Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.Matthew goes on to follow up the use of the words "debts" with the caution, "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."
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors
Who are we in debt to?
We are not in debt to God - the spirit, a higher power, some unnamed "other", whatever we want to call it. We do not owe God some extortionate amount that we could never pay off. He has not paid off this debt by sending his son/Himself to die on our behalf. To say we are in debt to God is to make a mockery of the word "gift" and its association with God. God's gift is not a bribe. God does not invest in us, he gives unconditionally without expecting anything back. His love is not dependant on being loved in return.
We cannot sin against God. Nothing we do can shock or upset him. He knows us through and through. "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God." Jesus says at Luke 12:6, 7. "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." His words echo those of the psalmist who said, "He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust."
This means that God understands us. He knows exactly what has made us who we are, and because he understands us he forgives us, for forgiveness is a happy by-product of understanding. This is why Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven." Everyone's sins are forgiven. He could even say to the Pharisees, "The kingdom of God is within you". In the parable of the prodigal son, the father is not interested in his son's apologies. He ignores his son's rehearsed words of repentance because he is too eager to celebrate the boy's return. He saw him a long way off. He had compassion for him. Forgiveness was a given, unspoken and absolute, because the father understood right from the start. Any attempt to interpret it differently merely identifies us with the disgruntled older son.
We are not in debt to others. Sins against others are not able to put us under any useful sort of obligation. There may be a ritual, or process, by which one makes amends if they wrong someone else, but any of these can be performed without the wrongdoer being deeply touched within. There is nothing we can do about the emotional damage done to a victim. They still have to find some way to recover from our act of wrongdoing.
So, if our debt is neither to God, nor to others, who is it to? Sin is the debt we owe to ourselves.
The authentic, and the inauthentic self
There are two of you: 1. Who you really are, and 2. Who you think you need to be in order to survive this life. Sin - our debt - is the deficit between these two. How did this deficit come about? From the moment you were born (perhaps even prior to that) certain events and experiences in your life meant that the real you was diminished in some way, and the counterfeit you was reinforced. Events, and your view of those events, caused you to find a way to deal with life, and the method you learnt came at a cost to the real you. In order to survive you might have learnt to dominate over others; seek greater power; trust in money; get violently angry, or be passive aggressive; hide yourself away and dare not come out; bury yourself in your work, and things like these. Perhaps you expend yourself in doing good for others. Paul even had an expression for this: "Satan transforms himself into an angel of light." It means doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
(By the way, Satan is not some nefarious spirit creature. He is the internal dialogue personified. Satan the Devil means "hinderer" and "slanderer", and it is what our inauthentic self constantly does to our authentic self. Just make a serious effort to stop and listen to your inner voices. Hear the way you talk to yourself. Predominantly we are in opposition to ourselves, we lie to ourselves.)
If any of us commits adultery, or leads a promiscuous lifestyle, or struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, or whatever else, we are not committing a sin, or piling up sins - we are simply living under the great weight of debt - surviving life in the only way we know how. Another Greek word for "sin" (and its Hebrew counterpart) conveys this discrepancy.
The commonest [Greek word for sin] is hamartia. This was originally a shooting word and means a missing of the target. To fail to hit the target was hamartia. Therefore, sin is the failure to be what we might have been and could have been.Clearing the debt
William Barclay - The Gospel of Matthew Vol 1
So, how do you redress the balance? How do you take back from the inauthentic self and let the authentic self live? The answer lies in being able to understand yourself. The way you do this is by returning to key events in your life and see them for what they really were. Go back as early as possible, and face each situation, as difficult as this might be. Zero in on your experiences of shame, guilt, loss, and rejection. Events where you were made to feel shame and guilt, or where these emotions were a consequence of some event. Sometimes just knowing the cause of certain feelings can be enough to spring the lock. For others you might need to seriously challenge your preconceptions, question the sources of your prejudices, and strenuously dig down into why you think the way you do about certain things.
It may come as a surprise to know that what you are doing here is referred to as repentance. It does not mean begging for forgiveness, or necessarily being sorry for something. In its simplest and most comforting way it means changing your mind about the past.
If we do not go through this process, our debt remains. It may be because of pride, or fear. It may be because we do not realise, or we do not believe, or we think it is unnecessary. Whatever the case, it means we remain in debt. We continue to live as our inauthentic self; a fleshly man rather than a spiritual man. We are choosing to remain under the tiresome weight of debt.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Jesus was not talking about accepting him as the Christ. "Take my yoke" is a plea to listen to the advice he is offering, the solution he is suggesting. He did it and found that the load was considerably lighter. You can share in the same experience. You will be able to breath easy.
Jesus' caution about forgiveness found at Matthew 6:14, 15 (quoted earlier) can be understood in the same way as a certain observation he made about love, on the occasion of his being invited to dinner with Simon the Pharisee. Jesus had his feet attended to by a recognised "sinner", much to the disgust of his host. It didn't go unnoticed, and the conversation went like this:
"Simon, I have something to tell you."And then he concludes with this plain and powerful statement:
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
"Two men owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
"I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."It is not the size of the debt, it is recognising that the debt exists. For all of us, the real self is buried under a mountain of debt. It is not a contradiction to say this. The debt was incurred at the expense of the authentic self. It did not come out of a surplus. The real you had the life sucked out of it so that the unreal could live. A mountain was created by digging a hole. So while the authentic self is buried under a mountain, the inauthentic is stuck in a hole. If we are blind to it, our debt remains, because when you're in a hole, you can't see clearly. "What? Are we blind too?" the Pharisees spluttered. "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin;" Jesus said, "but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains."
Acknowledging the debt is like climbing out of the hole. It is half the battle. "Oh, I see the hole, and I see the mountain. Now what?" Now you've got to move the mountain. "It'll kill me to move that." Damn right it will. You have to kill the inauthentic self so that the authentic self can experience a resurrection.
I'll tell you something else. That mountain you move is the same mountain Jesus was talking about when he said, "You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hidden when situated on the top of a mountain." You don't just move the mountain, you climb it and let your light shine unhindered. "I conquered you, you son of a-" That is why the enlightened aren't afraid to make a fool of themselves, or to face the consequences of their victory.
So, to return to our earlier point, when we acknowledge the mountain of debt, and do all we can to move it, we free ourselves to love abundantly, and to forgive without exception.
In the Bible your two selves - the inauthentic and the authentic - are variously defined as the division between the soul and the spirit (Hebrews 4:12), or the flesh and the spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). The spirit is identified with God, so that the ultimate aim is to reconnect with God - or whatever this "spirit" is. The man Jesus had done enough to be able to exclaim, "I and the father are one." How the mechanics of this works is beyond me. I reckon Jesus didn't have much of a clue, either. All he knew was that following through on his own advice had led to him becoming "gentle and humble in heart".
What matters are results. Getting out of debt takes hard work and effort. But if the end result means a life free from anxiety in which we experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, surely it is worth the effort. You owe it to yourself.
* A contributor to the Bitcoin Forum makes the point that German also uses the same word for "sin" and "debt" - Schuld/Schulden.