Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 64 - “Forgive Us Our Debts”
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 64 - “Forgive Us Our Debts”

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The Lord’s Prayer includes the words, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” I don’t see this as a request or petition to God. Why should God listen to our request for forgiveness? If God were judgmental, God would simply reward the righteous and condemn the sinful, with little regard for those who petitioned for mercy. What difference should it make that a person deserving of harsh judgment requests mercy? In truth, we are all sinners, and a judgmental God would probably have good cause for rendering an unfavorable judgment on everyone. We are sinners because we are human, and fundamental to human nature is having mimetic desires that engender lusts, rivalries, resentments, and, eventually, violence. I see the above part of the Lord’s Prayer as a reminder that God forgives everyone, because God loves everything: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) Note that God lovingly sent the Son not to judge but to save the world, not just humankind.

How can the Son save the world? In general, religions envision their hero engaging in “righteous” violence, vanquishing the powerful forces of evil and permitting the weak and downtrodden to gain their rightful places of power. The problem is that the formerly weak and downtrodden quickly become the victimizing powers and principalities themselves. The only way to bring peace is through love. Love isn’t vengeful or violent; it is forgiving. By debtors, Jesus meant more than just those who were financially indebted. He also meant those who had a debt of honor. For example, if someone has humiliated us and hurt our self-esteem, we naturally feel like they “owe” us, and the only way to repay the debt is for them to apologize (i.e., humiliate themselves) or for us to exact revenge. Jesus taught that we should forgive such debts of honor, though many of us find doing so extremely difficult. The reason we find it so difficult to forgive after being offended is that forgiving someone who has hurt our self-esteem often leaves our self-esteem damaged. Of course, this presumes that our self-esteem is determined by how other people regard us.

I think that Jesus was trying to teach that avenging perceived slights and offenses is the wrong way to respond to injured self-esteem. Rather, the first step in gaining and maintaining self-esteem in a harsh and judgmental world is to recognize that our neighbors should not determine our worth. Instead, we are valuable because we are loved by the Creator, who endowed us (as well as God’s creatures, plants, etc.) with the spark of life. I think that Christianity teaches that our sense of worth and accomplishment should come from participating with God in the reconciliation of all Creation, however imperfectly we may perform this task. Therefore, “blessed are the peacemakers.” Even though we often fail, God forgives us because God loves all Creation, and true love forgives all shortcomings.

This essay has considered the situation in which we are to forgive debts of honor. What about when we have been injured, such as a crime against us or someone we love? I think some insight comes from the example of Jesus on the cross, when he said, “Forgive them, Father.” We will consider this next week.

Go on to: Part 65: “Forgive them, Father”
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