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.)
Eric M. Pazdziora is celebrating his mumblemumbleth birthday today, and he got a new CD of his original settings of hymns about grace. There are copies for everyone else, too. His wife Carrie sings on it, so it's really good. If you want one, some details are on this post at ericpazdziora.com.