Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Forgive Our Debts

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

                        Matthew 6.12

Past Imperfect

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)


kkryno said...

There are some things that are hard to forgive. How does one let go of things so hurtful?

Tim said...

Kkryno, there's no easy answer to this. However, in my own life, I've found that letting go of hurtful things begins by realizing how painful it is to hold on to them.

In fact, this blog was born from such a realization. While my parents love me dearly, they refuse to acknowledge my sexual orientation and have refrained from involving themselves directly in my life with my partner. In other words, it's always been a one-way street for me (sans Walt) with them: I travel to them; they never come to me.

As you might imagine, this hurt me deeply and the longer it persisted, the deeper the pain got. About three years ago, I couldn't bear it any longer and decided to cut them off. We didn't speak for more than a year. Everyone--my brother, my aunts and uncles, even Walt--pleaded with me to rebuild the bridge I burned, but I had decided I could no longer forgive them and overlook what I believed was such unjust, unmerciful behavior from, of all people, ministers of the Gospel.

To do so felt like a concession--like I was somehow "approving" their attitudes and actions. But I kept hearing God's Spirit say, "Forgive." Eventually, the pain became so unbearable, I decided to forgive them, just so I could let it go.

And in the process, I learned a lesson that changed my life and drove me to start "Straight-Friendly." Their acceptance of me was beyond my control; it wasn't my responsibility. But my acceptance of them WAS my responsibility. I had to love them as I wanted to be loved.

It didn't change them. But it sure changed me. I realized how much freer I was, how much more dignity I had, and how much joy I had missed by nursing injuries I couldn't prevent instead of forgiving them and moving on.

I didn't--and will never--turn my back on my folks. I love them more than I ever have. But once I learned to forgive the hurts caused by their fear and anguish, I laid their wrongs against me down, turned around, and have been moving away from them ever since. I still know they're there, but they're not HERE--and that's what matters most.

I hope this helps in some small way. Forgiveness is vital because it frees us to be who God wants us to be. I think that's why He demands we forgive others... it's not a polite suggestion He hopes we might try. It's for our good more than those whom we often find so impossible to forgive.

Be blessed and strong,

Cuboid Master said...

kkryno, this question also puzzles me. To find a satisfactory answer, I think it is important to first distinguish between forgiving and forgetting. In my case, I must forgive the perpetrator of my childhood abuse and his accomplice, but I will never forget. Not because the wound is still open (though the scar is deep), but because I must be vigilant to protect other children from my perpetrator.

I've come to the conclusion that I must love people for the sake of God, not because they are good, bad, or indifferent, only because they are His. I must follow the injunction of Christ to "love one another, for love is of God...(1 JOHN 4:7)." I don't have to like what someone did; I don't have to agree with what they believe; I don't even have to like them personally; but, yeah, I have to love them.

I think all people are governed by their perceptions. Most people -- even those whom have done hateful things -- believe they have "done the best they could." For example, in my case, Christ would clearly not sanction the sexual exploitation of children, yet the parties involved in my case truly believe they "did the best they could." Only God knows if they are correct; it is not for me to judge.

When Peter asked Jesus how many times to forgive someone who sinned against him, Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22)." I think He means we must attempt to forgive unceasingly until our forgiveness is 100% sincere. It is difficult. I pray to have my forgiveness be sincere and total, but it seems to happen in stages for me, sort of like air in a balloon escaping slowly through a pin prick.

In conclusion, kkryno, I guess we must simply pray for the ability to forgive.

You are not alone.

Tim said...

CM, thank you! Forgiveness is so essential and yet it asks so much of us... It helps that we share all we've learned with one another and encourage one another to do it as much as possible. Thanks for sharing your life's experience and what you've learned. I know we'll all draw strength from it!

Peace, Tim

kkryno said...

Thank you both for very helpful thoughts and words.