Scientific Findings on Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It sounds so noble and so right and yet, why do we struggle so much to do it? Half the time, we may not even realize that we aren’t forgiving someone. I, like others, struggle to forgive. I want to, and as a Christian, I know forgiveness and grace are the essence of Jesus; yet, I cannot always do it easily. In an article in Psychology Today, “Triumph of the Heart,” by Megan Feldman Bettencourt, I found some insights and very interesting research. The article recounts the way that the author was changed by a meeting with the father of a shooting victim. Azim, the father, had found a way to embrace the freedom of forgiveness, even though his son was senselessly murdered while delivering a pizza for his job. He found that finding compassion for the shooter and the shooter’s family, along with meditation on positive aspects of forgiveness, provided immense amounts of healing. As Bettencourt further invested the research on forgiveness, she found some surprising outcomes. Apparently, back in the 1980’s some Christian psychologists were interested in seeing if the research on forgiveness in scientific studies would support the encouragements in the Bible to forgive others. They found that they did in huge ways! Research proved that forgiveness helps alleviate problems with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things. In addition, a study published in 2009 by Enright found that meditation and compassion with a desire to forgive actually helped increase blood flow to the heart in those who had coronary disease! Another study even found that if burn victims needing skin grafts made an effort to release resentment and hostility, their skin graft would take and heal! If they did not, the graft was unsuccessful. I find that incredibly amazing!

I am constantly intrigued by the way that the things we know to be good for us spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, are often good for us physically as well. I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to be the best that I can be in all areas, and that means even letting go of anger and resentment. Some of the tools I found helpful in this article were these: 1) make a choice to forgive 2) make an effort to understand the perpetrator and find compassion and 3) use mediation as a vehicle to implement forgiveness. Meditation could mean focusing on Scripture or positive, true statements about forgiveness and healing from release. It could also meaning praying for the perpetrator or their families as their families could be hurting as well, along with ultimately wishing them well, not harm. Hurt people hurt people, and chances are, the one who hurt and offended is likely hurt and offended as well. Forgiveness does not mean condoning or even re-entering a troubled relationship. Boundaries are still in order. I realize healing takes time and implementing these things may not happen right away, especially depending on the size of the offense, but with a desire to let go and a little faith in God to help, mountains can be moved. Now, I need to take my own advice!

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