The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t make allowance for various levels of wrongdoing, nor does it speak of justice here either. Rather, it is a direct call to forgive others and encapsulates all types of wrongdoing in the process.
In her fascinating longform essay, ‘Letting Go’, Amy Westervelt writes about the study of forgiveness in academia. And much of it aligns with what Christians have known for many centuries – that it’s good for us but that it’s incredibly hard. And in the continuation of our series on the Lord’s Prayer we come to one of the more challenging phrases in the prayer itself. After asking for forgiveness from God for our own individual debts, or sins, we now find ourselves stating to God that we are forgiving the debts of others.
There are no two ways around this. The gospel calls on us to trust in our own forgiveness through Christ on the cross. Colossians 1:13-14 remind us, “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” But in turn, the gospel calls us to action; the forgiveness of others for their wrongdoing against us.
And so “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” has to be the hardest phrase of this prayer, the hardest action to put into practice.
Who can so easily forgive those who have wronged us?
Degrees of Forgiveness
In our world, like the justice system we operate by, we recognise there are degrees of wrongdoing and therefore find justification to argue for degrees of forgiveness to give. The person who calls us names in high school does not require the ‘same level’ of forgiveness as the spouse who commits adultery, or the sexual abuser of children, or the murderer? We would say, our humanity would say, that forgiveness for one over the other is dependent on the wrongdoing against us. Forgiveness may be easy or hard to give, but we often find ourselves doing so as long as justice has been metered out correctly.