Every now and then a scientific study is published that claims to have investigated some aspect of the religious experience.
One such recent study claimed that regular participation in a faith community increases a person’s life expectancy. Another one a few years back claimed it used a doubled blind methodology to prove that prayer increases the speed of healing from an illness or surgery and decreased hospital stays.
I never quite know what to make of these studies. I commend the researchers for their interest and find their conclusions, if nothing else, fascinating and intriguing. But do I find their conclusions convincing? Not always, and not entirely.
I am much more convinced by what I know is true because of my own personal experience. Take forgiveness as an example. What benefit is there in forgiveness?
There are some folks who claim that forgiveness affects one’s level of happiness. Is that true?
I believe so. Do I have any research to back up my claim? No, but I have personal experience that convinces me.
When I stubbornly stay angry or hold a grudge because someone has wronged me in some way, it is like drinking poison hoping that the other person will die – the only one really affected is myself.
When I release that grievance or resentment, suddenly I am free to live as I want and am no longer trapped by the past.
Forgiveness is as much for ourselves as it is for the other, which puts a whole new spin on how we understand the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “forgive us our sins and we forgive others.”
It transforms that prayer from a conditional “you’ll forgive me only if I forgive others” to a more relational “forgiveness is what this life is all about and as I am forgiven it becomes easier to forgive others.”
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith and many other faiths as well.
As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Holy Week next week and enter into their annual contemplation of the suffering, crucifixion and death of Jesus, forgiveness comes much more into focus.
What does the cross and all it represents have to say about forgiveness?
If God is a God of grace, mercy and love (which I believe to be the case), then the cross has something profound to say about the nature of God.
When we think of the cross as the necessary evil which somehow gains our forgiveness, i.e. the mechanism by which our forgiveness is accomplished, then God becomes a grumpy God, a conditional God, a God who selfishly demands satisfaction for our misdeeds.
But, if forgiveness is what God is all about, then the cross becomes the sign of just how far God will go to let us know that God loves us and already has forgiven us.
There is no scientific study to back that up, only our experience of how forgiveness frees and changes us.
And if our forgiving others has such a positive affect on us and the world around us, how much more will God’s forgiveness affect us and the rest of the world?
Forgiveness is a gift, a gift the world needs much more of, a gift that frees us to be the people God has created and intended us to be. And isn’t that what life is all about?
Rev. Brian Krushel, is Pastor/Priest/Minister for the North Thompson Pastoral Charge, Barriere and Clearwater, B.C.