(RNS) — Forgiveness is an age-old practice central to the teaching of many of the world’s religions. In Islam, forgiveness suggests alignment with Allah. In Judaism, acts of atonement — or Teshuva — are expected for wrongdoing. In Christianity, forgiveness is unconditional, by loving one’s enemies as oneself.
… When it comes to the transformative power of forgiveness, scientists and faith leaders agree on its benefits for long-term mental and physical health. It is clear that the ability to forgive — to transform anger and resentment into hope and healing — can indeed be a restorative and healing act requiring faith. But forgiveness is also backed by an ever-growing body of scientific evidence, one that refines and extends our faith in new ways
… We now know that to receive the most powerful benefits of forgiveness, it requires both the head and heart. Decisional forgiveness, which accesses the cognitive centers of the brain, must be accompanied by emotional forgiveness, which involves a full range of affective consequences. In addition, over the past two decades research has delivered high-quality evidence that forgiveness improves overall health and well-being, down-regulates the body’s stress response and improves cardiovascular outcomes.
And for those whose ability to forgive may not be as automatic, scientific knowledge based on tested interventions can support the work of spiritual leaders who seek to help their communities with their forgiveness journeys. Likewise, scientific research has engaged directly with aspects of faith, demonstrating through empirical studies how belief can enhance a person’s ability to forgive.