If I did make you sad by my letter, I don’t regret it; and, if I did regret it, it was because I saw that I made you sad for a while by what I had written. Anyway, I’m celebrating now, not because you were saddened, but because your sadness brought you to repentance. It was sadness from God, you see, and it did you no harm at all on our account; because God’s way of sadness is designed to produce a repentance which leads to salvation, and there is nothing to regret there! But the world’s way of sadness produces death. (7:8-10)
We don’t like sadness in our culture. Life is supposed to be happy all of the time. Nothing but butterflies and rainbows.
Of course, you can’t have rainbows without rain clouds and butterflies emerge from a strenuous battle with a cocoon.
I am afraid that this “happy-all-the-time” mentality has seeped into American Christianity too. We expect God to smooth every road before us. Life with Jesus is supposed to be a charmed life. Surely, hard times are punishment. And those who bring hard words of correction are not welcomed people at all.
At some point prior to 2 Corinthians, Paul has written a “sad letter” to this church. This description doesn’t really fit the tone of 1 Corinthians, so many scholars think Paul is referring to another, lost letter to the Corinthians. Clearly, Paul had hard things to say. Things the church did not want to hear. Things that made them ashamed of themselves. Those are uncomfortable letters to write and conversations to have, and Paul confesses he regretted having to write such a letter. Yet, the sadness the letter produced was exactly what the Corinthians needed. It woke them up and they acknowledged in repentance that Paul was right. A momentary spate of sadness created a wholesale change of direction. Truly, “there is nothing to regret there!”
This sort of godly sadness is absolutely necessary, and it reminds us that not all we greet as bad is necessarily so. Godly sadness created changes and results in salvation and redemption of that which is lost, broken and dying in our lives. Godly sadness is what makes rainbows and butterflies possible. There is always hope underlying the sadness.
There is a worldly sadness that is rightly undesirable. Worldly sadness is nothing but rain and there are no silver linings. Worldly sadness sweeps the cocoon away in a torrent and butterflies never emerge. Worldly sadness offers nothing but death. Hope is nowhere to be found.