And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)
It’s no accident that it’s taken me nearly nine months to get back to this blog and especially this verse. Yes, a lot of hard things have happened in the last few months, and I have also started writing for a group blog which has had to take priority, but essentially I think I’ve been avoiding this verse of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.
As a child I was always losing things, leaving my school satchel on the bus (no doubt because I didn’t really want to do homework), mislaying coats and so on. My mother used to say I had a good forgettory. I think as I progress not half slowly enough into old age (I’ve got my state pension since last writing here), I’m getting that good forgettory back. Or perhaps I never lost it. At any rate, I am only too aware that I don’t have a good forgivery. (Neither did my mother, as it happens, which may well be the reason that I both find it hard to feel forgiven, and to forgive.)
Are forgiving and forgetting the same, or at least conjoined twins? I’m not sure. The Bible tells us God forgets our sins as well as forgiving them; for us in relation to others, it may be a little harder. Some things, like genocide, should never be forgotten even if as individuals we forgive them.
Not long ago a member of our church asked particularly to use the version of the prayer above, which uses ‘debts’ instead of ‘sins’ or ‘trespasses’. I think he asked partly because as a freelance film critic, he does have personal debts, so it is a category that makes more sense to him than the often abused word ‘sins’. Nowadays a ‘sin’ might just mean a sneaky cream cake when you’re on a diet, or be a word used to attract punters in London’s Soho. Debt, however, is a burden familiar to all too many in our society, especially when benefits claimants are arbitrarily sanctioned, left with no money even for food, and forced to borrow from loan sharks with interest rates running rapidly into percentages of thousands.
Debts are also closely related to ‘dues’ and ‘duties’, concepts I have been thinking about lately. If I fail to give someone a service, a gesture or a loving action that is due to them (or indeed if I take from them without ever giving back) I owe them, am indebted to them. If they let me off that debt, I may feel free in a concrete way. What do we ‘owe’ to God, to Jesus? On one level, nothing: as one rather dreadful chorus says, ‘the price is paid’ (are you like me tempted to sing ‘the price is right’?). On another, we owe God everything: our whole lives. And yet God demands nothing: whatever we give, God treats as a gift, like a good parent accepting a gift from a child even though it was bought with money the parent gave them in the first place.
If I think of God’s forgiveness in this way, might it help me to forgive others? Since my relationship with God is pure gift, both on God’s part and on mine, can my relationships with others then partake of the same character? If I think of them as owing me nothing, and of myself as owing them everything – for the debt of love is total – will I be better able to let go of grudges and resentments? It’s worth a try. I might even start forgetting.