has said “We are all sinners, who need forgiveness”. Stella Maris College, Chennai invited Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress party on 16th April 2019. There was a question hour after his address someone from audience asked Rahul Gandhi why he hugged Sri Narendra Modi the Prime Minister of India during the Parliament session. He replied “He hates me and my family members. But I forgive him; Love is the foundation of any religion; I genuinely feel love for him”.
When King David had an affair with the wife of Uriah, a war hero in his army, he soon scrambled to cover it up. Failing in that effort, he slipped into panic mode and arranged the murder of her husband (2Sam 11). Was this conniving, adulterous, murderer who betrayed God, his army and his nation capable of being forgiven? David prays to God, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me” (Ps 51: 1-3). God’s mercy is higher than David’s sin. David said to Nathan, the prophet “I have sinned against the Lord”. Nathan said to David, “Now, Lord has put away your sin” (2Sam 12:13). This story is a timeless reminder that a repentant person can find inexhaustible mercy in the forgiveness of God. The grace and forgiveness are bigger and more powerful than any sin.
When we sin and refuse to come to Christ for forgiveness, our guilt may express itself in number of different ways. Before David repented of his terrible sins of adultery and murder, experienced physical, emotional and spiritual anguish, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long (emotional). For day and night your hand was heavy on me (spiritual) my strength was sapped in the heat of summer ( Physical) ( Ps 32: 3 – 4).
Unsolved guilt can affect us physically. It may manifest itself in illness real or imagined, headaches, stomach diseases and sometimes a feeling of exhaustion. Psychologists and counselors see the emotional effects of guilt, including depression, anger, self pity, feeling of inadequacy and a denial of responsibility. Worst of all, unresolved guilt will have a spiritual effect on us. We will sense an alienation from God, struggle with our prayer life, feeling of loneliness which would rob our joy in life.
A lack of forgiveness will impact our relationships. We will became irritable, blame others, withdraw from friends, often profuse apologies or refuse to accept compliments and be unable to relax. David’s entire life was affected by his guilt. It touched him physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. But he cried out to God, found assurance of forgiveness and was restored to wholeness. The forgiveness that God offers is comprehensive. It is complete and final. Hence St. Paul in his letter to the Romans quoting Ps 32: 1-2 says, “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them” (Rom 4: 7 – 8).
There are three verbs such as “Forgiven” “Covered” “Never count against them” are used in the text, which show the completeness of God’s mercy. The word “forgiven” means “to lift off” “to carry away”. This is what happens to our guilt when God forgives us. The word “covered” means “to obliterate”. God’s promise to Israel was “I, even I, am he who blots your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Is 43: 25). The phrase “Never count against them” means, “He will not hold our sin against us”. “There is therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
During this season of lent, let us go to the Father of mercies like a prodigal son with repentance, so that he may reinstate us as “sons and daughters”. May the words of St. John strengthen us, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur