In direct opposition to the steps outlined by Frankel (1998), research by Scobie and Scobie (1998) suggests that many people instead follow what they call the “Christian Model” of forgiveness. More specifically, this model is based on the belief that people should forgive as God does—unconditionally—requiring neither compensation nor even a promise to avoid repeating the act in the future. Although it is evident that all Christians do not endorse this approach (Krause and Ingersoll-Dayton 2001; Marty 1998), there is some evidence that many do because it is a central tenet of the Christian faith (Rye et al. 2001).
Perhaps the Christian Model identified by Scobie and Scobie (1998) enhances psychological well-being because it allows the victim to let go of the hurt and resentment associated with a transgression, thereby avoiding dark ruminations that are sometimes fostered by egregious offenses. This is important because research indicates that chronic rumination (e.g., reliving a hurt again and again) may be associated with greater psychological distress (Roberts, Gilboa, and Gotlib 1998). In addition, the Christian Model may avoid problems that are likely to arise when victims seek retribution. As Murphy (1997) points out, retribution should be based on the level of suffering that a transgressor deserves to experience because of what he or she has done. But he goes on to argue that seeking to extract retribution is risky because it is often difficult to determine with any precision what a transgressor actually deserves. If the anticipated punishment is too strict, the transgressor may feel justified in abandoning all efforts at making amends and may instead engage in further hurtful acts. However, if the punishment is too lax, the victim may continue to experience feelings of resentment and may also feel more vulnerable to further offenses.
Although forgiving others unconditionally would seem appealing because it allows victims to get on with the more positive aspects of life, some investigators have expressed reservations about whether this lofty goal can actually be attained. More specifically, Krause and Ingersoll-Dayton (2001) question whether it is truly possible to forgive others through sheer acts of will alone. Instead, forgiving unconditionally may lead to what Baumeister, Exline, and Sommer (1998) call “hollow forgiveness.” This means that victims may merely say they forgive a transgressor right away, but privately continue to harbor deep resentment and anger.
As the discussion provided up to this point reveals, there are benefits as well as disadvantages associated with each way that people may go about forgiving others. Consequently, it is important to determine whether forgiving others unconditionally or requiring transgressors to perform acts of contrition best enhances feelings of well-being in late life. Although addressing this issue is important from a theoretical point of view, it also has a potentially important bearing on how to design and evaluate therapeutic programs that encourage people to forgive others.