In 1505 21 year old Martin Luther walking toward village of Stotternheim when sky became overcast. Raging storm blew up and a bolt of lightning lit the sky with a flash, knocking Martin to the ground. “St Anne help me!” he cried “I will become a monk.” Martin had grown up in a medieval culture filled with talk of devils and demons and angels and heaven and hell and the great judgement day. Culture of great fear. He thought the lightning had been launched at him by God as a message, a glimpse of the terror of Judgement Day. Martin knew he needed to preserve his soul and the best way to do that was to become a monk. So off to the monastery he went to seek God’s grace and mercy. At the end of his first year he was made a priest and invited to celebrate his first mass. Martin’s family came for the occasion, the chapel was filled, the psalms were sung. Then Martin took his place behind the altar and began. But just moments in he was struck by sheer terror – here he was, in his own words, “a miserable and little pygmy…dust and ashes and full of sin” daring to speak to the living, eternal and fearsome God.
Martin got through the mass and kept going as a monk, but those experiences capture his terrible internal burdens. He got to the point where he was convinced that God was so pure and holy no-one could ever hope to be saved. All would be abandoned to the torments of hell. “More than once (I) was driven to the very abyss of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!”
And then in 1513, 8 years after that thunderstorm, 7 years after that terrible mass, Luther had a third great religious experience. He was lecturing on the book of Psalms at the University of Wittenburg, then in 1515 on Romans, then in 1516 on Galatians. It was during those studies Luther discovered a life transforming insight from the gospel – that God’s requirement for us is not perfection but faith. “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him…Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith…whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love”
Source: Reported in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther