It is hard to find two words quite as terrifying as the “as we” in the Lord’s Prayer.
This weekend we confessed the explanation to the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer:
What is the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer?
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
At the end of the 2014 movie Calvary, the protagonist of the story – a priest who is being threatened with murder, says the following:
“I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.”
In response, he is asked, “What would be your number one?” (virtue, that is)
“I think forgiveness is highly underrated.”
It is a fantastic line because of the irony. The priest believes that there is too much talk about sins, not enough about virtue, but then the chief virtue that he picks is the one that is tied directly to sins. One would almost expect him to pick some virtue that is all about doing something independently altruistic or noble, something that is somehow “above” the sins of every day life, something like “charity” or “temperance”. But the priest chooses well. He understands that without sins and sinners, there is no forgiveness. The way to stop talking about sins isn’t to do good, it is to be forgiven. It is only then that we can begin to speak of virtues. It is only then that we can seek to do good.
It is tempting to think that forgiveness would be easy if it weren’t for the sins, but that is actually not the case. Forgiveness would be impossible without sins. Forgiveness is equally impossible without sinners. God would not have told us to “love our enemies” if He did not fully expect that we would have some. This may sound like bad news, but for the Christian, it is actually good news. It is because of those enemies, because of those sinners, because of those sins, that you are able to grasp your own need for forgiveness.
So the “as we” in the Lord’s Prayer is perhaps not as much about conditional forgiveness as it is about unconditional need. We are all someone’s enemy. We have all sinned. But as we recognize the need for forgiveness in ourselves, we begin to realize its need in other people’s lives. Without even knowing everything about your life, I know this, you need forgiveness. I need forgiveness. We are all in this state of the need for forgiveness together, and that enables me to love you.
The only greater love is this: that Jesus was not in this state of a need of forgiveness. He was pure virtue. He was the only one who had not sinned against anyone. And yet He forgave us. He has no need, He has no “as I”, He only forgives unconditionally because He only is not bound to the condition of sin. That is not a reality for us yet, but it will be. When He returns, we will be free of this chief virtue. When He returns we will no longer need to forgive our neighbors as ourselves, because we will look for sins to forgive and will finally find ourselves unable to find them.