Physicians and counselors alike attest to the damage done by failing to forgive. Some medical doctors estimate that the majority of illnesses they treat are related to emotional problems such as resentment which is a lack of forgiveness. And counselors see the roots of bitterness reflected in depression, anxiety, and destroyed relationships.
I read one report of an astonished patient who was told by his doctor: "If you don't cut out your resentments, I may have to cut out a part of your intestinal tract."
Fortunately, the man took the doctor's advice. He had been nursing a bitter grudge against a former business partner. He went to see this man, resolved their differences, and forgave him. When he returned to the doctor, his physical condition had cleared up.
Not to forgive is to be
imprisoned by the past.
That advice isn't new of course. The greatest physician who ever lived, Jesus Christ, pointed out 2,000 years ago the importance of forgiveness. When he encouraged us to "forgive seventy-seven times," he was thinking of our emotional and physical well-being as much as our spiritual. In his book, None of These Diseases, Dr. S. I. McMillen reported that a forgiving spirit could save us from "ulcerative colitis, toxic goiters, high blood pressure, and scores of other diseases" including ulcers, asthma, arthritis, neuro-dermatitis, and heart ailments—all possible effects of resentment.
Some time ago in an article in Time1 inspired by Pope John Paul's forgiveness of his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, journalist Lance Morrow wrote, "The psychological case for forgiveness is overwhelmingly persuasive. Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business.
"Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another's control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other's initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past."
But to forgive is to be free from the past.
Jesus Christ pointed out another disturbing truth about an unforgiving spirit when he said "If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”2
I believe what Christ meant was that an unforgiving spirit on my part is a sure sign that I haven't truly shown remorse to God for all my failures nor experienced fully his forgiveness.