“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” – 2 Cor 7:10
The verse above confirms for us that godly sorrow leads to a repentance w/o regret but it also informs us that there is an opposing kind of sorrow: the sorrow of the world. What is this “worldly” sorrow and how does it contrast with “godly” sorrow?
1) Cain felt sorrow for murdering his brother, but it was a worldly sorrow that cared only for the consequences. “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” – Gen 4:13-14. This type of sorrow that laments the consequences comes in other varieties; being sorry you got caught, being sorry you’ve been embarrassed, being sorry you have to confess, etc. This type of sorrow is only concerned for self and reputation, not for godliness.
2) Peter and Judas both felt sorrow for their sins. Peter felt sorrow when the rooster crowed after denying the Lord 3 times (Matt 26:75). But Peter went on to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32). Judas felt sorrow when he betrayed the Lord but it was a self-sorrow. Judas went on to hang himself and thus demonstrated a sorrow with regret. This type of sorrow of humanistic anguish and grief comes in other varieties; being so sorry that you deem yourself unworthy of salvation, being so sorry that you can’t face the one you’ve sinned against, etc.
3) Ahithophel felt a worldly sorrow of pride (2 Sam 17:23). When he realized his advice to Absalom had been subverted by Hushai’s influence, he returned home to arrange his affairs and then hung himself. This type of worldly sorrow of pride also comes in other varieties; being sorry while adding a “but” at the end, being sorry but blaming someone else, etc.
4) Perhaps one of the greatest examples of godly sorrow we have is that of King David after Nathan confronted him with his sin with Bathsheba and toward Uriah. When David felt sorrow, he just couldn’t get God out of his mind. “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight”, he would say – Psa 51:1-4. Perhaps this is the key to godly sorrow; it is a sorrow that is owed to God because all sin is ultimately against Him.
5) That true sorrow toward sin is owed to God is important lest we’re tempted to feel too sorry for the victim and less sorry toward God. This situation presents itself when a sin is exposed that demands some great sacrifice on the part of the one caught in its snare in order for them to be right with God again. We’re tempted to say, “Poor so and so…” Listen, compassion is good. The Lord showed compassion and so when someone is caught in such a snare, we need to help them bear the burden. But Jesus never excused sin, He never winked at sin, and He certainly never blamed the Father for setting a standard that people didn’t like. Godly sorrow doesn’t blame God for giving laws that to us appear too rigid and too strict and godly sorrow doesn’t look for loop holes. That is sorrow of the world. Godly sorrow sees God as being the one ultimately affronted and disrespected and looks to make it right no matter what the cost. May we never offer to God a sacrifice of sorrow that costs us nothing (2 Sam 24:24).