The Power of Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is a major tenet of Christianity, as well as a recurrent theme throughout the New Testament of the Bible, but even beyond redemption and salvation medical professionals are finding health benefits as well.

Christianity and forgiveness

One of the most important messages Jesus Christ preached was that of forgiveness.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

–Matthew 6:14-15

In the above verse, trespasses is translated from the original Greek paraptōmata, which according to Strong’s Greek, means: “A falling away, lapse, slip, false step, trespass, sin. From parapipto; a side-slip, i.e., an error or transgression.”

Another way to look at it is that we should pardon those who wrong, offend, insult, injure or cause some type of an offense toward us.

The meaning is that if this person comes to us and asks for our forgiveness, we are not to withhold it. But going even further, we should offer our forgiveness even if that person has not asked our pardon and even when there is no appearance of repentance. The latter is very difficult for most human beings to do, especially in matters of a grave or deadly offense. But there is great power in doing so, not only in terms of our own redemption and following God’s command but for a greater reason.

The danger of withholding forgiveness

When we withhold forgiveness we also hold on to anger and hate. Such feelings become toxic to our own spirit. We allow evil to invade our system. We allow the actions of the person who wronged us to continue to harm us, at the very least by removing some of our peace and love. But when we forgive we no longer carry the burden of those poisonous feelings.

Harvard Medical School says withholding forgiveness can be harmful to your health

Medical researchers at Harvard Medical School say that withholding forgiveness and “hanging on to those negative feelings can do great harm to your health.”

Observational studies, as well as some randomized trials, suggested that forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance abuse; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction, Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School reports.

Two sides to forgiveness

Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says there are two sides to forgiveness: Decisional and emotional.

Decisional forgiveness is defined as making a conscious choice to replace ill will with good will.

“You no longer wish bad things to happen to that individual,” Dr. VanderWeele says. “This is often quicker and easier to accomplish.”

Emotional forgiveness is defined as no longer dwelling on the wrongdoing and moving away from negative feelings associated with it.

Emotional forgiveness is much harder and takes longer, as it’s common for those feelings to return on a regular basis,” Dr. VanderWeele says. “This often happens when you think about the offender, or something triggers the memory, or you still suffer from the adverse consequences of the action.”

Seeing forgiveness through God’s eyes

The teachings in the Bible encourage us to see forgiveness through God’s eyes. In God’s view, there is no human who has not committed a sin. Every single human being that has ever lived needs to repent and be forgiven of their sins to have any chance at all of being worthy of a place in Heaven in the afterlife.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

–Romans 3:23

If God did not forgive us, we would all be guilty of sin to be punished by eternal death. But God forgives because He wants to redeem every single human being.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

– John 3:16

God only wishes that we be repentant in order to be worthy of forgiveness. To do that we must do two things: First, admit and confess our sins. Ask God to cleanse us. Second, before we can be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive others.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

–1 John 1:9

When we forgive others, we then should pray for them so that they may be healed. In like manner, we also need to pray for our own forgiveness.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

–James 5:16