As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what earnestness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 2 Corinthians 7:9 - 11 (ESV)
I think we would all agree that we all experience grief. The question is, do we handle it well? Do we handle it in a way that is godly? Sometimes not. Our handling of grief usually appears worldly in one of four ways:
Sorry ... for getting caught
Yes you are sorry for the grief that was a result of your actions or inactions. The problem is your aren't sorry for causing the grief, just the fact that the grief happened. In essence, you are sorry that you got caught. In your own pride you thought for sure it would work to your favor. Now that it hasn't you are saying the word sorry, but don't mean it in the way you want people to take it. What you are truly sorry about is the fact it didn't work out to your advantage and now you're caught. That kind of pride and arrogance doesn't lead to repentance but to death according to the above verse (10).
Equating emotion with repentance
Equally as worldly, is the thought that a highly emotional response equals repentance. Just because you feel really bad, and maybe even work up some tears, doesn't mean you are truly repentant. You are feeling the guilt and shame for sure, but repentance means turning away from sin and back to God. Tears do not equal change.
Trying harder to be more careful
Grief is worldly when we get the thought in our heads that if we only try harder we can somehow avoid grief. A slightly different thought is that we have the power within ourselves to be more careful. We aren't being honest with our weaknesses when we think we don't need God. Even our best efforts are still tainted with sin. To think that it's our effort that brings about true, lasting change is just plain arrogant.
A final way we handle grief in a worldly way is to shift the blame off ourselves and onto someone else ... anyone else. The reason this is worldly is because we're not being honest about own sinfulness. It's also not taking responsibility for our actions. We have too high of an opinion of ourselves when we respond to grief by blaming others. It's our own pride that tells us our grief can't, at the very least, be partially our own fault.
We respond to grief in a worldly way when it's all about us. How we feel. How we've been wronged. How it's not fair to us. How our sin isn't our fault. This kind of grief leads only one place, to death. Sin isn't being dealt with when we handle grief in worldly ways.
Handling grief in a godly way requires personal and deep repentance. It's that simple. The next post in this series will dig into what that looks like.