Will we be punished for our unforgiving hearts, our anger, and our resentment? Or are we punished by them? My answer - both. Those of us who have Christian parents or other spiritual teachers may have already learned that we will eventually be punished for our anger and unforgiving heart (or the hurts and evil actions as a result of them) when we face judgment. However, many of us do not realize that we are also punished by our anger and resentment.
Rick Warren explained this insightfully: "Resentment always hurt you more than it does the person you resent. While your offender has probably forgotten the offense and gone on with life, you continue to stew in your pain, perpetuating the past. Listen: Those who have hurt you in the past cannot continue to hurt you now unless you hold on to the pain through resentment. Your past is past! Nothing will change it. You are only hurting yourself with your bitterness. For your own sake, learn from it, and let it go. The Bible says, 'To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.'" (Warren, 2002)
Warren quoted this passage from Job 5:2. The New International Version (NIV) of this passage states: "Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple." When our resentful and unforgiving hearts take control, don't we feel like it's killing us inside? It really is foolish to let the resentment eat us up inside.
Dr. Wayne Dyer provided a good metaphor on this topic (Dyer, 2001). When a person is bitten by a poisonous snake, the person does not die from the bite. Instead, the person dies from the venom that flows in his bloodstream after the bite. In the same way, when someone does something that hurts us, his action isn't the most harmful. What is most harmful to us is the resentment that flows within us after the action has been done (just like how the venom flowing in the bloodstream is what kills the person). However, we have a choice to get rid of the resentment and prevent it from flowing within us.
There are plenty of scientific evidence that support this biblical advice of having a forgiving heart and getting rid of our resentment. Such resentment and anger are negative emotions. There are a growing number of scientific studies showing that such negative emotions cause illnesses and aggravate existing illnesses. Such studies have been done by researchers like Dr. Margaret Kemeny (Kemeny, 2003) among others (Koh, 2005 and Enkelmann, 2005.) Medical doctors and medical school teachers such as Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Herbert Benson also have given lectures that are consistent with what I am stating here. Science is showing that God's advice in the Bible has a practical purpose to do us good.
So how do we obtain and maintain a forgiving heart? How do we eliminate our anger and resentment, or how do we prevent such negative emotions from taking over us? To do so, we need to ask God for help in prayer. The seemingly impossible goal of having a forgiving heart is possible when we have God's help. It is possible when we are connected to God by prayer. The healthy practice of taking out uninterrupted quiet time will also help. Another method to obtain a forgiving heart is daily reading of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). From these books, we read about the heart of Jesus who was the most forgiving human being in history. When we read about Him, we are reminded of how our hearts should be.
A third method to obtain and maintain a forgiving heart is by listening to loving and positive music such as Christian music. It is very important to stay away from music of violence, hate, immorality, and negativity. The same also goes for video games and movies. There are too many movies of the hero taking revenge, when in reality the real heroes deserving respect are those who do not take revenge. Whatever wrong is done to you cannot be undone by revenge and resentment anyway. Instead, resentment and revenge always cause more problems.
Let's look at the example of Jesus and the forgiving heart he had when he lived on earth. When he was being tortured and about to be killed, he prayed the following: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34 (NIV)
Jesus is such a great example of having a forgiving heart. He asked God to forgive strangers who were torturing and killing him by the worst possible method during that era under Roman rule. Yet we think that it's such a hard task to forgive even our loved ones! It really is nothing compared to how much Jesus forgave.
Our family and friends love us the most, but they can hurt us the most. I think most people can agree with this. So how do we get ourselves to forgive our family, our relatives, and our friends when they hurt us? It is much easier to forgive our loved ones if we change our perspective. We have to see past their outer action and words. Instead we should focus on their inner intent and inner concern for us. We have to focus on their inner love and see past their external behavioral mistakes and imperfect actions that aggravate us or hurt us. When we look deep inside their hearts, we will see that they only want what's best for us. We will see that beyond their imperfect actions or words, they have real love and concern for us. We should also remember times when we said things or did things that frustrated or hurt our loved ones, and we sought their forgiveness. When we remember those times when we do the hurting, it's easier for us to forgive. We also should know that there are times when we hurt our loved ones, and we don't even realize it. In those instances, wouldn't we want them to see past our faults and forgive us? Remember this and it will be easier to refrain from anger and resentment toward our loved ones when they do us wrong.
Personally, I sometimes remember experiences in the past when strangers, former employers, neighbors, and others intentionally attacked me because they had no concern or love for me. They attacked me for their own little benefits. Generally I try to keep such memories out of my thoughts, but frankly it is sometimes difficult to keep them out of my mind. So I use these memories to make it easy for me to forgive my loved ones who care deeply about me. I also make an effort to remember all the instances when my loved ones did good things for me. Doing so makes it easy for me to forgive them. We should all make an effort to remember all the instances when our loved ones do good things for us.
Again, we need to look beyond the imperfect external actions, words, and behavior of people. We need to look past these and look deep inside them to see their inner love. I know people who fail to do this and they are very unhappy. Peace Pilgrim once said, "Stop being a surface liver who stays right in the froth of the surface." (Peace Pilgrim, 1991) We must look beyond the surface!
Understanding the importance of forgiveness in establishing and maintaining a connection with God may make it easier for us to forgive everybody. Having a forgiving heart is extremely important in our connection with God. The Bible states the following: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." Mark 11:25(NIV)
One of the most common complaints I hear is, "Why doesn't God help me? Why hasn't he heard my prayers?" The biggest reason I see in many cases is that we have a weak connection to God, if any. There are numerous reasons for this, one of which is having an unforgiving heart. When we have an unforgiving heart, we can't connect to God. When we don't have the connection to God, we complain that God isn't listening to our prayers and we conclude that he is powerless. It's like a man concluding that the internet doesn't exist because he refuses to get a computer and refuses to sign up with an ISP (Internet Service Provider).
One of Jesus' parables in the book of Matthew demonstrates how we really are when we fail to forgive in comparison to how much God our master forgives us:
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23-35 (NIV)
To fully understand this parable, we must realize that we are just like that unmerciful servant, and God is the merciful master. If we are honest with ourselves, we would see that we all are that unmerciful servant with our natural vengeful minds and our desire to seek "justice" for ourselves. We must realize this and make an effort to no longer be this unmerciful servant. Yes, it takes effort, but it's worth the effort. Our connection to God will become better after making the effort. Our immediate lives will become better and it will keep us from hell in the long run.
In summary, we must all strive to have a forgiving heart. If we don't, we are only hurting ourselves with our resentment and anger. We are also destroying our health and our connection with God. We are punished for our anger and resentment, but we are also punished by our anger and resentment. We should keep resentment, or the "venom", out of our systems by forgiving. So how do we forgive? To do this, we should pray to God for help and look to Jesus as our example by reading the Gospels and books of similar nature. We should have uninterrupted quiet time daily. We must connect to God. We should listen to positive music such as Christian music and stay away from negative music. We should stay away from movies of violence, hero's vengeance, killings, and immorality.
1. Rick Warren, The purpose driven life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 28.
2. Wayne Dyer, 10 secret for success and inner peace (Carlsbad, California: Hay House, 2001), 115.
3. Kemeny, ME. (2003). An interdisciplinary research model to investigate psychosocial cofactors in disease: Application to HIV-1 pathogenesis. Brain Behavior and Immunity, 17, S62-72.
4. Koh, KB (2005). The relation between anger expression, depression, and somatic symptoms in depressive disorders and somatoform disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 66(4), 485-491.
5. Enkelmann, HC, et. al.(2005). The relationship of hostility, negative affect and ethnicity to cardiovascular responses: an ambulatory study in Singapore. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 56(2), 185-197.
6. Peace Pilgrim, Peace Pilgrim: her life and work in her own words (Santa Fe, NM: Ocean Tree Books, 1991)
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