I’ve been hearing the word “brokenness” a lot lately. In casual conversations and from up-front speakers, the term has become synonymous with sinful. In fact, for many, it has replaced the older, more-bothersome word.
To some extent, this makes sense. Our experience of alienation from God does indeed feel like we’re broken. We’re not living the lives we were created for. We’re not connecting with others with the level of intimacy we were designed for. We’re cut off from the kind of connectedness with God that he intended.
But I’m concerned with the reduction of the full and multifaceted concept of sin, as it is described in the scriptures, into a buzzword that feels more at home in our therapeutic culture than in God’s word. My concern is twofold.
For believers, the word doesn’t go deep enough to move us forward in sanctification. God describes our sin many ways – almost all of which are far worse than “broken.” We’re rebellious, idolatrous, lost, enslaved, disobedient, adulterous, and…in case the point wasn’t pressed far enough…dead. If we see our sin as mere brokenness, our repentance of and abhorrence at sin won’t push us in the opposite direction hard enough. And our appreciation of the cross as the only cure will be replaced with self-effort and legalism.
For non-believers, when they hear us speak of our brokenness, there is common ground, to be sure. But we fail to convey the dire straights that only the gospel overcomes. Most people in our world today hear “brokenness” as something that is done to us, something we are victims of. But the Bible’s description of sin is far more active than passive, more something we do – willingly, rebelliously, idolatrously, and knowingly – rather than something perpetrated upon us by others – against our will, contrary to our nature, or different than our cravings. When people hear that our biggest problem is that we’re broken, the gospel seems like a strange fix. Jesus’ death on the cross seems extreme and unnecessary, the maniacal overreaction of an overzealous deity.
Thoughtful faith and faithful thinking involves the careful choice of words – both the ones that come out of our mouths and the ones that reverberate in our minds.