Good for Your Health
John Telgren


I recently read about some work by Kathleen Lawler-Row, a professor of psychology who has conducted extensive research into the effects of forgiveness on the human body.

She studied the connection between forgiveness and stress. She would bring them into her laboratory, and ask them to rate their forgiveness level on a scale of one to ten. She would ask the people she was studying about times someone hurt them, betrayed them, wronged them, etc. She noted that forgiving people had a more difficult time trying to think of particular instances. When they did start talking about a time they were hurt or betrayed, she noted that their blood pressure would rise. Sometimes it would be a very significant rise, from something like a 121/83 to a 184/127. This was the same in most people whether they were forgiving or not. What happened next demonstrated the difference between those who were more forgiving and those who were not. The blood pressure of those who were forgiving quickly returned to normal, even as they were talking. However, the blood pressure of those who were not forgiving tended to stay elevated for long periods of time. Their blood pressure tended to stay elevated. It didn't matter how serious the event they were describing was. For unforgiving people, even trivial and minor hurts and betrayals triggered a big jump in blood pressure that remained elevated.

The obvious conclusion is that forgiveness is good for one's physical health. But it goes deeper than this. Most of us are aware that human beings are not merely physical beings. We are social, emotional, and spiritual beings as well. The health effects of forgiveness on our physical self is a reflection of the effect it has on our emotional and spiritual well being as well. Things such as hate, envy, resentment, jealousy, etc. hurt us physically, emotionally, and especially spiritually.

Consider the following passages:

"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions" (Mk 11:25-26).

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16).

"...God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).

"Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (Jn 3:15).

"If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (Jn 4:20).

Not having a heart of forgiveness can come between you and God. Whether it is due to pride, jealousy, or selfish ambition, it will affect your physical and well as your spiritual health. On the other hand, a heart of grace and forgiveness can bring a great blessing. Notice this passage:

"To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing" (1 Pet 3:8-9).