Have you ever been hurt by someone, and they appear to be sorry – but then their offence is soon repeated? How do we respond to this in a Christian way?
Sometimes we peddle a simplistic answer. They were sorry – so we must forgive them. Forgiveness is almost a Christian obligation because after all, Jesus has forgiven us.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, after having been wronged by many in the Corinthian church. It’s a fascinating encounter. He begins with “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.” (2 C7:2) What about Jesus’ command to look at your own log first? Apparently, on some occasions, reconciliation does not have to begin with an admission of co-responsibility and co-guilt.
Paul writes difficult things that cause “hurt” and “sorrow” – but he does “not regret it” (v8). Apparently, on some topics, it’s appropriate to name up sin for what it is. We do not always have to be accepting, understated, and withholding judgement.
Why was Paul so harsh? Whatever had happened (we can only speculate) the Corinthians initially felt “worldly sorrow” (v10). Worldly sorrow involves feeling remorse and regret for what you have done, and the consequences it has caused. But it is not enough! For “worldly sorrow brings death.” (v10)
By contrast, “Godly sorrow brings repentance” (v10). “Godly sorrow … produce[s]… earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves… what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” (v11)
That is to say, godly sorrow brings more than feeling sorry for what I have done. Instead, it focuses on turning your life around, rebuilding your reputation as one who can be trusted, restoring relationships, and seeking justice – even at your own expense.
I do not know the particulars of whatever conflicts you may be experiencing. I write this conscious of the risk that as humans, we are prone to thinking better of ourselves than we ought. But I am also mindful that sometimes as Christians we reduce sorrow to a sad feeling, and we call people to forgive in ways that do not reflect the breadth of scripture.
Let us all aim for godly sorrow.
If you have a challenging pastoral scenario, please feel free to talk to David R, Jamie, Linda (pastoral care), or Julie (safe ministry).
Rev David Rietveld