A few years ago, we were confronted with the twisting of our language by forces seeking to redefine everything we believe when the most powerful politician in the world said, “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”
We continue to fight for the vitality of our language because, for Christians at least, words have real meaning. Co-opting words and finagling definitions have brought us to the “Newspeak” days of George Orwell’s 1984. How else can quoting from the Bible be branded “hate speech” except that we have altered the very definition of love itself?
The Church is not immune to this. One of the current trends in many Christian circles is to confuse brokenness with, well…brokenness. The rise of inner healing ministries in the 1970s resulted in a modification of the definition of “brokenness.” What has occurred is that we now consider brokenness to be a reflection of all the painful events we’ve incurred in life rather than the traditional, Biblical meaning of brokenness.
The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah:
For thus says the
One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.
Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD,
“and I will heal him.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
True spiritual brokenness is a reflection of a life given to humility, a contrite spirit, and an understanding that we are like brute beasts before God unless we allow Him to break us like the horseman breaks a stallion. Real brokenness is the man who acknowledges that he is no longer his own; he has been bought with a price. Such a man yields himself to God to be broken and formed into the image of Christ.
See how this plays out in the life of the prideful man who experiences true brokenness:
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
—Daniel 4:28-37 ESV
Here is the natural man broken by God. His pride is broken, his position is broken, his self-worship is broken. And in the place of all these comes praise to God for being broken by Him.
Contrast this with the “brokenness” we so often hear spoken of today in Christian circles. We are fragile not because they are being broken by God, but because we dwell in the pain of our circumstances. This is not to say that God does not use circumstance to break prideful people, but too often we who revel in our pain exhibit a pride in displaying just how broken we are! No one has been as hurt as badly as we have been. No one has endured the tragedies we have endured. In short, we become immune to the very brokenness God desires to instill in us so long as we make an idol of our pain.
Acolytes of this “new” brokenness must always talk about it, wear it as a badge of honor, and retreat into it whenever anyone questions the need to dwell in the pain. Worse yet, we can use our pain as a way to assuage our guilt before the Lord. We make ourselves appear downtrodden when we are anything but, refusing true brokenness and holding instead to the mire of our own making.
Such is not God’s brokenness, but a counterfeit that leads us away from real healing and growth in Christ. Dying to self means abandoning even our pain, no matter how great, to take on the image of the Savior. Only then can the scales drop from our eyes and we be raised up to stand in true brokenness before God.