“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
One of the phrases people sometimes use in a moment of exasperation is, “Good grief!” Charlie Brown is particularly famous for saying this. But, if you’re at all like me, you’ve always kind of wondered at this phrase because grief isn’t good. Right? No one wants to grieve and when we are it means something has gone wrong, doesn’t it? Well…not necessarily.
Grief is simply a natural human response to change. My family and I recently uprooted our lives from nine years of connections and relationships in one place and moved to another at God’s call. Even with as sure as we were of the whole thing being God’s doing, I will not forget sitting at my desk and writing my letter of resignation to our former congregation. As I read back through what I had written sitting there alone in the church, I sat at my desk and sobbed for half an hour. When I read it live I cried again and our church family cried with us.
We were all grieving in response to the change that was coming. It has been most rewarding watching how God has been faithful both to us and to them in our new realities. His leadership and provision have been clear in more ways than I can count for both of us. This was all good grief. It was a reminder of how deep were our relationships and how much love we shared (and still do) for one another even as God carries us faithfully into the great futures He has for us.
There is another kind of grief that can be good. This one is a bit harder to believe at first thought. When we have sinned in some way, this can also bring changes to our lives. Sometimes these changes seem minimally disruptive. Sometimes they are maximally so. Either way, when the changes come, we grieve.
Whether this grief is good or not, though, depends on what happens next. If our response is to double down on the sin that caused the changes in the first place in order to drown out the grief, then it has served no real purpose. This is worldly grief and it leads to death.
If we respond to the pain the changes our sinful decisions have caused by seeking a salve of some kind that will take away the pain rather than dealing with the issue that caused it, we may succeed in forgetting about the grief for a time. But in most cases, this salve will simply be some other form of sin. It will be temporarily pleasurable at the expense of future happiness and joy. This worldly grief leads only to death. Even if our grief is not from our sin, but, say, from the loss of a loved one, if we take the path of worldly grief, our way will only end in death.
But, if our grief is from sin and we let this lead us to a place of repentance, this godly grief will bring us to a place of life and healing. It will lead us to a place of salvation where we will not regret any of the decisions we make. Even in the face of a loss-induced grief, if we take our heartache and let it lead us into a place where we examine ourselves in light of this brush with death so that we are more prepared for our own eventual demise should our Lord tarry, repentance will follow which will lead to salvation and life.
Grief is simply a reality in a world marked by sin. How we respond to it is what will come to define us. It will determine the nature and direction of our lives. It will set us on a path to either life or death. Choose life and enjoy the journey.