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What Is Godly Sorrow?

 May 4, 2021

We all experience sorrow and suffering in life. Many are suffering now because of losses brought on by COVID19—losses of loved ones, livelihood, way of life. Paul, in Second Corinthians 7:10-13, speaks of worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow. But what makes one sorrow Godly and the other worldly? How do you tell them apart? What is Godly sorrow?

Tears and Sorrow

We recognize there are different types of tears. There are tears of joy at an unexpected kindness or tears of relief when we hear our loved one is going to be okay. There are tears of remorse when we realize we did something that harmed another. Tears of sorrow when we lose a loved person, position or possession.

While some sorrow is expressed through tears, not all sorrows are. Some sorrows are expressed through anger, violence or withdrawal.

God’s Tears

There are also God’s tears, tears that seemingly arise out of nowhere while in prayer. Tears that tap into God’s great compassion for our world and the suffering in this world. Tears that are God’s grief.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty spoke of such tears in her book, Poustinia. She spoke of turning to God in prayer, feeling perfectly content, only to have such tears arise out of nowhere. When this happened, she realized it was God’s tears and allowed them to flow.

Types of Sorrow

Just as there are different types of tears, there are different forms of sorrow. The sorrow we experience at the loss of a possession will differ based on what the possession meant to us. The sorrow over the loss of a locket that was a present from a deceased spouse will be greater than the loss of some random piece of jewelry that you bought for yourself. We may feel sorrow over the loss of lives in some far away country but it will be much less than the loss of a close friend or relationship.

Worldly sorrow leads us to look inward. When grieving it is natural to look inward, to retreat in order to find healing. But if we remain there, focusing only on ourselves, it will remain worldly, leading to death. The losses in our life, in that they lead us to God, are godly sorrows.

Then there’s the sorrow we feel when we realize we have hurt another or acted in a way that was unkind and divisive. We can accept this as transformative suffering, repent and turn to God, or we can focus on how we have been wronged, refusing to admit our own failings.

Another way to see worldly sorrow is expressed by Paul Tripp, “Worldly sorrow is only sorry that you were caught, or that you failed to live up to your own standards and potential, or that you are experiencing the consequences of your sin. Worldly sorrow is self-centered, while godly sorrow focuses on how God was offended and how others were hurt. Godly sorrow especially sees that God’s love (not just his commands) has been treated lightly. Worldly sorrow produces tears of self-pity, but godly sorrow produces tears of true humility.” (as quoted in the article, Godly Sorrow vs. Worldly Sorrow.)

What is Godly Sorrow?

Paul tells us, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:10) For Paul, Godly sorrow is distress that brings us closer to God. Sorrow from recognizing how far we are away from God or how we may have sinned. Paul is sad at first for causing the Corinthians pain. This is brief for he realizes it is pain that is necessary for their spiritual growth. It is the sorrow that leads us to fall on our knees before our God and ask forgiveness, forgiveness that God readily gives. It is a sorrow that brings joy.

So, what is Godly sorrow? I believe it encompasses and goes beyond what Paul proposes in Second Corinthians.

“The original Greek here for godly sorrow is theon lypē, according to Strong’s Greek Concordance, which means “God’s grief” or the grief, pain, sorrow, or affliction of God—that is, the sorrow belonging to, exhibited by, and felt by God Himself. We know God is good, faultless, holy, and right. Therefore, the sort of sorrow God feels is perfect sorrow, a sorrow that encompasses all elements and aspects of the situation. It is a sorrow fully in line with His plan and His way.” (Jessica Brody “What does it really mean to have godly sorrow?”)

God’s Grief

It is the grief God experiences when we do not follow the ways of God. Godly sorrow is not only distress that brings us closer to God, but an experience of God’s compassion, as expressed by Catherine Doherty.

In this life we will encounter sorrow. How we respond to the sorrows in our life makes them worldly and leading to death, or godly, leading us to life.

When faced with sorrow, how do you respond?


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