broken arm is painful. A broken glass is dangerous. A broken mirror is unlucky. A broken heart is depressing. A broken toy is sad. A broken promise is wrong.
So it’s strange that some well-meaning devotional writers tell us that spiritual brokenness is something we should aspire to, an attitude that we should constantly maintain. The doctrine has it that God uses suffering to break us spiritually, forcing us to depend on Him and making us willing to serve Him.
The Bible says the opposite. Spiritual brokenness is destructive and unbearable:
The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit?
(Proverbs 18:14, ESV)
A merry heart does good, like medicine,
But a broken spirit dries the bones.
(Proverbs 17:22, ESV)
Life has a way of hurting us, injuring us, breaking us. Sin, grief, injury, pain, suffering, bereavement, all of them act on our spirits like a hammer on glass. Some people may be in denial about it; some may be suffering from it every moment; some may be slowly recovering. Whatever the case, nobody needs to break us. We don’t need to break ourselves. We’re already broken.
That’s not a good thing. That’s an awful, painful, horrible thing. But it leads us to the only verse in Scripture that seems to put brokenness in a positive light:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17, NASB)
That might be where some of those misguided teachings were extrapolated from. In reality, the verse is much simpler, deeper, and better than that. David wrote this psalm while he was in anguish over the guilt of his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. Sin breaks our spirits; remorse breaks our hearts.
When we’re broken like this, in our shame or despair or pain, we start to think that God doesn’t want us, that we’re not good enough for Him, that we have to wait until we’re whole again before we go to God. Who wants a broken heart lying around cluttering up their house? Broken things belong in the trash, not in the throne room.
Not so, says penitent David. God doesn’t despise us if we’re broken. God wants us to bring our brokenness to Him. God wants us to come to Him fractures and all. God will take any heart you have to give Him, even a broken one. Especially a broken one.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
(Psalm 34:18–19, NASB)
Brokenness is an affliction (not an aspiration), but the Lord is in the business of saving people from afflictions. The Lord doesn’t just want you to bring your broken heart to Him; the Lord sees your broken heart as a reason to come near to you.
The Lord does not break us in order to heal us any more than a doctor breaks your leg in order to put a cast on it. Why should He break you when He wants you to be whole? Isaiah said as much a few thousand years before:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…
(Isaiah 42:3, NIV)
God doesn’t break you. But if you’re already broken or hurting, God heals you. If you have a broken arm, you go to the doctor. If you have a broken sprit, you go to the Great Physician.
I will seek the lost,
bring back the scattered,
bind up the broken,
and strengthen the sick…
(Ezekiel 34:16a, NASB)
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
God heals you by taking your brokenness onto Himself. In the person of Jesus Christ, God Himself was bruised, rejected, beaten, bloodied, broken.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:4–5, NKJV)
…this is My body which is broken for you.
(1 Corinthians 11:24, NKJV)
This is one of many reasons we worship our Lord by making a sacrament out of broken bread. That was our brokenness on that Cross. You don’t need to be broken anymore—by His wounds we are healed. And when we are broken, we can look past the brokenness of the Cross to the empty tomb. What is broken will be made whole. What is dead will be brought to life.
Brokenness isn’t something we need to achieve. Brokenness is something we already have. Brokenness is something Jesus heals.
What can bring hope to a broken heart?
Only a heart that’s been broken too;
And Jesus Christ had a broken heart
When He spilled His blood for me and you.
What can bring warmth to a frozen heart?
Only a heart with the fire of love,
And Jesus Christ has a heart of fire
With the tenderness of God above.
What can bring peace to a troubled heart?
Only a heart that has conquered pain,
And Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace,
For He gave His life and He rose again.
What can bring help to a sinful heart?
Only a heart that is free from sin,
And Jesus Christ has a perfect heart—
Will you give your heart to be cleansed by Him?
(Music and Lyrics by Eric M. Pazdziora. Copyright © 1999.)
16 replies to Broken
Great post. Another thought: Christians have focused entirely too much on “denying self”, “brokenness”, and “surrender.” Why? Not because these are not important or needful. But because Jesus never taught “surrender” for the sake of surrender! It’s a “means we are infatuated with to an end we often overlook.
Look at Matthew 13:44 & 45: Yes, the man & the merchant sell all they had to gain the “kingdom of heaven”. But was it sad for them? Do we feel sorry for them? No. They exchanged what they had for a valuable treasure…a “pearl of great price.” And they did it joyfully we are told.
Our trouble is we take a couple verses about “it pleased the Lord to crush him (Jesus)” and “that I may know Him…in the fellowship of His sufferings” and completely forget that Jesus did it to GAIN the “joy set before Him.”
Lastly, we look at verses that demand commitment and zero in on the “sacrifice” and overlook God’s goal in asking of us. We have hundreds of books & sermons on Romans 12:1-2. And they seem to all focus on the “beseeching” to “give” and “offer”, and tell us what we “ought” to do. But why? Why does God ask this of us? Because He wants us to be able to “test and APPROVE” of His “good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
Bottom line: We don’t comprehend how GOOD (and good-hearted) God is and wants to be to us. We somehow think that what pleases God is our sacrifice & surrender. We don’t REALLY believe that the reason He is asking us to “give up” is so He can give us good things.
(credit to Chip Ingram’s book “True Spirituality According to Jesus” for provoking me to think about this)
Excellent comment, Josiah; thanks! I just re-read those parables the other week, in fact. I was surprised because I’d always thought the pearl stood for the kingdom– instead, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like the man who found the pearl. (In the second parable the kingdom is the treasure so it works both ways.)
Eric this is amazing! Thank you for this blog and thank you more for posting a reminder of your blog on RA’s site. This was truly a blessing to me.
Thanks, and welcome, heartsfire! There are several other posts on these lines here so feel free to explore.
Glad I’m not the only one who caught that…(kingdom of heaven is like the merchant who found the pearl). I brought that up at Bible School and got laughed at…
Heh. What I noticed this time through Mt. 13 was that in almost all cases the objects in the parables were specifically connected with people: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted…” “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed…” Probably Jesus doesn’t want us thinking it’s not about people.
But there I go hijacking my own comment thread… 😀
I remember being puzzled by a Christian philosophy professor at my university who claimed that we follow Jesus because he is the truth, and for the sake of the truth, we will readily sacrifice all our desires. It struck me that truth influences the mind, but our hearts are what prompt us to sacrifice… and Jesus speaks to our hearts with peace and joy and purpose and fulfillment and hope and love, not with demands of brokenness. Your last line sums it up so well: “Brokenness isn’t something we need to achieve. Brokenness is something we already have. Brokenness is something Jesus heals.” It is called the *good* news for a reason!
Exactly! Sounds to me like your professor had been imbibing the Greek philosophy a little too much– that view has much more in common with Plato than with Christ. Josiah’s first comment is also very relevant to that.
I am so honored that you publish on my site, Eric. You’ve blessed me and my readers so much… I pray that God blesses you and Carrie in return for all that you’ve poured out for His kingdom.
THis was so beautiful, Eric!
In the cult the pastor would berate the congregation for not being “broken to God”…obviously there was some among us who could think a thought for themselves and she didn’t like it…no not one bit.
I shiver for that pastor when I think of the consquences of using God as a hammer to break people’s wills so that they are more easily taken advantage of…she is in a terrible spot, may God have mercy on her soul.
Although I agree there needs to be balance to much of the over focus out there on being broken, in my time of deepest pain, the great physician told me that he needed to re-break me because I had tried to deal with a painful situation in my life previously and my emotions had not healed properly. This is just like going to the doctor with a broken arm, that had been set wrong over time..and needed to be re-broken and re-set. We must never forget that truth has two sides and we need to grab one and not let go of the other. (Ecc 7:18)
If you “had not healed properly,” then it sounds to me like you didn’t need to be “re-broken,” since you were still broken from before. After all, what you needed was healing; you already had the brokenness! It’s good to hear you’ve found healing, though. Thanks for your comment.
This is so healing to me… Thank you
You’re very welcome, Anne; glad to hear it!
Comments are closed.