For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10
As Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, he distinguishes between two types of grief – or sorrow depending upon what translation you are enjoying – godly and worldly. Each is a different experience of the spiritual life.
Worldly grief is the sorrow produced by not getting what we want. It is experiencing the failure of our attempt to create wholeness apart from God. Worldly grief is a product of a false self deprived of a needed source of value and thus we have our shame uncovered.
Godly grief is quite the opposite. It is grief of the soul, for having created the false self and believed the lies that draw our attention away from God’s truth. Godly grief is an acknowledgement of our brokenness and our inability to produce wholeness apart from God.
There is a lot to this contrast of worldly grief versus godly grief that Paul brings forth. Here are a few implications for our spiritual lives in Christ.
Worldly grief looks outward while godly grief looks inward.
Worldly grief from comparison (see What Comparison Does) used to gain a sense of significance. In the standards of the world, my answers to the identity questions “what do I do?”, “what do I have?”, and “what do people think of me?” must be better than your answers. So, whatever foundation my identity is based on (appearance, wealth, relationship, etc.), I must continually look outward to know my place.
Godly grief is a product of examining our own self (see Afraid to Examine Ourselves). In our weakness we are thrust into the arms of Jesus. Accepting His truth about who we are and what we are created to be. Our sense of significance – our identity – is found in Christ.
Worldly grief regrets while godly grief repents.
As worldly grief looks backward, it longs for missed opportunities and second chances. Hindsight is 20/20, or so the saying goes, and the false self sees missed opportunities as missed chances for increased security, control, and acceptance.
Godly grief looks forward to restoration. Jesus is not a standard of behavior to be imitated, but a picture of our restored image, of what God intended for us. As we look to Jesus, the one compelled by godly grief surrenders to the Author of Life. Because our identity is gifted to us and is unchanging in Christ, repenting from our sins does not detract from our value.
Worldly grief resents while godly grief forgives.
Because another’s success means the false self has further to climb, worldly grief is one of resentment. It covets and quarrels, wanting more to maintain significance.
Because brokenness is a universal human reality, godly grief is able to forgive. Even more, godly grief is able to receive forgiveness. Understanding that it was never God’s intent that we maintain our own righteousness, but come under His covering.
This latter point is particularly tricky because the old lies and comfortable protective strategies do fight against us.
Finally, worldly grief produces death while godly grief produces freedom.
Death is produced by striving. Continuing to try harder and harder to seek the wholeness apart from God that the world promises. It is desolate, lonely, and longing to rest. Ultimately, an identity outside of Christ produces a life that God does not know.
Godly grief results in freedom from the standards of the world. Identity – sense of self, source of significance and value – secure in Christ.
Truth sets you free by overcoming the lies that bind. Choosing to trust.
What other contrasts between worldly and godly grief do you experience?