As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
(2 Corinthians 7:9)
Paul is telling the church of Corinth and everyone subsequently, a very important truth; that the Christian faith is not a feel-good religion. Indeed, sorrow is central to Jesus’ teaching:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Mourning precedes assuagement, the fullness of which is deferred to the eternal state. The word in Greek that is translated ‘mourn’ is πενθέω penteo ‘to lament’, or ‘grieve as for the dead’ and is apposite because all must die to self to gain Christ; that is the ‘godly grief’ of which Paul speaks.
Elsewhere in Scripture, remorse and contrition are recognized as essential emotions in approaching God, David realizes that no sacrifice can be holy or honorable unless it proceeds from heartfelt remorse.
…a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
Jesus contrasted the stance in prayer of the haughty Pharisee and humble Tax Collector who:
…standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13)
Only the Tax Collector will be made righteous before God, and that because of sorrowful humility.
It is essential that all who would hope for forgiveness realize they stand as the Tax Collector, an object of wrath. Tears cannot soften the heart of God; seven times Jesus informs his disciples that the unrighteous will bewail their fate (eg. Matthew 8:12). Mercy is only possible by the intercession of Christ.
Thus, the time for grief is now – but this is not misery for its own sake. Paul does not rejoice that the Corinthians are indulgently maudlin, rather that they have been ‘grieved into repentance’. Grief, an emotion, leads to repentance (μετάνοια metanoia, change of mind), a volition.
While remorse is insufficient – it was not enough for Judas Iscariot, for instance – of whom Jesus sadly remarked, ‘it would be better he had never been born’ – remorse is essential; salvatory repentance cannot arise except from genuine and heart-felt contrition; and, as repentance is a continual act,
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he should sin against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent’, you must forgive him. (Luke 9:3-4)
…a grieving and broken heart is the foundation of Christian discipleship. Hope of forgiveness and undeserved sanctity is the good news of the Gospel of Christ and him crucified – and all must meditate with unblinking eyes fixed upon that cross, desolate in regret, fully acknowledging that one’s sinfulness is the condition for which Jesus made himself accursed.
Truly, Christianity is a feel-bad religion, exhorting that all mourn today and hope to be comforted. The stark alternative is to mourn for eternity devoid of hope.