In an article by Dr. Guy A. Petit titled "Forgiveness and Health," he makes some fascinating conclusions: "Unforgiveness can have profound effects on the way your body functions. Physically, the body responds as it does to stress. Muscles tighten, causing imbalances or pain in your neck, back and limbs. Blood flow to the joint surface is decreased, making it more difficult for the blood to remove wastes from the tissues and (reducing) the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cell. Normal processes of repair and recovery from injury or arthritis are impaired. Headaches are probable. Chronic pain may be worsened. Blood flow to the heart is constricted. Digestion is impaired. Breathing is restricted. The immune system functions less well, increasing vulnerability to infections and perhaps malignancy."
Forgiveness, on the other hand, has been proven in research at Stanford University to reduce levels of anxiety and depression and has been linked to fewer mental problems.
The notion that an unwillingness to forgive can damage us physically has gotten a boost from new research from the University of Wisconsin. Their research found that the less people forgive, the more diseases they had. They also reported more medical symptoms.
"We've been surprised at how strong forgiveness can be as a healing agent for people," says Robert Enright, professor of educational physiology at the university. "You can actually change a person's well-being by helping them to forgive."
Obviously, the concept of forgiveness was taught by Jesus 2,000 years ago. But it seems that only now we are discovering that forgiveness isn't just a spiritual or emotional issue.
A misconception we have about forgiveness creates an obstacle to extending forgiveness. The misconception is that most believe that forgiveness is an emotion. However, forgiveness begins as a choice.
When forgiveness needs to be extended, we may not always "feel" it. When we choose to forgive, it begins with declaration. Declaration is very important to the road to total forgiveness. The Bible states in Proverbs that death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Forgiveness is more of a process. This understanding has given rise to research, training and clinics at some universities. As a matter of fact, what we find when we deal with the issues of extending forgiveness is that it is actually a lot of work.
Researchers have also found that motive plays an important role in determining the actual health benefits to an individual. If you forgive just to enjoy the benefit, you short-circuit the process. According to Michael McCullough's research, he found that empathy, the ability to develop understanding for the offender's situation, serves as a key motivation for genuine forgiveness.
In conclusion, we find that the age-old teachings of the Holy Scripture once again ring true at a depth we never thought possible. If we harbor unforgiveness, the door may be open to mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual diseases. We must follow the principles of the Word of God if we want to live life whole and abundant.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV).
A good resource for help in working through forgiveness issues is R.T. Kendall's book, "Total Forgiveness," which can be found at any Christian bookstore.
(Editor's note: This column appeared in a previous edition.)
Marshall Raney is the pastor of the Lynch Church of God. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com