Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Dimensions Underlying Sixteen Models of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Dimensions Underlying Sixteen Models of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Article excerpt

Numerous models of interpersonal forgiveness and reconciliation have proliferated, while the number of constructs common to these models and how these constructs interrelate has gone untested. Sixteen path models of forgiveness and reconciliation were examined in 180 predominantly Christian college students. Results of factor analysis suggested five underlying constructs--Hurt and Anger, Receiving God's Forgiveness, Emotional Forgiveness, Empathy, and Reconciliation. Structural equations modeling supported a model whereby people simultaneously experience Hurt and Anger while Receiving God's Forgiveness, and which then relate to Emotional Forgiveness, then Empathy, then Reconciliation. These results suggest substantial overlap among models, empirically support a distinction between Emotional Forgiveness and Reconciliation, and suggest that Receiving God's Forgiveness is an important factor for religious people beginning reconciliation.


Psychologists have given increased consideration to explaining the dynamics of forgiveness and reconciliation in the last decade (McCullough, Pargament, & Thoresen, 2000; Worthington, 1998a). Although a number of path models of forgiveness and reconciliation have been suggested to explain and aid individuals' attempts to for give, the efficacy of such models to actually promote forgiveness and reconciliation has gone untested (McCullough & Worthington, 1994; Sells & Hargrave, 1998). The first purpose of this study is to explore the underlying dimensions of sixteen models of forgiveness and reconciliation in order to determine the dimensions underlying the set of models. This will be done via common factor analysis on items created to represent the steps in each of the path models. The second purpose of the study is to empirically evaluate the relationships among the constructs when attempting to forgive or reconcile. This will be done via structural equations modeling using the obtained factors.

The Christian Basis of Forgiveness

The Christian basis of forgiveness lies in the redemptive life, death, and resurrection of Christ. As Meek and McMinn (1997) explain,

... forgiveness in the Christian Scriptures is much more than religious
ritual. It is a progression of healing where people are confronted with
the grace and mercy of God, despite their continual failure to deserve
it. They learn to proffer the same grace and mercy to others in full
awareness of their own fallibility. (p. 51)

Biblically, the Scriptures offer much in the way of a Christian ethic concerning forgiveness. When asked by Peter how many times one should forgive, Jesus responded by saying "up to seventy times seven" (Matt. 18: 22). In concluding the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus warned that, like the master in the parable, His Heavenly Father would also be unhappy if each of his disciples did not also forgive others their trespasses (Matt. 18:35). When instructing the disciples to pray, Jesus prayed by saying "Father forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). Even while being crucified, Jesus prayed that God would have mercy on the people responsible, praying "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Although much is offered Biblically in terms of an ethic concerning forgiveness, little is offered in the Bible in terms of how to actually complete the forgiveness process. Thus, the way in which people actually complete the process of forgiveness has been a matter of speculation from theorists from both the fields of psychology and theology.

Selection of Forgiveness Models

Theories about the nature of forgiveness have grown rapidly in recent years, as increasingly, theorists have posited models of forgiveness without attempts to identify overlap among models or to test competing theories about the process of forgiveness. The following criteria were used to select forgiveness models in this study: (a) the study was a published work from either the fields of psychology or theology, (b) the model must be referring explicitly to the process of forgiveness or reconciliation (or both), and (c) the model must have been available in the published research literature at the time this research began. …

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