Walter White’s Worldly Sorrow

Breaking Bad season 5, the final season, is soon to be over. I’ve said before that I’ve never appreciated a show as much as this one, and the final season hasn’t disappointed. If you’re playing catch-up, there is no spoiler alert here, just a common theme: Walt’s worldly sorrow. 

Throughout the show, despite the continual hardening of his heart toward anything “good,” he never stops displaying emotion. He’s not a sociopath. He does have feelings. Yes at times he does things unthinkable, but there are other episodes where we see real tears running down his face. Even in this last season, despite his malfeasance and machinations, he still cries. 

While Paul wouldn’t deny there are different types of tears, he classifies two major types of “sad tears.”

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. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (II Cor 7:9-10)

We see Walt shed many a tear over what he has done: lives he’s either altered for worse or destroyed. But not long after those tears, we see him get right back after it. Nothing changes. There is sadness for a time, and perhaps even for a season, but this sorrow only leads to death: the ultimate separation from God. But we see glimpses of this descent into death through alienation with his family, extended family, his conscience, and his partner-in-crime Jesse. In the book of Jonah, every step he takes away from God’s commands is a step toward the place of death and separation, known as “Sheol.” Every step away from God is a step away from life. This is “worldly sorrow.”

When you see Walt’s tears, you think you see a glimmer of hope. And then you remember the name of the show is Breaking Bad. Just about everyone gets worse. People left to themselves will often show some signs of remorse, but will only display worldly sorrow. And we are reminded in this scripture passage, this type of sorrow only leads to death. 

If you are a Christian, you are not a Walt. You have definitively passed from death to life and that life starts now. While sanctification is definitive, it is also progressive (please don’t think Flo). The life you enter into is never devoid of struggle with the old Walt in us (or Adam to be theologically correct) who will inevitably seek to selfishly cry as a form of show, penance, or shallow regret. 

What’s the difference? If death is alienation from God, salvation is relationship with God first, His people next, and then what He’s doing in the world today. When Paul speaks of “salvation without regret,” he is speaking in terms of reconciliation. People have shown a sorrow that leads to repenting instead of running from God and His people. They have repented from their sins against God and Paul, and are now “back on good terms” with the latter. This type of godly sorrow moves you to deeper relationship with God and His people.

Repentance always has a destination, and that first stop is God. Then His people. Then becoming involved with how God in Christ (gospel preached through the gathered/scattered church) is undoing what the first Walt, or rather Adam, did.

Watching Walt’s worldly sorrow should lead me to a examine my sorrow to make sure it is truly leading me to repentance, which ultimately points me to the deepest experience of life.

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