On Brokenness

My dear friend Bethany has a post up today about broken saints. It is, like all her writing, very good and insightful, but one point in particular got me thinking. She objects to a worship song, popular when we were both in high school and undergrad, that includes the verse, “Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for….”

On the one hand, I understand why it’s a sticking point for her, because it’s a sticking point for me as well. Especially when divorced from its context, a plea to be made holy, such a verse can seem to encourage a kind of spiritual masochism, as if one can’t grow unless one is in constant physical or emotional pain. I feel the same discomfort when reading Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV (“Batter my heart, three-person’d God”), even though I understand the point Donne’s trying to make.

But on the other hand, both Donne and the writers of that worship song do have a point, though I think Ira Stanphill expressed it rather better in this hymn:

I had the privilege of hearing the story behind this song when Bro. Stanphill performed it at my church once. If I recall correctly, he had just gone through a nasty divorce in which his unfaithful wife left him, but as he grappled with his grief, God showed him things he needed to repent of and change in his own life.

Now, I’m not going to claim that God caused that divorce, not least because divorce is one of the few things that God states in Scripture unequivocally that He hates. (I don’t have time to unpack the idea much in this post, but there’s a major difference between what God causes, what He condones, and what He permits.) Nor am I in any kind of position to claim that Bro. Stanphill deserved to lose his wife; he didn’t, from what little I can tell. But we do know from Romans 8:28 that God can take even our worst disasters, even the events that grieve Him as well as us, and make them work for our good–and sometimes that good involves the discovery that our hearts had become hardened and needed to be broken so that we could let go of certain sins.

One of the creators of No Need for Bushido made a similar point in the comments on a recent page in which the heroine receives some harsh words from another character, who unjustly calls her selfish. “It’s not the accusation she deserves,” he said, “but it might be the accusation she needs.” And indeed, the very next strip shows her making an effort to ask the hero about his own losses. It’s too soon to know what the larger ramifications of the confrontation will be, but the writer has hinted at more character development to come.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all spiritual growth requires hardship, and God doesn’t always allow us to experience hardship because He wants us to learn something. Sometimes bad things just happen because we live in a fallen world. (That’s a point I’m still grappling with regarding the season of life I’m in now.) I don’t know that it’s necessarily wise to pray to become broken, unless you’re aware of a hardened place in your own heart that you can’t break down by your own efforts. There are plenty of other ways to ask God to cleanse you of sins you might not even recognize. This great classic is one of them:

But despite the distance we may need from the hard times for hindsight to become 20/20, our brokenness can become a positive state as long as (in the words of yet another song) we give Him all our “shattered dreams, wounded hearts, [and] broken toys” and let Him “turn [our] sorrows into joy.”

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