Godly Sorrow

Godly Sorrow

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Matthew 5:4

In light of the current global pandemic, this verse feels quite apt. I think we have all been, or certainly know of people who are, in some stage of mourning due to Covid-19. Whether that be over the loss of a loved one, the loss of being able to be with family because they don’t live here, the loss of a job etc; there are a lot of people who are currently hurting and journeying through grief.

However, it is generally believed that the mourning mentioned in this verse is not talking about bereavement in those terms (i.e. the loss of something tangible), rather it is talking about mourning over our sinful nature; a godly sorrow. A recognition that we have fallen short of who we were created to be, and subsequently have a desire to make a change for the better. It’s the addition of an emotional response to our mental recognition of that spiritual poverty I wrote about in my last blog (Toowayhon).

That’s not to say that grief, sorrow and lost are not real or painful. It doesn’t mean that they are not deeply felt. God is our comforter in all times of trouble (Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble”), when we are hurting the most, he is with us. But, like the rest of the Beatitudes, the focus here is on Jesus’s followers (us) and how we should conduct our lives.

I am currently reading a book called “Seven” by Jeff Cook. In it, Cook compares the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, sloth, greed, lust, wrath and gluttony) with the Beatitudes – the things that take us away from a relationship with God and the things that will bring us closer to him. His chapter regarding “blessed are those who mourn” revolves around the sin of envy. What he has to say about the impact of the sin of envy on our lives really seems to fit with the challenge of Matthew 5:4.

It is so easy to look at someone else’s life and compare it to ours. We hear about their latest holidays, or their new job, or visit their new house, or congratulate them on their engagement, or hold their new baby, smiling through gritted teeth, all the while, inside screaming “why not me!”

Whilst it is easy to be aware of and mourn our physical distress, comparing our life to others, wishing to exchange our troubles for someone else’s “bliss” is a dangerous place to be. Envy or jealousy separates us from God and from the life we were made to enjoy. It’s so hard, when we are in the middle of turmoil, to see the wood through the trees. But wishing our life was different gets us nowhere except stuck in a vicious cycle of jealousy and unhappiness. This is not the life God wants for us.

Cook says, envy rejects the good life God has given me and obsesses over what God has given to someone else. It stops us enjoying our life. Envy is how sin mourns. It provides no satisfaction or pleasure. People who mourn this way will never be comforted. Envy says the life you have is worthless. Do whatever it takes to escape it. But that is not what the Bible says, it’s not what God says. Psalm 23:1 says “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing”. God gives us all that we need. Not what we think we need, but what he knows that we need. Our life is full of purpose. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. If we want to live the life God has planned for us, one of hope, then we need to move ourselves away from sin (regardless of whether that is envy, or any of the other deadly sins!).

If you want relief; to be comforted; to change, you must see your need for change and be broken over your sin. Only then can you find true comfort. When envy/jealousy is not your focus, instead God is, life becomes easier to bear.

To truly change our hearts, we need to be able to admit what we have done and want to change. Sometimes that’s hard to do. We can feel unworthy or ‘dirty’ because of the things we have done. We are ashamed. It is natural to feel like that. But this heart change requires us to move beyond feeling bad about the consequences of our actions (sorrow), and genuinely ‘mourn’ our sin (godly sorrow). 2 Corinthians 7:10 says “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death”. The difference between sorrow and godly sorrow is that godly sorrow leads us to realising how our sin has affected our relationship with God, and comes from understanding that we need God and his mercy. As I said in my last blog, without Christ we are nothing and can achieve nothing. We need God, his mercy, his forgiveness. And we need to ask for it. Which requires humility. But 1 John 1:9 says “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from unrighteousness”. God is faithful, and wants to be in a relationship with us. When we confess and ask for forgiveness, we are welcomed home with open arms. Every time. Jesus promises comfort from the Holy Spirit. Rather than wallow in guilt and shame, we no longer stand condemned.

Perhaps this verse could be re-written like this: “happy are those who admit their failings, for they will find peace”.

Whilst I think there is so much more that can be unpacked from this verse, I feel like the challenge here is to stop your brain where it’s at, examine your heart, and see if there is anything in your life right now that you need to bring before God and ask his forgiveness for? I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be stuck in a state of mourning, rather, I want to continue to know the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and live freely in the good that the Lord has given me.

Remember, you are not alone in any of this. God has not abandoned you. Nahum 1:7 says “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him”. So, as that old hymn says: turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

Lent: Day 6