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By Sigrid Fowler
The prayer Jesus Christ gave his disciples when they said, “Teach us to pray” begins with an acknowledgment of the God being petitioned, the God Jesus taught all disciples, then and now, to address as “our Father.” The first requestseems to be something we need to hear ourselves pray—a pleathat the Kingdom of God come and that God’s will be done“on earth as it is in heaven.” Next is the request for daily foodand then comes forgiveness.
The petition “forgive us our debts” joins forgiveness with the condition, “as we forgive our debtors” or “those who trespass” or “sin against us.” This part of the prayer seems especially relevant with July 4, 2021, still fresh in memory. The freedoms we enjoy as Americans have something in common with the forgiveness we are taught to ask for. Forgiveness is a freeing act. When we forgive, we loosen the ties of animosity between ourselves and those who have wronged us. We’re no longer bound to them by bitterness,thoughts of payback, or plans to take the matter into our own hands. It’s as if, in our inner courtroom, we say to those we forgive, “You are free to go.” This frees us, as well, because in deciding to drop the hostilities, we are no longer locked into long-standing conflict. The word bitterness is defined as “anger or disappointment at being treated unfairly, resentment.”
Holding onto strife or outrage and maintaining a negative connection with someone else will surely play itself out at our expense. Who isn’t better off without all that? To break if off isn’t just to choose a greater benefit for ourselves. It’s to acknowledge that, as children of God, we ourselves have been forgiven. Imagine the pans of a scale. The weight of forgiveness Jesus brought us in his mighty work on the crossis infinitely greater than the forgiveness we are to measure out to those who have mistreated us. It’s like the difference between eternity and time! To say again, forgiveness is freeing, and in the Lord’s Prayer we, in effect, promise ourselves and God that we will live in that freedom because we have been freed—and to an infinitely greater degree. The benefits of such a choice are clear.
It has long amazed me that, as a people, we Americanshave accomplished something unusual. We’ve become friends with Germany and Japan, deadly foes we fought in World War II. They now work with us in many endeavors, they are international partners and business associates, spouses and fellow students in academic settings the world over. We share every sort of relationship at home and on the world scene. On the other hand, we know of and must deal with the effects of enmity in other quarters, hostilities persisting for centuries, even millennia. No good comes when humans cultivate and perpetuate bitterness on that level. It’s not good on any level, and the Lord Jesus has made a way for us to willingly give it up. In Christ, we are free from the sin and guilt weighingheavily on our side.
Can we question the connection between wrongs done to us and the wrongs we have done in God’s eyes—in our thoughts, words, and deeds? David says in Psalm 51, “Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” The occasion is David’s murder of Uriah, a loyal military officer, a Hittite whose wife Bathsheba David treacherously took for himself. Notice that David understands these things as a sin against God. They were sins on the human level too, of course, but it is God who names and defines sin. It is also he who forgives. Paul explains the forgiveness we have gained in Christ this way: “ Having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us, God has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2: 13-14 NIV). With the cross, the Father forgives us and credits us with the sinlessness of the Son. Inobedience and gratitude, we forgive those who have sinned against us. It is right, it is godly, and it is freeing.
YThe same God has also said, “Vengeance is mine.” OurRedeemer, who was willing to take sin on himself and provide for our forgiveness, is also our defender and protector. Injustice and wrongs against us are now in other hands, and that battle is the Lord’s.