When Jesus spoke on forgiveness He was very clear on one thing: if we don’t forgive those who offend us, God would not forgive us.
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15 NASV)
I sometimes wonder if we struggle to forgive ourselves for things that we have done in the past, that it is a sign of spiritual blockages caused by our unwillingness to forgive. These blockages hinder us from fully experiencing God’s forgiveness.
But an article on John Hopkins Medicine, Forgiveness: Your Health depends on It, provides one more reason to forgive. We need to do it for the sake of our physical health.
Like many of God’s commandments, such as circumcision that improves a man’s health, the need to forgive is another section in God’s user’s manual on proper operation of the human body.
According to the John Hopkins’ article, studies show that people who hold grudges and are unwilling to forgive are more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart attacks and oddly even struggle with higher cholesterol.
An unwillingness to forgive can also affect a person’s ability to sleep at night, result in increased anxiety, depression and even physical pain.
The article extensively quoted Dr. Karen Swartz who manages the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at John Hopkins Hospital.
“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Swartz. “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heat rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”
The article goes on to say that people who willingly forgive “are more satisfied with their lives and [tend] to have less depression, anxiety stress, anger and hostility.”
The Apostle Paul didn’t have a modern medical degree but with God’s insight, he basically gave the same advice:
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NASV)
Notice how Paul says we can only put away anger and bitterness, all bad for your heart, if we are willing to forgive those who offend us.
One of the indicators of unforgiveness is anger that exceeds the situation. Anger in itself is not wrong. Paul says, “be angry and sin not,” (Ephesians 4:26), but adds that we should not let the sun go down on your anger. You need to quickly forgive the offense.
But when our anger exceeds the situation it tells us that we have unresolved grudges in our life. Years ago, my wife and I were visiting with another Christian couple. I can’t even remember what we were talking about, but suddenly the husband exploded in anger.
The outburst shocked and embarrassed his wife.
I asked why he was so angry about what we had been discussing. He had no idea.
The reason he had no idea is because the discussion had poked an offense he had held deep in his heart probably for years. Jabbed, this unresolved offense roared back to life and that is what he was really angry about.