God, how can we forgive
when bonds of love are torn?
Source: Singing the Faith: 613
Words: Ruth Duck
Music: “Leoni” trad Hebrew arr Thomas Olivers
This hymn lays out the struggle that many individuals and communities face “when human loving fails and every hope is gone” and sets it against a Christian understanding of God’s readiness to forgive, forgive and forgive again (v.3).
Ruth draws upon a number of stories and verses in the Bible: notably (verse 3) Jesus’ challenge to the law-keepers and religious leaders that whoever has not sinned should throw the first stone at the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 3-8).
The same verse also recalls Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18: 21-35), which Jesus tells in response to the disciple Peter’s question: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Also referenced is St Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans 8:26-34), in which the apostle speaks of Jesus (in Ruth’s words, “a priest who shares our human pain”) who “intercedes” for us, making God’s love real in our experience. And the hymn closes by borrowing a line from the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our sins as we forgive others” (see Matthew 6: 12-15).
Ruth’s description of God’s “ocean depth of grace” echoes Frederick Faber’s fine hymn, which begins: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy / like the wideness of the sea” (StF 416). Other hymns that express wonder at God’s seemingly boundless, loving forgiveness include: ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’ (StF 423) and We cannot measure how you heal (StF 655).
Also see Questions of forgiveness: Philomena.