God, how can we forgive (StF 613)

Authors & translators:
Duck, Ruth (auth)
Country or culture:
Composers & arrangers:
Olivers, Thomas (comp)
Singing the Faith: 613 (CD25 #15)
STF Number:

NOTE: This hymn has been cleared on behalf of the copyright administrator, The Pilgrim Press Permissions Department, for reproduction on local service sheets and also for projection via the Singing the Faith electronic words edition of the hymn book published by Hymns Ancient and Modern. Copyright ownership should be indicated when this hymn is reproduced.

More information

In a piece written for the United Methodist Church’s History of hymns series, Kelly Tennille Grooms comments that this text “conveys the anguish of both the need to be forgiven and the need to forgive”, and adds that Ruth “wrote these words as a prayer of lament in response to her experience through a deep personal hurt”.

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 unconditional readiness to forgive, forgive and forgive again (v.3).

Ruth draws upon a number of stories and verses in the Bible: notably (v. 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). Kelly Tennille Grooms writes: “The singer boldly states that because of God’s grace, we do not ‘play the judge.’”


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 that begins: "There’s a wideness in God’s mercy / like the wideness of the sea” (

9a495e84ef3c0b4634d145" href="/{localLink:umb://document/903d856d8e9a495e84ef3c0b4634d145}" title="There's a wideness in God's mercy (StF 416i)">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).

You can read Kelly Tennille Grooms’s comments in full on the UMC Discipleship website.

Laurence Wareing also reflected on this text in the Methodist Recorder as part of its 2015-16 Hymns and Spirituality series. 

Read more about Ruth Duck in God in all our experience - the hymns of Ruth Duck

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