Have you ever been in debt? Like big, looming, debt that makes you feel suffocated and trapped? I have. And I think of that experience every time I read this word of the Our Father.
Many versions of the Bible use the word debts instead of trespasses here, and when I pray the Our Father I sometimes substitute that word. For one thing, it helps me avoid falling into rote recitation to use a different term than I’m used to. But the biggest reason is that I have a visceral reaction to the word debt.
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I started a business. It involved taking on some debt, as starting a business often does, and we were confident that we’d quickly pay it off. But then a perfect storm of events came together to throw everything off course, and our debt started piling up faster than we could pay it off. Eventually it all worked out, but for a couple of years there things were really tough, and I knew the sinking feeling of walking around under the weight of debt.
So when I pray this word in the Our Father, it strikes me just what a bold statement Jesus allows us to make here. Forgive us our debts. Really? We can be so bold as to just ask for this? Imagine calling up someone whom you owed a large amount of money and asking him to forget about it. It would be humbling, maybe even terrifying. Your fingers would shake as you dialed the phone. Your heart would race as you considered that you were about to ask for something utterly undeserved. Our debt to God is deeper and infinitely larger than any sum of money, and yet this is exactly what we do each time we pray the Our Father!
I’m spiritually immature enough that I have a stronger gut reaction to concrete concepts like money than to spiritual concepts like sin, so, even though it’s not a perfect analogy, remembering the roller coaster of emotions that came with being in debt helps me wrap my mind around this part of the Our Father. Reliving that burdened, heavy feeling that came with owing a lot of money helps me feel the consequences of my sins. And then I recall how it felt when the last of the debt was finally gone, that overwhelming relief and explosive joy that was like being a prisoner set free from a dungeon. It’s a cliche, but it really felt like the first day of the rest of my life.
It’s stunning to consider that God offers this same thing to us every day, for a debt incomprehensibly larger. Only, unlike financial debt, there’s no interest, no forms to fill out, no checks to write. There’s only one condition to this gift, and it’s incredibly simple: that we be willing to do the same for those who are in debt to us. As long as we are willing to do that one thing, the freedom and exhilaration of having all our debts forgiven is available to us at any time, and all we have to do is ask.
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