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Forgiveness in History

September 10, 2011

The following paragraph, written by theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer during WWII, is very much on my mind this weekend. It is remarkable in that it allows for “something like forgiveness” even in politics and the history of nations. It come from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, and I cite it here from Don Shriver’s marvelous book An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics.

“For the church and for the individual believer there can only be a complete breach with guilt and a new beginning which is granted through the forgiveness of sin, . . .

. . .but in the historical life of nations there can always be only the gradual process of healing. . . . The only question is whether the wounds of this past guilt are in fact healed, and at this point, even within the history of the internal and external political struggle of the nations, there is something in the nature of forgiveness. . . .

It is recognized that what is past cannot be restored by any human might, and that the wheel of history cannot be turned back. Not all wounds inflicted can be healed, but what matters is that there shall be no more wounds. . . . This forgiveness-within-history can come only when the wound of guilt is healed, when violence has become jsutice, lawlessness has become order, and war has become peace.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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