The Reason You Don’t Feel Forgiven
By Beth Demme
Every Sunday in church we join together and pray “The Lord’s Prayer.” To someone who is skeptical about church, this might seem a little cultish. I get it. Anytime a group of people says something in unison it’s tempting to assume they don’t mean it. And maybe some people don’t. But I have to say that this prayer still means a lot to me, even though I have prayed it hundreds and hundreds of times.
One of the things that might seem especially strange to the skeptic is the part of the prayer when we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It can sound like we’re asking God for a quid pro quo, tit for tat, kind of forgiveness. It might seem like we’re asking God to count how many times we have forgiven so that precise amount of forgiveness can be applied to us.
That isn’t what’s happening; this isn’t a math equation.
This line of the prayer reflects the reality when we withhold forgiveness, we don’t feel forgiven.
In forgiving us, God puts relationship above justice. That’s hard for us because we live in a retributive justice system based on punishment and repayment. God says repayment isn’t possible—everything we have is from God already. Imagine if you loaned your neighbor $20 and a week later she said, “Can I borrow $20? I need it to pay you back for last week.” If you have a great sense of humor and an especially generous spirit, you might give her the second $20, but you probably won’t feel like you have been repaid, right? So, if we did owe God a debt (a theological concept with which I struggle), we would never be able to repay it.
When it comes to forgiveness, I think we want it to be a debtor system.