The ‘Our Father’ as scriptural core of Christianity

Our Father

Who art in Heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

In earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us,

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil. Amen.

My sense is that many repeat this prayer without thinking about what it means.

This prayer is probably the most important in Christianity.

‘Our Father

The whole prayer can be reduced to this line. The key word here is ‘Father’, which is the key metaphor Jesus uses to understand God. God is like a loving, wise Father. This leads to the central part of Christianity – a trusting relationship with God. Without this conception, much of the rest of the prayer doesn’t make sense.

‘who art in Heaven

Taken at its most basic, this is a disambiguator. We are talking of a spiritual Father, not a biological one.

Hallowed be thy name’

This doesn’t just mean that the name of God is holy, but that it shall be made so. This applies at both the individual and societal level. Hallowed means holy (which is to say, harmoniously good), and in this context means ‘recognized as such’. Recognition enables action, ultimately on an individual level (the concept is an anchor, which enables us to act).

‘Thy Kingdom come’

Key here is the nature of the Kingdom. The Kingdom will not appear in signs with ‘lo, there it is’, but rather it is ‘in the midst of you’. Which is to say, this is a Kingdom which develops out of people’s mental habits and actions. The Kingdom is the development of a good (harmonious, loving, just) society. Which leads to the next section.

‘Thy will be done’

One of the most basic practices in Christianity is ‘discernment’, i.e., figuring out what God’s will is in a particular situation. This is the way that the Kingdom comes about (us doing God’s will, where God = the Good).

In earth as it is in Heaven’

The point here is that we ought to do good things to make earth more like Heaven, i.e., to bring earth (the universe) into goodness. The point is not to wait around until one dies to ‘go to’ Heaven, but to do things here and now so as to make earth more like Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread’

This has connections to ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened unto you’. The point is that we ask. The term ‘bread’ can be misleading, as it is a richly adorned concept in the Gospels. It does not mean ‘bread’, or even ‘food’, but rather that which nourishes us (body and spirit). Nourishment is tied to growth or learning, and in particular theosis, or growing to be more like God. Daily nourishment has as its main objective spiritual growth, which in turn is one of the main objectives of Christian practice.

‘and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’

The story of the prodigal son is apt here. God will forgive you your trespasses (alternatively translated as ‘debts’). This relates to the concept of ‘sin’, which in its essence means things which separate us from God (the good). The prodigal son becomes separated from his father (literally), but as soon as he chooses to return home his father ‘runs out to meet him’, celebrates, and forgives him.

In turn, we ought to forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness – in particular, letting go of negative emotions towards other – helps us. Not letting go of negative emotions gets in the way of us connecting to God. Holding on to negative emotions first and foremost negatively affects the one holding on to the emotions, as they stew in negative emotions.

‘and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’

Evil = sin = that which obstructs our connection to God (= the good). A connection to God isn’t theoretical, it is a lived connection. Almost routinely, there are ‘temptations’, typically in the form of short-term thinking combined with wishful thinking, harsh words for loved ones, and so on. We ought to be on the look-out, in a sense, for these, and use our connection to the good to call their bluff, so to speak.

It is important to remember this isn’t so much a set of doctrines as a practice (‘How am I to pray?’) – a mnemonic for remembering and then focusing on key aspects of how one is living day-to-day and thinking it through, so as to change one’s habitual actions.

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