For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Cor. 7:10
Paul wrote these words after having had to write a pretty sharp letter to the church in the greek town of Corinth. He wanted them to understand that when we are challenged to live our life more accurately reflecting Jesus– when we are called to account for those places we are not living up to our calling as followers of Christ– it is not done to produce shame. Godly grief produces repentance and leads to salvation.
Last week, Pastor Karen opened our new series on being witnesses that subvert or leverage whatever privilege we have to glorify God by using it to love our neighbor. Part of being able to do this is to move past denial and willful ignorance towards surfacing the truth around the origins of the privilege that we have. As she said, the challenge is to not get stuck in grief around those origins. Many churches end up sad and stuck, and many people when confronted with our racial history or our history of misogyny (treating women as less than) experience being shamed, which Paul here calls regret.
Our natural response to shame is to avoid blame– to say, ‘I don’t have to feel bad because it wasn’t me’. Interestingly, Paul responds to this tendency, by saying in verse 12, So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that you all’s earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.
What is Paul saying here? He is saying that the point of the grief was to stir up earnestness. It wasn’t to blame or shame or point fingers. Instead, when confronted with these truths, the Christian response is grief that leads to repentance. Repentance is not saying “sorry”. It is not an apology. Repentance is shifting our life trajectories in response to an awareness of wrongs. We don’t have to “own” the wrong to be aware of how our lives keep the wrongs going. We can repent, that is change our behavior when we become aware of its effect in the world. This sort of repentance leads to salvation, not just for ourselves, but for the world as we begin to be part of the solutions not causes. It stirs up in us an earnestness for positive action rather than shame, blame and inaction.
Let us heed Paul’s call!