DIVINE MERCY vs. “GUILT”


“…And forgive us our debts/trespasses (τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν, долги наша), as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass against us…” (Mt 6: 12, The Lord’s Prayer)

The expression used in the original Greek of Mt 6: 12, “ὀφειλήματα” (from “ὀφείλω,” meaning “to owe, having to pay or account for”) means “debts.” So the Slavonic translation of the Our Father (долги наша), as well as the German one (unsere Schuld), have it right. I point this out because I think the term, “debts,” is key to understanding the human experience called “guilt.” It is the feeling that I “owe” someone or something; that I have not sufficiently “paid up.” Hence “guilt” means me carrying around with me an invisible, gaping hole of insufficiency.

Guilt is irrational, in the sense that we don’t “will” it to come upon us by some conscious thought-process. It can be justified, as the voice of God in me. But it can also be entirely unjustified and misplaced, coming from a voice or voices that are not God’s. I can feel guilt for not completing that doctoral degree that I never needed in the first place, or for leaving an abusive relationship that I never needed in the first place, and stuff like that. These false feelings of guilt are damaging, particularly because they distract me from the ones that truly need my attention.

In any event, only God and His divine mercy can fill the gaping hole in me, which is “guilt.” When I am praying to Him to let go of my “debts,” I am also handing over to Him that judgment-call, as to what, indeed, is a true “debt,” and what is not. I connect with His grace and mercy, by speaking with Him, and thus let His light be shed on my judgment of the "wrong" and "right" in my life. His grace helps to nudge me in the right direction, so that I can direct my attention to my true debts, and discern what they are. “For Thine is the kingdom,” I say to my one-and-only King and Judge today, “and the power and the glory.” Amen!

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