I have a terrible memory as a young boy. I was about 8 years old. We lived in a house on a hill. We had an enormous backyard that sloped about 100 feet down to a flat area below. We had a garden down there. Beyond the garden there was another house that had an old, run down garage like shed. My friend and I had the bright idea that we would try to throw rocks from the top of our backyard all the way down to the bottom where this garage was to hit the windows. Neither of us thought that we could hit that the windows that were in it. The house looked like it was a mile away. So we took our turns throwing rocks from our backyard. Suddenly there was a crash. One of the rocks had hit the window in that garage and broken it. It was the rock I had thrown. I think I had a one millisecond feeling of, “Wow, what a great throw! I can’t believe I hit it.” This quickly turned into terror and guilt as a person from down below starting shouting up at us. It was the first time I can remember feeling, “What did I just do?” I felt guilt and felt shame. We hit our bicycles and fled the scene of the crime. Of course I got in trouble once I returned to my home (I tried to stay away as long as I could, but I had to go home at some point!).
Humans are the only ones who feel this kind of burden. Humans are the only ones who feel regret and remorse about these things. You never see on the National Geographic channel a lion moping in remorse of killing an antelope. As much as the world tries to make humans more animal like and animals more human like, this is one place where there is a great divide. Recently there was an accident at Sea World in Orlando where one of the trainers was drowned by one of the killer whales. The killer whale does not feel guilt. This is not a burden that the animal is going to carry the rest of its life. It is an animal. Only humans have these feelings of guilt and regret.
If there is no god, then how to explain these feelings that we have? What I mean by this is no one had a discussion with me about not throwing rocks at people’s houses. Yet I knew what I did was wrong. Further, no one escapes this feeling. That feeling also stays with us and we relive it years later. Even now, 26 years later, I still feel sorrow about what I did. All of us have gone through it, whether we grew up in church or not. No one escapes regret and guilt. We still do things today that bring out this guilt. You may have done something this morning you regret. You may have guilt from things you did last night. What are we supposed to do with this guilt? Why do we have these feelings of regret? What is going on?
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10; ESV)
Notice that Paul teaches that there are two kinds of grief. There is godly grief and worldly grief. What we need to do is determine what godly grief looks like and what worldly grief looks like. Paul only points out the results of these griefs. Godly grief brings repentance which leads to salvation and brings no regret. But worldly grief brings spiritual death, that is, eternal separation from God. So it is important for us to understand the differences in these two griefs.
David gives us an excellent example of what godly grief looks like in 2 Samuel 11-12. In 2 Samuel 11 we read that Israel has gone to war against the Ammonites. However, rather than going to war like most kings, David remains at his palace in Jerusalem. David is walking around on the palace roof when he looks and sees Bathsheba bathing on her roof. David asks his servant who that woman is and the servant tells him that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of your soldiers. David summons Bathsheba to come to the palace and he sleeps with her. Then Bathsheba becomes pregnant. Now David needs to cover this up. His first plan is to call Uriah back from battle so that he will go home and sleep with his wife and then everything will be covered up. But Uriah decides he cannot sleep with his wife while the ark of the covenant is in a tent in the battle and the warriors of Israel are living in tents and sleeping in the open fields during the battle. We quickly learn that Uriah is a noble and honorable man. David’s second plan is to get Uriah drunk so that he will go home and sleep with his wife. But even after David gets Uriah drunk, Uriah still does not go home. David’s third plan is to send Uriah back to the battle with a message for the commander to put Uriah on the frontline where the battle is fierce. Then pull back from him so that he gets killed. This is exactly what happens and Uriah is killed in battle. David then marries Bathsheba and believes that he has covered up his sin.
Turn to 2 Samuel 12:1-7. Nathan the prophet comes to expose David for his sin. But he does so by telling a story. The story turns out to be an allegory of what David has done to Uriah. David is angered by the story Nathan tells about a poor man whose lamb was taken by a rich man. David declares that the rich man deserves to die. Nathan turns the story on David and tells him that David is the man who had done this very thing. What I want us to focus on is the reaction of David when his sin is exposed. Notice it in 2 Samuel 12:13—
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13; ESV). In Psalm 51:4 David declared, “Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” In all of this David has sinned repeatedly. He lusted. He commits adultery. He deceives. He murders. He deceives some more. But David’s response is that he has sinned against the Lord.
Godly grief understands that sin is an offense to God. Godly grief is not sorrow for being caught. Godly grief is sorrow for sinning against the Lord. Further, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10 that godly sorrow produces repentance. Repentance is not a favorite word of ours and not a word we frequently use. When the scriptures speak of repentance, we read about it being a two part process. Repentance begins with an internal change of mind that leads to an external change of life. These are two important parts and one does not have repentance if both parts are not there. Having the internal change of mind is useless if it does not follow up with a changed life. You can change your mind all you want, but if it does not change your life and change who you are, then what is the point? There is no value in changing your mind unless it changes your life.
But repentance is not an external change of life without the internal change of mind. Too often repentance is emphasized as changing the external, failing to recognize that those external changes are only of value if they come from the internal change of heart and mind. We can see this truth illustrated in the preaching of Amos:
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21–24; ESV)
Do you see that God is saying that he does not want the external changed if it does not come from the inward change of the mind and heart? You can sing and pray all you want, but if you have not changed yourself on the inside first, you do not have repentance.
What we learn is that repentance and guilt are not the same things. Just because you feel sorrow and grief does not mean you have exhibited godly grief. Godly grief is upset at sinning against God. Because we are upset at sinning against God, we make an internal change of mind and heart which leads to an external change of life. This is what godly grief looks like. Notice what Paul says is the result of this godly grief that leads to repentance: salvation. This is what is required of us to receive the mercy and the grace of God.
So what is worldly grief? Worldly grief is being upset at being caught. Worldly grief is sorrow because you must experience the consequences for your actions. It is not a sorrow about what we have done against God. It is sorrow because we do not like the predicament we are in. We are sorrowful because we hope to lessen our punishment. We see this worldly grief all the time with public figures. The only reason Tiger Woods is sorry for what he has done is because of the consequences being born upon him. The only reason political figures like President Clinton, Senator Packwood, and Representative Mark Foley were sorry was because of the fallout they each endured for their transgressions.
Listen to this: if the only reason we are sorry for what we have done is because we were caught or because we do not like the consequences that we must experience, then our regret and guilt is going to lead to death. This sorrow is not going to bring us to God. You are going to remain separated from God in your sins.
What Will You Do With This Guilt?
There are all sorts of things that we do with our guilt and remorse. There are five ways that the world deals with this guilt and one way that God wants us to deal with our guilt.
- Learn from your mistakes and grow. The world tells us that we just need to learn from our mistakes and grow from them. But why? If there is no God, then why learn and why grow? What are we growing toward if there is no God to whom we are accountable? You see that this advice does not make sense unless there is a God that we must be accountable to for our sins.
- Turn up the noise and ignore the guilt. We simply try to avoid all that guilt. We ignore it and plunge ourselves into our work and into our schedules so that we do not think about our guilt. But each of us have experienced this: your guilt catches up with you. You can forget it for a time, but it does not go away.
- Deny the guilt and plunge further into sin. We sometimes pretend that we do not have any guilt and we just engage in more and more sins, trying not to feel guilty for what we are doing. But this just brings more and more guilt.
- Blame others. This is a popular one. Then we blame everyone else for our guilt. It is not our fault. Other people put us in the position we are in. But we know we are lying to ourselves and we are hurting the people that we are blaming.
- Dive into sin and destroy ourselves. Some people just throw everything away and destroy their bodies, destroy their minds, or destroy their lives.
Or we can let God change our lives. We can let this sorrow produce repentance in our lives. Realize that these activities are not bringing us happiness, but guilt upon guilt. Come to Jesus, where you can let that guilt go. Did you see that in Paul’s words?
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret… Come to Jesus in repentance and let him carry your guilt. End the life of regret and find forgiveness in the Lord.