The word of the day is “sorrow.” There are two kinds of regret for the wrong we have done. In our reading of 2 Corinthians 7:1-10, Paul teaches the distinction between these two kinds of remorse: “worldly sorrow “and “godly sorrow.” The first is feeling sorry for ourselves. We regret that we have been found to be imperfect and liable to the consequences of our fault. The second is the the grief of knowing that we have offended our God. We will learn from our reading that “worldly sorrow” has no remedy, but “godly sorrow” leads to repentance and divine forgiveness.
The background of our reading is that Paul had sent his co-worker Titus to check on the situation at Corinth. Surprisingly, Titus found that the Corinthians had a change of heart. They reaffirmed their loyalty to St. Paul. Furthermore, they were filled with sorrow that they had caused the Apostle such heartache (vs. 7). In response, in our passage Paul rejoices in this change of heart and mind. The apostle had regretted the pain that his visit and letters had caused his flock (vs. 8). Now he realizes his stern reprimands were for his flock’s good because it led to repentance (vs. 9).
Sorrow is Heaviness of Heart
Accordingly, Paul explains in our reading that not all kinds of sorrow are alike. The Greek word for sorrow expresses the pain and heaviness of the heart that accompanies grief (Strong’s #3077, 153). But St. Paul adds that there is a distinction between sorrow “according to God” and sorrow “according to the world” (vs. 10). The Orthodox Study Bible notes that “The sorrow of the world is feeling sorry we were caught. It centers on ourselves, on our embarrassment over the predicament we find ourselves in” (OSB fn. 7:9-11). It adds that “worldly grief” does not bring about repentance. Conversely, The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “Heartfelt, godly sorrow produces repentance and diligence (v. 11). True repentance cleanses us from sin and alienation, and diligence zealously pursues holiness and reconciliation (OSB fn. 7:9-11).
The Difference Between the Two Types of Sorrow
The difference between the two kinds of grieving lies in the object of our remorse. In worldly sorrow, we feel sorry for ourselves. Often, we first blame others for the way we feel. And when that doesn’t relieve our distress, we blame ourselves for the wrong that we have done. The result of failure to rid ourselves of regret produces self-pity. Then this unhappiness with ourselves deepens our remorse for doing the wrong. On the other hand, in “godly sorrow” we feel sorry for the offense that we have committed against God. This leads us not to look to ourselves but to look to God with the desire that He would forgive us.
“Worldly sorrow” does not seek forgiveness, for there is no one to forgive. The only release from this kind of remorse is death (vs. 10). But the end of godly sorrow is life with God. For when we repent in “godly sorrow,” God is ready to forgive. Thus, the apostle writes in 1 John, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
When we are overcome with regret, to what or to whom can we turn? We can try to blame others. We can try to excuse ourselves. We can seek the relief of forgetfulness. None of these things can ease the pain of our remorse. The Gospel opens another way. In Christ, God is always more willing to forgive than we are to seek forgiveness. We only need to turn to the One who died and rose again for us. But that turning involves the humility of confessing our sins. And that humility comes from “godly sorrow.”