I honestly don’t care if it is debts, trespasses or just plain sins. That is how one gets off topic. The core and key in this petition is forgiveness. Period. And it backs us into a corner besides. The point of this petition is to ask for forgiveness, and then one more thing –the sting that turns the whole petition on its head.
First, we ask for forgiveness and the one thing debts, trespasses and sins does is when taken as a whole they cover the bases. Forgive us from all we owe, from the wrong we have done to God and our neighbors, and from the sins of commission and omission. This is a Sunday morning confession. Forgive us for doing the things we should not have done and for not doing the things we should have done. That is fairly straightforward; but then comes the sting:
Forgive us… AS we forgive others…
Most don’t consider the implications here. Even those who try to forgive others do not do so rightly. Most don’t even understand what forgiveness is. The short course:
1. As far as the East is from the West, so far will your sins be removed… There is a North pole and a South pole. The distance between those two can be measured. There is no East pole or West pole. That is a circle which goes on forever. You can always go further East from wherever you stand.
We have drawn a line from the poles: the Prime Meridian (and the Ante-Meridian) and it helps us track time, but it is an artificial construct. You may say the poles are artificial constructs as well, but there are some magnetic/Van Allen belt/ climate reasons for the designations which are entirely reasonable and natural. The Earth wobbles a bit North and South to provide us with seasons. But it doesn’t wobble East to West, it turns, and it has turned continually since the Earth began.
So as far as the East is from the West, so far will our sins be removed. As Buzz Lightyear might say, “To infinity and beyond.” But that has to do with the penalty – the consequence of sin. That has to do with being held responsible for words and actions. For those in Christ, Jesus took that responsibility. Friends, believe the good news, in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
Because of this, some people believe real forgiveness means we are supposed to forget about it. Wrong. I know very little that could be further from the truth. You must consider this also:
2. God asks throughout the Scriptures things like “Why do my people continue to sin?” or “Is there no sin too wicked for these people?” And on and on. You see, God not only remembers our sins in one sense, he tracks them. After all, how can God cleanse us from sin if he has forgotten what those sins are? I mean, really. Think about it.
You see, it is not and has never been God’s intention in Jesus simply to say “forget about it.” Rather, God intends to cleanse us, transform us, change us so we are no longer sinners. He intends to heal us of our sins, flaws, faults, shortcomings and brokenness. This is real forgiveness.
But for us, can we heal another? Can we judge when repentance is real? Can we recognize the genuine change in another person? No. Of course we cannot. At best we can try to forgive in the first sense. We can try not to harbor any secret ill feelings or bad or revengeful thoughts toward the other person. But we best be very careful about forgiving in the second sense. Better to say, “I won’t hold it against you, but I am not going to forget and put myself back into the same situation and be abused again.” (Or some variation on that theme).
So here we can glimpse the truth: that it is impossible for us to forgive in the way we hope and pray that God will forgive us. So why then did Jesus teach us to say “Forgive us as we forgive others?” I believe it was for us to come to recognize our helpless condition and in time turn the request on its head. “Lord, guide us, teach us, makes us, transform us to where we can forgive even as you forgive.” This is the fourth petition.