Opinion: A powerful invitation: Forgive one person by Easter
This is one area in which science and religion agree. Choosing to forgive others leads to health and happiness, no matter how awful the original offense.
Imagine a world in which everyone has a forgiving heart.
War, with its atrocities, would cease. People who forgive easily end conflicts quickly because they learn to see others through the lens of empathy and understanding.
Public shaming would cease, and cancel culture would be recognized as antithetical to human progress and second chances. A public slap at an awards ceremony would fade quickly with an apology, but likely wouldn’t happen in the first place. Legislative bodies would find respectful compromises to divisive issues, rather than trying to score points for political fundraising purposes.
We don’t live in such a world, of course. Offenses happen every day. Misunderstandings and deliberate cruelties shade the sunshine of human interaction — often in ways unspeakably awful.
But that makes a forgiving heart that much more important, for myriad reasons.
Among the most poignant admonitions to come from the 192nd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that ended Sunday was President Russell M. Nelson’s invitation to everyone to forgive someone by Easter.
“It can be painfully difficult to let go of anger that feels so justified,” President Nelson, recognized by church members as a prophet, said. “It can seem impossible to forgive those whose destructive actions have hurt the innocent. And yet, the Savior admonished us to ‘forgive all men.’”
President Nelson is not alone among religious leaders in emphasizing this important Christian teaching. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to it when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Christ’s love led to His ultimate sacrifice for all mankind so that they could be forgiven — a standard that has captivated the hearts and minds of true believers for millennia.
But the effects of a forgiving nature are understood outside the religious realm, as well. Science has affirmed these in recent years.
Dr. Karen Swartz of The Johns Hopkins Hospital recently discussed how chronic anger can adversely affect heart rate, blood pressure and the body’s immune system. These effects can lead to depression, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other ailments.
Forgiveness, she said, “is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.” This helps the forgiver, leading to better outcomes for heart rate, blood pressure and the other symptoms previously mentioned.
This act does not excuse bad behavior, exhibit weakness or deny justice, nor is it easy. Swartz lays out several steps to making forgiveness a part of a person’s life, including to let go of any expectations that the offending person will offer an apology in return.
In an article on psypost.org, the authors of a different study concluded: “In a time of global pandemics, divisiveness, disparity and uncertainty, perhaps the promotion of forgiveness would help support needed gains in our collective mental and social well-being.”
Of course it would. However, it takes real effort.
Given the unforgiving nature of mankind and the many ways hatred, anger and bitterness can grow in the modern world, the teachings of Jesus Christ may seem just as radical to many today as they did when he walked the earth. To some who have suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of someone else, forgiveness may seem like the last act they would think to perform.
President Nelson’s words came just as Ukrainian soldiers were finding evidence of unspeakable cruelty in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv recently reclaimed by the Ukrainian Army. Dead civilians were found in roads and in yards. Civilians were left to bury loved ones as best they could.
The New York Times described how a 76-year-old woman had struggled to cover the body of her 56-year-old daughter, who had been shot to death after going to her front gate to see what she thought were Ukrainian tanks rolling by. The aged mother used plastic sheeting and wooden boards to protect the body as best she could.
War’s brutality can inflict generations of bitterness and revenge. In some parts of the world, atrocities perpetuate retaliatory atrocities that continue in a destructive cycle through generations.
No less destructive, people in peaceful, civilized circumstances often hold grudges against family members or others for reasons that, by comparison, seem trivial. Pride and stubbornness are given room to fester and grow into resentments that canker souls and shorten lives.
The invitation seems simple enough, but it would change the world in miraculous ways. If everyone could forgive just one other person between now and Easter, it might not end all wars, but it would change the world for billions of people.
President Nelson promised “a personal peace and a burst of spiritual momentum.” That sounds exactly like something the world desperately needs.