The second petition in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” has two main interpretations in our churches today: 1) as I just quoted and 2)” forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There is another version of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:4: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive anyone who sins against us.” Debts, trespasses, sins—these we put before the Lord to forgive us along with our own promise to forgive anyone who has wronged us. We claim the truth about ourselves and ask for forgiveness. And what we have received from the Father, then we pass along to people who have wronged us or others.
Forgiveness is the key to our own sins, for God can forgive us; then we are to forgive others who have hurt us in any way. At the end of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, He continues:
“for if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” [v. 14-15]
For what is the point of forgiveness if we can’t pass it on. Are we to be forgiven and then withhold it from everyone else? I don’t think that will work at all if we want to live in the kingdom of God here on earth, where everyone is on a par with everyone else no matter how long they’ve lived there or what they have done in their lives.
Whatever God gives us, we are to pass on to others. If God gives us love, then we are to pass it on. If God forgives us, then we are to forgive others, no matter the injury. Look at the family members of the people killed in 2015 in Charleston, SC, A.M.E. Church who forgave Dylann Roof for what he did. How difficult that must have been for the relatives of those killed. And yet, they felt obligated to forgive him. That is a powerful testimonial of Christians who were not willing to commit a sin by not forgiving him for his outrageous sin.
One thing that the Lord’s prayer doesn’t say is that we have to forgive ourselves for the sins that we ask God to forgive us for. For how can we offer forgiveness to others for their sins, if we can’t forgive ourselves? How can we love our neighbors as ourselves as Jesus commanded us, if we can’t love ourselves? It’s impossible to hate ourselves and then pour out love to others.
If we do have God’s love and forgiveness, then we are to apply His love and forgiveness to ourselves and others. If we choose not to do that, we are standing outside of Jesus’s key instructions, outside of our prayer to Our Father; we are hanging on to any anger, resentment, and fear towards ourselves and to others. Despite our prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer we are promising to forgive others as God has forgiven us. And yet so often we don’t make any move to love or forgive ourselves or others. We could wipe the slate clean and start afresh with ourselves and others. We could give up our attachment to past hurts and challenges. We could be free to live in the present, in the presence of God, if we would just do what we have promised. How many times have we said the Lord’s Prayer in our lives? How can we not do what we have promised to do?
I know that we cannot do any of this on our own. We need God’s help with both love and forgiveness. We need His healing, His blessing, His support as we seek to rid ourselves of all of our sin. That is what the Lord’s Prayer seeks to accomplish. But we must engage God’s help to forgive others, not to just pray for it, but to actively seek to rid ourselves of any attachment to the past hurts. Our goal in life must be to accomplish this healing, so that we can enjoy the blessings of living in His kingdom here on earth.
It is always our choice to follow God’s wishes for us or not. With each bad choice we make, we pay the consequences. For every good choice we make we will be blessed. [Deut. 28] Every hurt we hang on to, every incidence of guilt or shame must be addressed, every anger and refusal to forgive, every fear that rules us must be let go. These are the things that God helps us with if we will be diligent about cleaning out all this old stuff. Then and only then can we forgive someone who has hurt us.
Forgiveness is essential in this spiritual journey in Christ. Without it, we cannot enter the narrow gate Matt. 7:13-14—we’re carrying too much baggage from the past. With forgiveness, we are free of our attachments to the negative emotions—anger and fear, we are free of the past burdens, we are free of the world and how it would hang on to our grievances. We are also free of the negative self-image that we so cling to: we no longer judge ourselves or shy away from our challenges. We are literally free. Free to love God with all of ourselves, not holding anything back because of anger or fear or guilt or shame. We are free to live just as we are, not as “perfect” people, but as whole human beings, and then to see what God has in store for us in that liberated state.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I hanging on to anger or fear and refusing to forgive someone who hurt me? Am I stuck in the past when this injury happened or have I asked God to heal all that happened to me? Is forgiveness of myself or another even possible? What would it take for me to be free of this past? Knowing God’s forgiveness, do I still cling to my anger or hate?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who have forgiven ourselves and others for any injury we caused. May we be free of the past and able to live in the present, in God’s presence.
f you’d like to receive my blog five days a week in your email, go to patsaidadams.com/by-the-waters-blog/. There is a gift waiting for you.
Check out my other website, deepeningyourfaith.com, for information about spiritual practices and more writings about the spiritual life. New posts 2x a month. 7.13.20s is entitled, “Weathering the Storm.”
An invitation to contribute to my book on the Beatitudes: If you would be willing to share some of the obstacles you have encountered in your life that have come between you and God, I would love to hear them. I’ll be writing about the Beatitudes and will identify some of the challenges we face at each step, particularly, anything that you’ve been taught to be true, but later find out doesn’t work for you, or something in your self-image that keeps you where you are instead of responding to what God may ask of you, cultural norms that get in your way—anything like that. I would only use your initials if I quote you. I am so grateful for any experiences you might contribute. You may message them to me on FB or send them to my email, email@example.com.