Disappointment with God and Well-Being: The Mediating Influence of Relationship Quality and Dispositional Forgiveness
Strelan, Peter, Acton, Collin, Patrick, Kent, Counseling and Values
This study examined the extent to which disappointment with God influenced the psychological and spiritual well-being of 160 churchgoers, and the potential mediating influences of relationship quality (spiritual maturity and relationship commitment) and dispositional forgiveness, Disappointment with God was positively related to depression and stress and negatively related to spiritual well-being, dispositional forgiveness, spiritual maturity, and relationship commitment. The latter 3 were negatively related to depression and stress and positively associated with spiritual well-being. The results suggest an explanation for why religious individuals disappointed with God tend to experience reduced well-being outcomes, Counseling implications are discussed.
Psychological research on forgiveness has expanded substantially in the past 15 years. The psychological and health benefits of forgiveness are now well established (Strelan & Covic, 2006), and interventions designed to promote forgiveness have been successfully developed (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Wade & Worthington, 2005). Many personality characteristics and correlates of forgiveness (Berry, Worthington, O'Connor, Parrott, & Wade, 2005) and its social-cognitive predictors (McCullough & Hoyt, 2002) have been identified. The focus of forgiveness, meanwhile, has been enlarged beyond intimate others to include the self (Strelan, 2007); strangers in the justice system (Worthington, 2000); coworkers in organizational settings (Aquino, Tripp, & Bies, 2001); religious, cultural, and political groups (e.g., Allan & Allan, 2000); and even situations (Thompson et al., 2005). Curiously, especially given forgiveness's theological roots and religious connotations, there is a paucity of research on forgiveness of God. (This study was conducted with Christians, and therefore we refer to the deity as God.) Only one previous empirical study (Exline, Yali, & Lobel, 1999) has addressed forgiveness of God, albeit measuring aspects of forgiveness (e.g., God, self, others) with single items.
The lack of research on forgiveness of God is surprising considering that religion continues to be a major force in society, directly and indirectly influencing the lives of billions of people around the world. For many adherents, their religious beliefs involve far more than outward rituals and actions. Many people believe that God plays a central role in their lives, as real as one's relationship with a family member. Just as in any human relationship, when tragic, unfair, or deeply disappointing events occur to an individual and these events cannot be easily explained or the person has little control over them, people may attribute those events to God (Pargament, 1997). Furthermore, although many Christians may be reluctant to singularly hold God responsible for all of the calamities that occur in the world, they may, from time to time, experience a degree of dissonance and distress, believing that God was more than capable of intervening but for some reason failed to do so. Anger at God may not be limited to those who profess a religious belief. Agnostics and atheists may also choose to blame God for natural disasters, the state of the world, and personal tragedies.
What happens when an individual's relationship with God is fractured? More specifically, what happens when a person feels unable or unwilling to forgive God for disappointing or hurtful events they consider to be attributable to God? A large literature base indicates that in human relationships, hurt and disappointment resulting from a transgression can translate into a state of unforgiveness (Worthington, 2001); this in turn has been related to decreased psychological and physical well-being, including reduced hope and self-esteem and increased anger, bitterness, depression, dysfunction, distress, physiological stress, and coronary heart disease (see Strelan & Covic, 2006, for a review). …