Soul Food: Godly Grief and Deep Change
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10 NRSV).
There is a long way to wholeness taken through suffering or loss. It is the spiritual geography of proclamation that once passed through wilderness. When we sense such maps are before us, we often wonder if there is another way. Deep into a pandemic we have much to reckon with: grief, the reminders of unequal health outcomes for persons of color, and the strains of schooling from home to name a few.
Many656 of us would prefer to practice a faith that did not ask us to face godly sorrow. Yet faith without honest reckoning does not equip us for the long haul, or for a harvest of personal and social holiness.
In his book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, Jemar Tisby asserts that there are benefits to having a sobering conversation with your doctor, as well as getting honest with the Great Physician. Tisby writes: “The goal of this book is not guilt. The purpose of tracing Christian complicity with racism is not to show white believers how bad they are. It is simply a fact of American history that white leaders and laity made decisions to maintain the racist status quo. Even though the purpose of this work is not to call out any particular racial group, these words may cause some grief, but grief can be good” (p.22).
At that point Tisby takes us to Paul’s words born of rough patches with the Corinthians: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10). For Paul, there is a pain that God participates in that brings metanoia. In personal terms, this is a genuine acknowledgment of complicity with harm, coupled with the humble, but strong resolve to change one’s behavior. In corporate terms, our psalms of lament teach us that there are times shared suffering is the road to “letting go of former things,” as Isaiah terms them, so that we have room in our hands to grasp God’s new thing.
Faith without reckoning hurt, harm, loss, more than that—theology without crucifixion—risks being reduced to happy talk, and the nurturance of a false self. Without capacity for being a suffering fellowship, there are too few voices among us that can help mature disciples across their times of pain.
In the Fall of 2019, the Wisconsin Conference began to advance Radical Inclusion and Racial Justice as our continuous mission and ministry direction. Our Anti-Racism Task Force and the Bishop’s Task Force are working together to explore how we can build beloved community together in the Wisconsin Conference. I will ask you to pray and consider study and reflection on Radical Inclusion and Racial Justice. Bryan Stevenson’s ‘Four Pillars to Change the World’ may be a helpful map. His four principles to create change are:
- Move toward pain, injury, and harm—it is impossible to address or improve a situation by avoiding it.
- Create space for the narratives of integrity and truth while resisting narratives of fear and division/othering—the less we know about others, the less we value them.
- Be willing to be discomforted to be faithful witnesses—remember that our discipleship is obedience to God and gospel, not comfort and security. Disciples are sent, often to places they would not ordinarily choose to go!
- Live as people of relentless hope—believe the best about others instead of the worst. Live toward a potential for good rather than an avoidance of assumed bad.
I would invite you to practice three specific requests in your life of faith:
- Engage the work personally through prayerful introspection, vulnerability, and discernment for your own journey of transformation.
- Listen to stories of pain within your context and share your broader anti-racism work with your colleagues.
- Integrate the sacred work of anti-racism into everyday ministry engagement and leadership.
Paul was able to say, “Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance” (2 Cor 7:9). I pray that the Wisconsin Conference would experience metanoia that brings salvation and newness. May God’s Spirit draw us closer to God and to each other. Know that I am praying for you.
Peace to you.
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop, Wisconsin Conference
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).