Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Negative Views of Parents and Struggles with God: An Exploration of Two Mediators

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Negative Views of Parents and Struggles with God: An Exploration of Two Mediators

Article excerpt

Could a negative view of one' mother or father be related to struggles with God? If so, what mediating variables might explain this connection? We conducted two studies to examine these questions, one with a broad-based internet sample (n = 471) and one with undergraduates (n = 236). Both studies confirmed that seeing one's mother or father as cruel was associated with two types of divine struggle: anger toward God and concern about God's anger or disapproval toward the self. A cruel God concept largely mediated the link with divine struggle in Study 1. In Study 2, a multiple mediation procedure identified two distinct mediators: not only a cruel God concept but also a sense of instability or anxiety about abandonment in one's perceived bond with God. These results complement other theoretical and empirical work that connects experiences with parents with perceptions and emotions regarding God.

Despite comforting aspects of religious belief, some people experience anger or disappointment toward God (e.g., Exline, Park, Smyth, & Carey, 2011; Hall & Edwards, 2002; Strelan, Acton, & Patrick, 2009; Wood et al., 2010) or fear of Gods anger or disapproval (e.g., Exline, Yali, & Sanderson, 2000; Hall Edwards, 2002). When trying to understand sources of these divine struggles (for reviews, see Exline, 2013; Exline & Rose, 2005, in press; Pargament, Murray-Swank, Magyar, & Ano, 2005; Murray-Swank & Murray-Swank, 2013; Pargament, 2007), one factor to consider may be views of one's parents. Conceptual and empirical work suggests that views of parents can feed into God images (e.g., Rizzuto; 1979; for reviews, see Hall & Fujikawa, 2013; Moriarty & Davis, 2012). Studies have also shown that many people perceive relational bonds with God that can parallel parental relationships (e.g., Beck & McDonald, 2004; Hall & Edwards, 2002; Rowatt & Kirkpatrick, 2002; for reviews, see Granqvist, Mikulincer, & Shaver, 2010; Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, 2008, 2013; Hall & Fujikawa, 2013; Kirkpatrick, 2005).

This article focuses specifically on whether (and how) a negative view of a parent could be related to struggles with God. This is an important question from a basic research standpoint, as it could help to identify predictors of divine struggles. From an applied standpoint, knowing about links between views of parents and divine struggles could help to identify groups at risk for struggle as well as a possible focus for intervention. Our main prediction was that a negative view of one's mother or father would predict more divine struggles, including greater anger toward God and more concern about God's anger or disapproval toward the self. We tested these predictions in two adult samples. If parent views were shown to be connected to divine struggles, we also wanted to examine several possible reasons for this connection. We proposed two potential mediators: seeing God as cruel and perceptions of an unstable, anxious bond with God.

God Concepts and Images, Perceived Relationships with God, and Divine Struggle

Several core tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition center on the nature of God: God is believed to be perfectly good, loving, and just (see, e.g., Eareckson, 1998; Grudem, 1994). In traditional Christian contexts, then, people are likely to be taught that God is loving. But this intellectual knowledge about God does not always align perfectly with people's experiential implicit ideas about God (see, e.g., Zahl & Gibson, 2012). A large literature base now exists on the topics of God concept and God image (for recent reviews, see Davis, Moriarty, & Mauch, 2013; Gibson, 2007; Hall & Fujikawa, 2013; Moriarty & Davis, 2012; Moriarty & Hoffman, 2007). In much of the recent literature, the term God concept refers to cognitive, propositional, theologically-driven, conscious, and explicit beliefs about God, whereas God image often refers to more experiential, relational, emotional, and sometimes implicit ideas about God (see, e. …

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