Brokenness is an important word in the church. It’s akin to the word “depravity,” but feels less churchy and less heavy-handed. Maybe that’s why it’s become so popular. We church folk wanted a word that described our soul-sickness while at the same sounding non-threatening enough to be used outside the church. Not everyone is ready to say they’re depraved. But most can come around to the idea that, at least in some ways, we’re broken.
To know our brokenness is a gift from God. Only in our brokenness do we cry out for a Deliverer. Only in the brokenness of our world do we find a reason for the mission of God. Brokenness is the essential prerequisite for genuine discipleship.
But brokenness is not discipleship. And here is where we might depart from popular belief, especially among the younger generations. There is a trend, evidenced by dark, angsty, self-reflective worship services growing in popularity among younger generations, to believe that to follow Christ is to fixate on one’s brokenness. Brooding, it would seem, is postmodern piety. This emerging folk theology is not entirely unlike the self-flagellation of strict monastic orders from history, except on an emotional level.
It’s true that, in the throes of despair from his sin with Bathsheba, David penned, “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:8). And it’s true that God invited Israel to “Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth” (Joel 1:8) when Israel would not turn from sin. And it’s true that Peter, after a miraculous haul of fish, cried out to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Yes, there is a precedent for voicing our brokenness. But these are all antecedents. They’re subjects without predicates. They’re the initial phase, not the final phase. Jesus’ great mission is not simply to commend our brokenness.
Isaiah 61 offers a neat summary of Jesus’ mission, which he later upholds for himself in Luke 4. Among the recipients of Jesus’ ministry are “the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1), which is expressed so intensely in Hebrew that it probably doesn’t stretch the translation too far to call them “the shattered.” In other words, Jesus came for the really, really, really broken. But for what reason does Jesus target these broken people? “The Lord has sent me… to bind up the brokenhearted.” The end of the Christian life is not to be broken. It is to be healed.
What if, instead of broadcasting our Christian faith in the form of gloomy brokenness, we broadcast our faith in the form of joyous gratitude for the ways we’ve been healed? God is our Great Physician, our Wonderful Counselor, our Redeemer, our Healer, our Savior. In which of these names do we find an instruction to remain broken?
Brokenness is a good word, even a thoughtful word. But it is only the precondition for discipleship, not the main event. We are not called together as the Body of Christ to commiserate about how broken we are. After Christ has done his work among “the brokenhearted,” we are given a new title, as Isaiah 62 reveals, “They shall be called The Redeemed of the Lord” (62:12). The Redeemed do not constantly tell the story of their slavery. They’ve been set free! They tell the story of their freedom.
When Jesus approaches a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, He asks an instructive question: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). It’s a question with which we must wrestle. To be healed means we’re accountable to living differently. It means we can’t go back to lying crippled outside the pool at Bethesda — that would be a bizarre regression. Remaining crippled in the company of a healer is an odd and cowardly choice in order to avoid change.
But we are not cowards. We are The Redeemed of the Lord. God has called us out of our brokenness and into healing, into redemption, into freedom. On the ground, this looks like a more courageous faith, whereby our faith must actually do something rather than allowing us to remain afloat in our brokenness. It means expecting God to heal as we work to be healed, and staying the course until we can proclaim, in concert with the blind man healed by Jesus, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). What a witness! Oh, that we would bring such a report to the marketplace of beliefs!
BRANDON GAIDE serves as associate pastor of next generation ministries at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston. Brandon loves the church and clings to the audacious belief that a church committed to Christ is the hope of the world.