Vol.XVI No.IX Pg.3
November 1979

When Feeling Bad Is Good

Dan S. Shipley

To feel bad about doing bad is bad, but it is far worse when you don't. In fact, when a man no longer feels regret or guilt for his wrongdoing, he has reached the very bottom of the barrel of moral degradation. Such are those described by the apostle Paul in Eph. 4:18,19. He says they have become "alienated from the life of God, because of the hardening of their heart..." — a condition resulting in their being "past feeling". This is the final and worst state of wickedness to which mortals can fall. It is the ultimate in moral bankruptcy. To be "past feeling" is to be dead to all that is good and decent and uplifting. It is to be so dominated by sin as to lose all sense of shame and to live without regard for the consequences of evil, either to self or to others. But men do not sink to such depths overnight.

Today's most calloused conscience was once, many, many sins ago, a tender and sensitive moral alarm. Back then, its warnings were felt with disturbing uneasiness — even if unheeded. But, repeatedly ignored and suppressed, its pangs gradually diminished to the point of being barely bothersome. Then, finally, it becomes incapable of being aroused even by the vilest deed. It is past feeling; it is dead. Having come to this state of miserable wretchedness, men give themselves up to lasciviousness, "to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Eph. 4:19). And, if I mistake not the lesson of Rom. 1, this is where God gives them up to what they themselves are determined to have. (v.24,26,28). What else remains for those who refuse to know God and heed conscience?

So, if you can still feel bad when you do bad, that's good — but it's better, of course, to refrain from what offends the conscience to begin with. Not that conscience is the standard of right, but when properly enlightened by the word of God it becomes a reliable guide and a strong ally. Any conscience should be heeded, but the truth-set and God-oriented conscience gives a new dimension to morality. Wrongdoing brings sorrow and regret even to the non-Christian who violates a tender conscience — but it does not bring godly sorrow, and there is a vast difference. Only godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). So, the Christian not only feels bad about doing bad, he feels bad for the right reason — because he knows he has sinned against God! It seems to me this is the "conscience toward God" mentioned in 1 Pet. 2:19; 3:21. Without such a conscience there can be no genuine repentance and, consequently, no salvation. The correlation between repentance and maintaining a tender conscience is obvious. When godly sorrow works repentance, it produces the change of mind and conduct that puts man right with both God and conscience — and, thereby, preserves its effectiveness.

So, feeling bad about doing bad can be beneficial, if we will allow it. The question is not whether we will do bad (sin) — or even whether we will feel bad (sorrow), but rather whether our sorrow will be of the "godly sort" (2 Cor. 7:11). Realization that we "have sinned against heaven" will ever bring us back home to the Father as it did the prodigal. This is hurt that helps.