The New Science of Forgiveness
By Everett L. Worthington Jr. (2004)
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In the past decade, there has been an increasing amount of scientific research into forgiveness. Studies show that forgiveness contributes to the health of the forgiver whether or not the forgiven individual receives the forgiveness. While research debates the appropriateness of forgiveness in all situations, evidence suggests that forgiveness can be healthy for the forgiver in the face of the most heinous crimes as well as the most mundane offensives.

Christians have long proclaimed the forgiveness of sins since the example provided by Jesus of God’s forgiveness of human sins. Sermons can make connections between God’s forgiveness to us and our forgiveness to each other as well as encourage congregants to consider those whom they might need to forgive and those to whom they might need to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

“Forgiveness has proved beneficial to a range of relationships, whether it’s a family, romantic, or professional relationship.”

-Everett L. Worthington, Jr.

What to Consider:

  • Can you think of a time when you had to forgive somebody close to you? What about a time when you had to forgive somebody who was not close to you (a stranger, somebody no longer in your life, etc.)? What were the similarities? What were the differences?
  • Is there a person in your life whom you have not forgiven? What are the reasons you have not forgiven this person? How has this decision affected you?
  • Can you think of a time when somebody forgave you? How did it make you feel? What were the long-term and short-term consequences?
  • What is the relationship between justice and forgiveness? Are they mutually exclusive? Complementary? Does one trump the other?

How to Go Deeper:

  • Examine the line on forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) in light of Jesus’ words on forgiveness that follow (Matthew 6:14-15). Make connections between this article on forgiveness and Jesus’ words on the necessity of forgiving others if we are to receive forgiveness. Set aside time for reflection and invite congregants to consider people in their lives whom they might need to offer forgiveness.
  • Read the account of the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:20-35 and emphasize the participation of the betrayer, Judas, and the other eleven disciples who all fled in fear shortly after dinner. Elaborate on the story, imagining how Jesus might have felt sharing the bread and the cup with his disciples under these circumstances. Connect this to the forgiveness article and consider how Jesus might have chosen to share this important meal with those who betrayed and abandoned him in his time of need.
  • Read Psalm 51 as a congregation. Discuss the forgiveness article with the congregation, emphasizing the role that penitence of the offender sometimes plays in offended parties offering forgiveness. Invite the congregation to contemplate those from whom they might need to ask forgiveness.
  • Briefly tell the story of Joseph, focusing on the end of the narrative when Joseph forgives his brothers (Genesis 45:1-15). Invite congregants to enter into the story of Joseph and ponder how they would have felt and reacted if they were in his shoes. Share this article on forgiveness and the healthy emotional and physical benefits associated with forgiving others. Invite congregants to follow Joseph’s example and offer forgiveness to those who have offended them. For those who struggle with forgiveness, share insights from this article on forgiving when it seems impossible or this article on the nine steps to forgiveness.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

Is Vengeance Better for Victims than Forgiveness?


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May 1st, 2017|6 Comments

What is the Science? While the benefits of forgiveness are widely supported by two decades of research, a recent study seeks to demonstrate the positive impact of forgiveness within the specific context of [...]

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What is the Science? Often the catalyst for receiving forgiveness is offering a good apology. Yet, in her article “The Three Parts of an Effective Apology,” Christine Carter suggests that all apologies are [...]

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What is the Science? After victimization, many people desire vengeance. In well-publicized atrocities, such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing or the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting, prosecutors, the public, and victims’ families [...]

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What is the Science? Forgiveness is a difficult thing. It can take a great amount of time and work to arrive at a place where we can let go of hostility and [...]

Which Contributes More to Forgiveness, Sympathy or Free Will?
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December 14th, 2016|2 Comments

What is the Science? Psychologist Michael McCullough suggests that when humans consider forgiving others they instinctively engage in one of two distinct systems for arriving at forgiveness: sympathy or free will. McCullough argues [...]

How Grudges Hurt Your Health
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September 27th, 2016|4 Comments

What is the Science? Research has long suggested that if a person carries a prolonged grievance they risk adverse health effects. Now, a new study suggests that one’s determination to hold a grudge [...]

By | 2017-07-27T21:37:51+00:00 August 10th, 2016|Forgiveness, Research|6 Comments

About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.


  1. Weabz May 15, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Forgiveness is powerful stuff! Amazing how easily we can hold onto our unforgivness and how it affects every other part of our life.

  2. AustinF May 23, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s prayer about forgiveness are always surprising to me

  3. JarrodCraw May 24, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    This is always a tough issue when it comes to injustice. People have to find a way to forgive and leave vengeance up to the Lord even when we live in a culture that deals out injustice.

  4. aidenkang May 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for this article – Didn’t know there were so many health benefits associated with forgiveness.

    • August 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Neither did I! I find that so fascinating and convicting– both to forgive more quickly in my own life and to encourage others around me to forgive

  5. aidenkang May 28, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Forgiveness usually takes time & forgiveness is contextual – Two really good points.

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