“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
- Anne Lamott
As much as mankind has tried to hide from the truth and power of forgiveness, modern researchers continue to come back to the inescapable fact that people who learn to forgive in their hearts live better (and, on average, longer) lives: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201301/live-longer-practicing-forgiveness%3famp
Remarkably, the most incontrovertible piece of the research is that people who insist on CONDITIONAL FORGIVENESS have the worst outcomes. That is, requiring absolute apology from your enemies before you can move on is the exact wrong thing to do.
This past Easter I wrote a lengthy piece of this topic. Today somewhere around 2.3 billion people identify as connecting with a Christian tradition of some flavor (according to Pew Research). And each tradition has a different take.
The revolutionary behavior of Jesus is oft-forgotten in the modern coopting of his message by heretical prosperity preachers, fear-mongers, and Americana jingoistic revisionism. But when you drill down looking for common traits among these very different groups, you will find that most Christian groups at least tacitly recognize the directive in Matthew 5:44: “love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.” Whether they employ it is another subject - some adherents see this as their central calling; some see it as a great but unattainable sentiment.
Scholars disagree about the time that Matthew was written, placing it anywhere between 40 and 100 AD. Regardless, it was ahead of its time. It’s still ahead of its time, because people are not wired to free themselves in their hearts. I mean, we’re still having neuroscientists and psychologists study forgiveness because we don’t want it to be true. Grudges and retribution seem sensible.
And because revenge seems sensible, a lot of the Easter stories, which are all themed around forgiveness, strike us as wild. When Jesus is betrayed and his disciples are ready to fight, he tells them to stand down. He actually heals one of the conspirators. People get distracted by this passage, debating how miracles are or aren’t possible, missing the point entirely. We are given an example that we should heal even someone who is plotting our death.
Why in the world would a first century author commit this to writing? It flies in the face of all our instinctual knowledge. Yet Simon prays for his persecutors in Acts 7:60 and Paul in Romans 10:1. And the fact that any of this was preserved is remarkable, especially in the much later periods when emperors and rulers claimed to be Christians. Actively harming someone is not the example given. So you would expect leaders to have destroyed these verses.
But they didn’t. Instead they aimed to water down the passages with arguments of exception. You can see Augustine tie himself in philosophical knots when trying to square these passages with a “just war.” And it took until the 11th century for anyone (Pope Urban II) to work up the nerve to corrupt these teachings to include a “holy war.”
All of it is outrageous. But the science is in; and it doesn’t support the “just war” or “holy war” theories. The detrimental effects of hatred and grudges are incredibly well-documented:
Forgiveness is a pillar of health and fitness. Maybe THE pillar. People can do cardio until they’re blue in the face. People can diet and eat healthy. They can workout all they like. But a free heart isn’t ever carrying a heavy burden. And perhaps people can seek this not just on Easter, but throughout all the days of their lives when they are aiming to be healthier.