Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
I was raised with the King James Version of the Lord’s Prayer, which reads, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The space between its active tense (“forgive”) and most other translations’ past perfect (“have forgiven”) covers a lot of territory. The KJV gives off a slightly transactional aroma: You forgive me, I forgive them, everybody’s happy. But the more accurate rendition appropriates sizably different meaning. It assumes we’ve already forgiven those who wronged us as we pray forgiveness for our wrongs.
God’s love, acceptance, mercy, and grace come without condition. They’re gifts. But forgiveness is quid pro quo. We forgive others; He forgives us. This is so central to our relationship that Jesus calls it out immediately after His prayer example. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6.14-15) Asking God’s forgiveness without ridding ourselves of resentments against others is praying in the past imperfect, a tense that doesn’t exist and our Father doesn’t understand.
We practice God’s forgiveness prior to asking for it. So how does God forgive? David said, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103.12) This puzzled me because regardless where God threw our sins, east or west, they’d resurface. Circumnavigation sees to it. Then I realized David had no idea the planet was round. As he saw it, God puts our sins behind Him, makes a 180-degree turn, walks away from them, and keeps on walking straight into eternity.
Often we forgive sin in theory and spend our lives staring at it across the east-west border—or constantly crisscrossing the line to pick it up and lay it back down, pick it up again, lay it down again... God-like forgiveness requires we do an immediate 180 and head in the opposite direction. It may be impossible to forget wrongs done to us. But the sooner and farther we walk, the smaller and less significant they’ll be. “Time heals all wounds,” we’re told. In David’s paradigm, it’s distance that does it—leaving wrongs behind, not living with them.
The Pre-Prayer List
Before beginning The Lord’s Prayer, we check our pre-prayer list of hurts, grudges, abuses, insults, and every other outstanding debt we’ve yet to put behind us. We know what’s in the Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” There’s no use saying it if we haven’t already done it.
A written reminder to forgive others before asking God's forgiveness isn't such a bad idea...
(Tomorrow: Lead Us Not Into Temptation)