That unforgiveness has effect on our health cannot be disputed. It stresses the person who has been offended and the person who committed the offense. Sometimes, the latter does not even know she is causing somebody grief. Forgiveness has many definitions, both psychological and pastoral. I like the following definition:
"Forgiveness is further described in the psychological literature as: a powerful therapeutic intervention and as an intellectual exercise in which the patient makes a decision to forgive (Fitzgibbons, 1986); a voluntary act and a decision and choice about how one deals with the past (Hope, 1987); a letting-go of a record of wrongs and a need for vengeance and releasing associated negative feelings such as bitterness and resentment (DiBlasio, 1992); the accomplishment of mastery over a wound and the process through which an injured person first fights off, then embraces, then conquers a situation that nearly destroyed him (Flanigan, 1992); both intrapsychic and interpersonal (Benson, 1992); and giving up one's right to hurt back (Pingleton, 1989)."
In our day to day interaction with our neighbors, family members and in our work place, we are bound to offend some of them, either intentionally or unintentionally. On the other hand we may be offended or injured by the people we love or by strangers. In any of these situations when we are offended, to be able to carry on with our lives, we need to forgive and move on. The following pastoral definition is appealing:
Hubaut in his work Is Human Forgiveness Possible? Patton describes human forgiveness as:
not doing something but discovering something - that I am
I am able to forgive when I discover that I am in no position
to forgive. Although the experience of God's forgiveness
may involve confession of, and the sense of being forgiven for,
specific sins, at its heart it is the recognition of my reception
into the community of sinners - those affirmed by God as
his children. (p.16)."
People who have gone through atrocities like the Holocaust, the Rwandan strife, South African Apartheid Regime and the Darfoor atrocities, may find it difficult to forgive without reconciliation. For a group of people to be subjected to these kinds of atrocities, with the whole world watching, wringing its hands, helpless and impotent, a group healing must occur. This should involve confession from the perpetrators of the atrocities. This public display of discussion and repentance like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, has the effect of deterring others from repeating the same mistakes. Reconciliation with penalty assigned to the perpetrators can bring closure to the suffering of countless people.
For most of us, we should know we are human. We will hurt people and people will hurt us. Acknowledging our mistakes and apologizing when we hurt others will give us peace of mind and make us healthy.