Our culture objects to the idea of brokenness: “Pain is a waste of time,” said the Tylenol commercial a few years back. But even the culture of the contemporary church finds little room in its pews for suffering and brokenness. For example:
- The Prosperity Gospel: There is a heresy being preached from pulpits and TV screens today that says Christians shouldn’t suffer. Well, that should be news to the Apostles John, Peter, Paul, who not only wrote about the reality of suffering for the follower of Jesus but also experienced the reality of suffering for Christ. But as much as I’d like to rail against such preaching I’m guilty of believing my own version of the Prosperity Gospel. My grumbling and complaining and anger toward God about my own suffering reveals that I too believe that Christians (especially Christians like me) shouldn’t suffer or be broken.
- Our fear of “Psycho-Babble”: Once when I preached a sermon on brokenness a man who was suspicious that I was preaching “psycho-babble” (the wolf of worldly psychology wrapped in the wool of Christianity) came to me afterward and said, “I keep hearing Christians talk a lot about this brokenness business. I don’t think ‘brokenness’ is a biblical word.” I reminded him (and I remind any of you who share his concern) of that great prayer of confession by King David in Psalm 51 where he admits to God that the sacrifices that delight the heart of God are not mere religious performances, but rather “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). David validates the reality of brokenness again in Psalm 34:18 when encourages himself and us with these words: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” And yes, for you linguists, the Hebrew word translated “broken” and “brokenhearted” in these verses literally means “broken” or “shattered.”
- Upwardly Mobile Christianity: Our Christian culture’s obsession with the bigger, the better, and the beautiful is evidence that we don’t believe that suffering or brokenness is an acceptable part of the life of the church. If your church is getting bigger and better and more beautiful then your church is “blessed.” If your church is shrinking and struggling and meets in a store front then there must be something wrong. A pastor-friend of mine recently went to a conference where he was involved in a discussion about churches and church ministry with some folks at his dinner table. At first folks were eager to hear his perspective as a pastor on issues related to church ministry, but at some point someone asked what size his church was. When he told them it was about 200 people, they stopped asking him questions and essentially left him out of the rest of the conversation. Small church pastors are rarely invited to be on the speaker panels of Christian conferences. And even when we invite suffering Christian pastors to speak, we are usually only interested to hear from the broken pastors of “successful” churches.
- Churches can have sanctuaries without being sanctuaries. Christian author, Anne Jackson made this observation:
“In May 2008 I posted a question on my blog that simply asked, “What’s one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?” I didn’t anticipate the response it would receive. At around five hundred comments, you can imagine the variety of answers. This question obviously struck a chord with a lot of people. I read and reread and reread the comments for months. I printed some out, trying to understand the scope of why so many people felt they couldn’t say so many different things in church. Surely there had to be a common denominator. Fear was obviously there. Shame. Rejection. But those feelings were more of the why people didn’t speak up more often. I was looking for the what.
What did things like poverty and being gay and worship and money and porn and sex and depression and abuse have in common? One night in December, seven months later, it hit me: Brokenness. Whether it’s as a result of sin, or fear of the response we’ll get by speaking up about something like politics or relationships or mental health in a broken world, it all boiled down to brokenness.
And if this fracture in whatever part of our lives threatens our reputations, our character, or our dignity, we hide. If something in our spiritual life is broken or is confusing to us, we hide. If a relationship is broken, we hide. If there’s an unhealthy habit we fall back on, we hide. If there’s a controversial political or social issue confronting us, we hide. We ultimately want to hide what’s broken, whether it occurs individually or in a community.
The Bible is filled with broken people, most of whom at some point or another tried to cover up their brokenness. Yet it seems that the people who are the most broken, the most helpless, are the people God often uses the most.”
And that is precisely the message we get from the apostles in the New Testament, the message we’ll examine in our next post: Because Jesus was broken for our brokenness, we do not have to hide ours. Because Jesus was broken for our brokenness, we can be broken for the glory of God and the good of our broken neighbors, the broken nations, and the broken next generation.
[This post is adapted from the sermon “Taken, Blessed, Broken, Shared”]