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Lord's prayer says: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

In this sentence it seems assumed that we are capable to forgive "our debtors". I do not understand how we can choose to do such a thing and then just do it? Is it enough to wish it or must we do more that? For me, it seems rather evident that I should forgive my debtors, however I find this a very difficult task to do in several instances. What do we need to do in order to forgive? Any tips?

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    This question feels more like theology than philosophy to me, and may be better suited to a theology forum.
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 20:53
  • We need not forgive them, as long as we can write off the bad debts on our taxes. At least in the US. irs.gov/taxtopics/tc453
    – user4894
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 0:22
  • Frank: I disagree that the topic of forgiveness is disjoint from philosophy. I think it is very relevant.
    – Ola Sande
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 5:48
  • This prayer is a kind of quid pro quo: If you wish to be forgiven for your worst sins, then you must be prepared forgive others for their worst. It's not easy and there is no simple answer. Personally, I can never forgive a child molester and I don't apologize for it. But I do offer forgiveness to those who have sinned as badly as I have.
    – user64314
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 0:33

2 Answers 2

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"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." -Matthew (NRSV)

"and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us" -Luke (NRSV)

"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us" -Anglican BCP

"Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" -ELLC

So there is this equivalence drawn in translations, between sin and debts. A ledger, recording what is owed, what marks there are against us.

You should consider the biblical tradition of debt jubilees, and the prohibitions against usury. It was considered very important in the ancient world that debts not come to exceed what could be paid, and that happening was a major source of unrest. See anthropologist David Graeber's excellent short book available free online, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, on this and how money emerged from recording of debts, not from barter.

The forgiving of debts, like the recording of debts, is a formal procedure, which say a bank might undertake after a bankruptcy petition. The forgiving of a sin, requires certain criteria depending on tradition, but usually including: repentence, penance, determination not to repeat. The determination of who gets into Heaven is considered unknowable in this life, but the gate is narrow, and attaining the needed forgiveness of sins before death usually considered essential.

There is a phrase I like:

"Forgiveness doesn't mean no consequences."

A lot of research points towards forgiving others as beneficial to the forgiver. That's a part of your energy released. It is a choice for inner peace. It doesn't mean assuming a person won't commit their crime again. It doesn't mean they don't have to face mandated penalties of the community, or can avoid the response their reaction has created among their peers.

"1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

  1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow

  2. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.

  3. "He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me." Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

  4. Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

  5. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels."

-opening of The Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha

To thirst for vengeance, to harbor grudges, is allowing another to condition your mind. To forgive is a choice about how you use your mind, what thoughts you occupy it with.

There are Buddhist practices that may help:

https://jackkornfield.com/the-practice-of-forgiveness/

https://www.againstthestream.com/read/learning-forgiveness

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  • "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Our own thoughts bring on suffering.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 23:49
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... I find this a very difficult task to do in several instances. What do we need to do in order to forgive? Any tips?

The Christian tip is consistent with the Buddhist tip alluded to in CriglCragl's answer, but since Christians believe in the God who offers forgiveness through Jesus Christ, Christian believers can more easily forgive others because they have received forgiveness of their own debts toward God

This makes sense even at the human level: those who have received mercy / forgiveness for the wrongs that they ADMITTED to have done toward others will be more likely to forgive those who wrong them. Jean Valjean who in Les Misérables was forgiven by the bishop from whom he stole silverware was a forgiving person, even toward his enemy, Inspector Javert.

The sentence in the OP is part of The Lord's Prayer which is taught by Jesus to His disciples. By saying it to Our Father, we promise to "pay forward" the forgiveness that God has given toward us. In fact, forgiving others become a Christian's obligation, as Jesus also taught in the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. Christians are supposed to imitate Jesus who forgave his crucifiers from the cross, but as Christians are united with Jesus (cf John 15:1-27) and thus receive spiritual empowerment (grace), forgiving is a POSSIBLE task for Christians and even becomes a means for our purification.

Therefore, the Christian answer to your question is to understand the gospel, recognize your need of forgiveness from God, receive Jesus (and his forgiveness) into your heart, and letting the reality of being forgiven and being loved sink in. Thereafter, this enables you to pay it forward and forgive others.

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  • Works equally well for any belief system.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 23:47

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