by Frans Bakker
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. —2 Corinthians 7:10
2 Corinthians 7:8–10
All mankind experiences sorrow. Because of sin, man was banished from the Garden of Eden. The gates of Paradise were closed behind us and engraved above our lives, in capital letters, was written the word “sorrow.” A melancholy procession of calamities, diseases, adversities, cares, troubles, and sadness has marched through our door ever since. Truly, life is not all joy.
The Heidelberg Catechism states correctly that this life is a vale of tears. Yes, even present-day philosophers paint life as black and sorrowful. Upon almost every page of their writings we read of man’s existence as a life of anxiety, disgust, despair, death, troubles, and cares. They say that this life is nothing more than a way to enter death. Behold, even worldly man speaks of sorrow and does so in our times of luxury and pleasure!
Weariness of life, distress, and broken ambitions are found everywhere. So much suffering takes place! People secretly grieve over personal things that others know nothing about. The deepest suffering can be experienced in silence. What goes on inside of people is not written upon their forehead. Often many hearts have grief in the midst of laughter. Even under the guise of contentment, sorrow exists.
To be sure, there are two kinds of sorrow. There is a sorrow of the world and there is also a godly sorrow. Godly sorrow is a different sorrow from the sorrow of the world. Look at Esau as an illustration. His sorrow was a sorrow of the world. Esau was very sorrowful. As old as he was, the strong and rough Esau lay weeping as a child at the knees of his father, for he had lost his rightful blessing. “Father,” he said, “give me also a blessing.” Esau was sorrowful, but it was a sorrow of the world. Esau was not concerned about God from whom all blessings flow; he was concerned for his earthly blessing. His concern was not for God, but for the gifts of God. That is a sorrow of the world.
King Ahab was also sorrowful. That was because he could not have the vineyard of Naboth. His sorrow was so intense that he no longer had any desire to do his work and he was driven to attain in anger what he sorrowfully did not have. This was also a sorrow of the world.
Rachel was also sorrowful. Rachel’s grief was so great that she refused to be comforted. She was sorrowful because she had no children. “Give me children,” she said to Jacob, “or else I will die.” This also was a sorrow of the world.
If you give Esau the blessing, he is content. If you give Ahab the vineyard of Naboth, his tears shall be dried. If you give children to Rachel, she shall no longer have sorrow. This is all sorrow of the world. The sorrow of the world gives tears, which can be dried with worldly things. The world is satisfied when prosperity replaces adversity or when health replaces sickness. Worldly blessings are their satisfaction. This is a sorrow of the world.
But godly sorrow is a different story. Godly sorrow produces tears that cannot be dried with earthly things. Godly sorrow is a sorrow after God; it is a yearning for Him. It is a sorrow pleasing to God. God takes note of this sorrow and puts these tears into His bottle.
From The Everlasting Word by Frans Bakker, compiled and translated by Gerald R. Procee. Reformation Heritage Books and Free Reformed Publications, 2007. Used by permission. For further information, click here.