Monday, April 7, 2008

Godly Sorrow

Even 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—yet 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. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See 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. (2Cor. 7:8-11)

I mowed the yard today. It's been wet for the last week so the grass had grown high. We have a big lawn and I cut it slowly with my "Forrest Gump"-style, vintage Snapper mower. This means I had lots of time to think. I have been considering the message by Melvin today about "godly sorrow." It was a subject difficult to comprehend (and, I'm sure, to communicate) in all its many nuances.

One thought in particular has been troubling me all day: Realistically, it is extremely difficult for people to lovingly confront fellow believers over their sin (as God commands and as Paul demonstrated with the Corinthian Christians) in order that God might bring them to repentance and blessing through godly sorrow. This is especially true in our culture. The truth is we simply don't confront sin in our brothers' and sisters' lives. Why is this? What must be done to change this weakness we have? What key element must be in place for God to use us so that godly sorrow can do its work to restore God's child who is in error? Being used by God in this way has become difficult for me too, and more so as I've grown older. Confrontation has not been as hard for me as I suppose it is for some, since I was raised in a family that valued calm, honest, loving confrontation. But since I've been in ministry, I've drawn back a nub so many times after offering loving reproof to a believer under my care (even when solicited by them!) that I have become a bit gun-shy. People leave the church and bad-talk you on the way out! This kind of thing happens often. It hurts. God convicted me today. I realized today that I am wrong for allowing emotional scars to form that prevent me from being God's instrument of restoration.

Just as frequently I have had people ask my advice regarding how to help a friend, family member, or fellow believer who is making poor choices. On most occasions when I encouraged them to lovingly confront the person in question as Jesus and Paul taught (Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1-2, respectively), I either get the deer-in-the-headlights look or they will openly say that there's no way they could even consider confronting someone like that. It's simply counter-intuitive for people in our culture. How could we judge? How could we be so unkind? It's much easier to just let people live in their sin unabated.

Is it so unkind--so unloving--to confront?

I remember reading Augustine who discussed love as the key element regarding all things, but particularly with regard to chastening someone. A well-known Augustine quote is:

"Love, and do what you like."

I first heard this quoted by a liberal who was attempting to downplay the importance of obeying moral commands given in Scripture. As long as we love, the person was saying, we can do whatever we want—whether that means engaging in illicit sex, using bad language—you get the point. I privately wondered if Augustine had really said such a thing, and if so, what he really meant. Indeed I found he did say it. But the context, as is often the case, had been conveniently omitted.

Augustine's seventh homily on 1 John is where his quote is found. He is preaching on the following passage:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12 NIV)

Concerning this passage Augustine wrote (in part):

A father [spanks] a boy, and a boy-stealer caresses. If you name the two things, blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses, and decline the blows? If you mark the persons, it is love that beats, evil that caresses. See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of love. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of love. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough…savage…are done for discipline at the bidding of love. Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: if you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; if you cry out, through love cry out; if you correct, through love correct; if you spare, through love…spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

To me that nails it. Far from the poor use of the quote as I first heard it years ago, Augustine is referring to the fact that love confronts. James Dobson said it like this: "Love must be tough." The one who truly loves never shies away from helping one's beloved be better or keeping one's beloved from harm. As a parent, I totally understand this. I don't mind being the "bad guy" when it comes to my kids regarding things like bed time, eating right, having manners, working hard, and getting along with others. I love them too much to let them develop foolish habits that could hurt them in life. It matters not whether they are hurt or not by my correction—I'm still going to discharge my duties as a parent. Sure I don't like when they are hurt or mad at me. Sometimes they don't understand. I have their best interests at heart. I love them. My love is the context and the motivation for discipline and confrontation. Augustine. No wonder Luther and Calvin loved him so. He gets it. Read the rest:

If any of you perchance wish to keep love, brethren, above all things do not imagine it to be an abject and sluggish thing; nor that love is to be preserved by a sort of gentleness, nay not gentleness, but tameness and listlessness. Not so is it preserved. Do not imagine that you…love your son when you give him not discipline, or that you then love your neighbor when you dost not rebuke him: this is not love, but mere feebleness. Let love be fervent to correct, to amend: but if there be good manners, let them delight you; if bad, let them be amended, let them be corrected. Love not in the man his error, but the man: for the man God made, the error the man himself made. Love that which God made, love not that which the man himself made. When you love that, you take away this: when you esteem that, you amend this. But even if you be severe at any time, let it be because of love, for correction.

Augustine ends the homily (sermon) with a last illustration. A dove (of which form, he reminds the readers, God sent his Holy Spirit after Jesus' baptism).

The dove has no gall: yet with beak and wings she fights for her young; hers is a fierceness without bitterness. And so does also a father; when he chastises his son, for discipline he chastises him. As I said, the kidnapper, in order that he may sell, inveigles the child with bitter endearments; a father, that he may correct, does without gall chastise. Such be ye to all men. …What father does not correct his son? What son does not his father discipline? And yet he seems to be fierce with him. It is the fierceness of love, the fierceness of charity: a sort of fierceness without gall after the manner of the dove, not of the raven. Whence it came into my mind, my brethren, to tell you, that those violaters of love are they that have made the schism: as they hate charity itself, so they hate also the dove. But the dove convicts them: it comes forth from heaven, the heavens open, and it abides on the head of the Lord.

We've got to love each other. It's the key. As a pastor, I (along with the other elders) must find more ways to promote and model loving community in our church. This is a top priority. When we truly love each other, both correcting and taking correction is much easier. We know it is for our good and the glory of God.

I feel better. And the yard is mowed.