There is a good and fruitful way to make others feel bad. That’s got to sound a bit politically incorrect, but that what Paul basically says in 2 Corinthians 7:7-11. When God’s people are wayward and disobedient, they need to feel sorrow before they can feel true comfort.
6But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.
Comfort gets passed along here. The Corinthians comfort Titus who comforts Paul. The downcast, discouraged and depressed need comfort. Comfort comes when we know there are others who care enough to miss me, who are conscientious enough to grieve when they’ve wronged me, who are engaged enough to care what happens to me.
8Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–
Paul had written a letter of correction to these Christians. Such communication is never easy, but it can be very loving. Good ministry may begin, as someone has said, by afflicting the comfortable. It is hard when leading another hurts them like a dentist fixing a cavity or a doctor mending a broken limb. Surgery hurts, but it is a pain that leads to wholeness, rather than a pain that indicates continuing brokenness.
9yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.
The right kind of pain or sorrow leads us from disobedience and waywardness to true repentance. God intends that we feel sorrow when we’ve ignored His ways and wandered from His paths. Feeling comfort in a place of distance from God is counterproductive. When I am far from God, I need to feel the deep sorrow of that distance. Such sorrow is healing, not harmful.
10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
There is a healing sorrow and a destructive sorrow. Knowing the difference is critical. God-given sorrow brings me to places of greater wholeness and healing. Without-God sorrow takes me further down a path of self-destruction. God-given sorrow is empty of regret, while without-God sorrow is full of regrets. The way of discernment lies in asking whether a particular sorrow is taking towards or away from God. Without-God sorrow results in spiritual deadness, emotional insensitivity, or social separation.
11See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Godly sorrow can be recognized by what it produces. Good sorrow gets us active and moving in God’s ways rather than paralyzing us or leaving us on a dead end path. It moves us to bring wrongs into the open to be cleared, rather than leaving them hidden and corrosive. It stirs our holy hatred of what is truly wrong, rather than leaving us in despair and dead resignation. It wakes us up to holy awareness rather than leaving us in a moral slumber. It stirs our holy emotions rather than leaving them deadened. It actually moves us to genuine concern rather than leaving us where we just don’t care. It provokes us to act for true justice rather than remaining in our own little world of self-pity.
(An edited journal excerpt from February 16, 1991)