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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Forgiveness: Impossible practice

Forgiveness is the practice that knit this diverse community together. When the disciples pressed Jesus to teach them how to pray, he responded with the Lord’s Prayer. This brief prayer sketches the bare essentials of the Christian life. Just as humans need food, clothing and shelter for survival, Christians need food, protection and forgiveness for the journey. Jesus signals a simple but powerful truth: Forgiveness is the bread of human community. Without it we starve.

Illustration by Randy Beumer.Without forgiveness, the disciples risk killing themselves and others in a cycle of unending violence. Without forgiveness, disciples would travel alone, alienated from others by slights and petty grievances, violence and cruelty. A single petition charts a practice of reconciliation for all: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

These aren’t easy words to speak, and daily repetition doesn’t make them any easier. Forgiveness is an unnatural act when every impulse strains to retaliate. It’s an impossible practice, literally beyond human capacity. The good news is that this impossible practice is also a divine gift.

Yet the ability to forgive and be forgiven doesn’t happen overnight. Indeed, it’s a miracle of grace that forgiveness happens at all. Forgiveness is divine drama in three acts: repenting, remembering and reconciling.


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