Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Why Divine and Interpersonal Reconciliation Differ: A Conceptualization and Case Study with Implications for Clinical Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Why Divine and Interpersonal Reconciliation Differ: A Conceptualization and Case Study with Implications for Clinical Practice

Article excerpt

Psychologists and theologians tend to disagree over what it means to forgive, specifically with regard to the issue of reconciliation. Psychologists often are concerned about the danger of victims being re-injured through reconciliation and therefore emphatically separate reconciliation from forgiveness. Theologians, in contrast, seem to put more emphasis on the connection between the two, similar to the renewed relationship between God and people (Frise & McMinn, 2010). How helping professionals think about this issue has direct implications for the wellbeing of the people whom they serve. It is for this reason that we examine the issue here of why divine and interpersonal reconciliation differ.

We argued elsewhere that this might be caused by the conflation of two different kinds of forgiveness, divine and interpersonal forgiveness: God alone offers the forgiveness of sins (the forgiveness of offenses against God), which, if received in remorse and repentance, allows sinners to enjoy a restored relationship with God, but people in forgiving others attempt to emulate God's offer of unconditional forgiving love without canceling the offender's sin (Kim & Enright, 2015). In other words, the first act of offering love is unconditional in both divine and interpersonal forgiveness, but the second act of forgiveness (removal of sins) is done exclusively by God, leading to reconciliation. Our empirical study with graduate-level theological students also showed that while a majority of respondents were clear about the possibility of achieving interpersonal forgiveness without reconciliation, they were divided over the necessity of reconciliation for divine forgiveness to occur (Kim & Enright, 2014). Qualitative data from the same study also bolstered the finding above and further elucidated that the difference in opinions may be caused by the difference in nature between God and people. Common motifs are found across divine and human forgiving such as Christlike love (Cheong & DiBiasio, 2007) and God's redemptive grace for aii sinners (Shults & Sandage, 2003), but it was of clinical significance that those in the heiping professions distinguish between the two (forgiveness and reconciliation in interpersonal relationships) in order not to give the burden of reconciliation to the offended party when reconciliation cannot be achieved by one party's effort alone.

If recognizing the difference between divine and interpersonal forgiving has clinical implications, then recognizing the difference between divine and interpersonal reconciling may be as important for clinical practice. We reason that if human forgiving is clearly distinguished from divine forgiving (because the agents of forgiving differ), then it also is feasible that divine reconciliation is different from interpersonal reconciliation at least for the same reason that the agents of divine and human reconciling differ.

Therefore, in exploring the clinical importance of recognizing the difference between divine and interpersonal reconciliation, we first will reflect on the essence of person-person reconciliation-the process of restoring trust-and then show how God-to-person reconciliation differs from personto-person reconciliation by making five contrasts between the two. This first section will necessitate theological reflection on this psychological issue of reconciliation because pastoral counseling is about both psychological and theological reflections by the helper and the client. Then, we will share some findings from an interview with a pastor as a case study to show why it is important to distinguish the two kinds of reconciliation, and finally, we will conclude with some clinical implications for those in the helping professions. To our knowledge, there has not been a scholarly attempt to distinguish the different natures of divine and interpersonal reconciliation for clinical significance; therefore, we hope that this article ignites a scholarly discussion about the difference between divine and interpersonal reconciliation, which may be an important addition to the growing literature of forgiveness and reconciliation in both pastoral and clinical settings. …

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