Forgiveness Can Be Good for Your Health
Got lingering anger, stress or high blood pressure? You may need to forgive someone (or to be forgiven yourself).
That’s the conclusion of an increasing number of social scientists. Religion has long held that forgiveness is an important component of a fruitful life. A recent Christianity Today article outlined secular research that also supports its personal and societal benefits.
Thirty years ago, Kansas psychologist Dr. Glenn Mack Harndon searched in vain to find studies on forgiveness in the academic digest Psychological Abstracts. Today there exist an International Forgiveness Institute and a ten-million-dollar “Campaign for Forgiveness Research” (Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu are among the ringleaders). The John Templeton Foundation awards grants in the field.
Benefits of forgiveness
Harndon says forgiveness “releases the offender from prolonged anger, rage and stress that have been linked to physiological problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, hypertension, cancer and other psychosomatic illnesses.”
He’s big on this theme. When I ran into him in Washington, DC, recently, he spoke enthusiastically about attending an international gathering in Jordan that saw forgiveness between traditional individual enemies like Northern Irish and Irish Republicans, Israelis and Palestinians.
University of Wisconsin psychologist Robert Enright and his colleagues discovered that “forgiveness education” may have helped college students who felt their parental love reservoirs were low to develop “improved psychological health.” Self-esteem and hope increased while anxiety decreased.
Daily life brings many sources of conflict: spouses, parents, children, employers, former employers, bullies, enemies, racial and ethnic bigots. If offense leads to resentment and resentment grows to bitterness, then anger, explosion and violence can result. If parties forgive each other, then healing, reconciliation and restoration can follow.
Animosity ran deep
I shall always remember Norton and Bo. Norton, an African-American, was bitter toward whites. Bo, who was white, called himself a “Christian” but seemed a hypocrite for his disdain for blacks. One day in an Atlanta civil rights event in the late 1960s, Bo and his buddies assaulted Norton by clobbering him with sandbags. Animosity ran deep.
Several months later, my roommate spoke with Norton about faith and knowing God personally. Norton placed his faith in Jesus and believed he was forgiven. He experienced what Paul, a first-century believer, described in the New Testament: “…Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!”
Meanwhile, Bo began to realize his hypocrisy and placed God back in the “driver’s seat” of his life. Three years after the assault, Nort and Bo unsuspectingly encountered each other at a conference on the Georgia coast. Initial tension melted into transparency and forgiveness. By week’s end they were publicly expressing their love for each other as brothers.
Earlier this year, Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel sang Germany’s praises for observing remembrance for Holocaust victims. But he urged the German parliament to go farther, to seek forgiveness for the Third Reich’s behavior. “We desperately want to have hope for the new century,” he declared. Recently German President Johannes Rau asked the Israeli Knesset for forgiveness for the Holocaust and pledged to fight anti-Semitism in Europe.
Forgiveness can be contagious. It can make an important difference in families, neighborhoods, workplaces and nations. A good relationship takes two good forgivers.
Forgiveness and you
Is there anyone in your life whom you need to forgive? Perhaps you want to forgive but you can’t muster the inner strength to do so honestly. Forgiving can be emotionally risky, especially since the one you forgive may rebuff your kindness or use it against you. Knowing that you’ve been forgiven yourself can help provide the strength and security to forgive others.
In my life, I discovered that linking with the Ultimate Forgiver gave me strength and security. The biblical God claims to offer forgiveness freely to those who ask. He loves us and wants to be in close relationship with us. But our own self-centeredness (called “sin” in the biblical view) raises barriers between us and him. One early follower of Jesus wrote, “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s … standard.” We all need forgiveness. If anyone tells you they’ve never sinned, just ask their roommate or spouse!
If left to our own ends, we would have to spend both time and eternity with this barrier between us and God: “The wages of sin is death.”
From a biblical perspective, Jesus provided the solution by dying on the cross and experiencing the equivalent of eternal separation from God in our place: “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us.” “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
Suppose you were the judge
Here’s an illustration that especially helped me to understand what it meant that Jesus died for me. Imagine that you are my parent and also a traffic judge. Suppose I’m caught for speeding and brought before you in court. You try me, find me guilty, and sentence me to pay a US $300 fine or spend 30 days in jail. Suppose I don’t have $300. As a loving parent, you might not want to send me to jail. As a just judge, you would have to send me to jail if the law demanded it. What would you do?
An alternative would be for you to pay the fine for me. As my parent, you could offer me $300 of your own. If I accepted your gift, I could use it to pay the fine and go free.
This is similar to what God did by sending Jesus to die for us. By dying in our place, he paid the penalty we owed for our sins. He returned to life again and offers us the option of accepting his free gift of pardon, being forgiven, and becoming his friend.
I asked Jesus to forgive me and become my friend my first year in university. Life has not become perfect since then, but I found a new peace, a purpose for living, inner strength for daily living, and the confidence that I was forgiven and would spend eternity with him. His offer is available to anyone.
Jesus affirmed, “I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”
He also said, “Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in….” He promises to enter your heart and life if you ask.
What about you?
Would you like to begin a relationship with God? Perhaps you’ll want to express something like this to him right now:
Jesus Christ, I need you. Thanks for dying and rising again for me. I want to accept your free gift of forgiveness. I open the door of my heart and invite you in. Please become my friend. Give me the fulfilling life you promised.
Did you just communicate something like that to God? If so, I encourage you to click the “Yes” button below. You’ll discover how to get some very useful information – similar to what has assisted me – to help you grow in your new spiritual life.