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Brokenness is part of the human experience, no matter who you are. The world can break us. Other people’s sin can break us. But perhaps no kind of brokenness is as uniquely personal and painful as the grief we can experience over our own sin.

There are many aspects of brokenness, but one meaning of brokenness deals with ourselves being inwardly crushed over our sin before God.

A Perfect Example

In 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51 we see it: a man broken by his own decisions and brought to his knees.

First, David lustfully took another man’s wife for himself. Then he violently murdered her husband in an attempt to cover it up. David knew God and His character, and it’s probable that he did feel guilt and shame over his actions before Nathan, the prophet of God, came to him, but by all outward appearances, it seems he simply resumed life as normal. Until Nathan showed up to call him on the carpet:

“Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife.”

Perhaps panic arose in David’s heart as he realized that Nathan was here to talk about his “secret” sin. Maybe it was hard for him to breathe when Nathan’s bluntly vocalized his guilt aloud. I can picture the blood draining from his face, his heart pumping wildly; I can imagine it being hard for him to swallow and his palms becoming slick with nervous sweat as shame washed over him.  Maybe he grew stiff, maybe fidgety, maybe even tearful. I can try to imagine, but I don’t know exactly what David’s initial response was to Nathan’s confrontation of his sin.

All I do know is that he came to a point of confession and acceptance of his wrong-doing.

After Nathan’s lengthy speech (See 2 Sam. 12:1-12 for more detail), David’s only recorded response in this passage is found in six meaningful words:

“I have sinned against the Lord.”

David, a man after God’s own heart. David, a warrior with his band of mighty men. David, the greatest king to ever reign over Israel.

And here we find him, his larger-than-life status diminished, his great attributes out of the limelight, his sin highlighted. 

David, the man we rightfully respect and look to as an example in our Christian lives, is a sinner. David, at this moment, has been reduced to a liar, an adulterer, and a murderer.

Trademarks of Brokenness Over Sin

When God said in Proverbs 13:15, “The way of the transgressor is hard,” no one was excluded from that principle – not even David, one of the greatest men to ever live. And in Psalm 51 we get a peek into that reality. We see a man truly broken by his transgression.

We see it in a man who cries out to the Lord for mercy, who knows that he has no hope outside of Who God is (51:1-2).

We see it in a man whose sin looms largely in his mind, reminding him again and again of his humanity and failure (51:3-6).

We see it in a man whose greatest desire at this moment is just to be clean again. Just to have his ugliness erased. To be pure again, to be forgiven and restored to his precious friendship with the Lord. And he’s asking all this of the only One capable to accomplish it. (51:7-15).

We see it in a man who would do anything to get back to an unhindered relationship with the Lord again, except that he knows he cannot do anything. It is not within his power to right this wrong (51:16-19).

We see it in a man who says this: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (51:17).

The Meaning of Brokenness: What God Really Wants From Us

David knew something we dearly need to understand: God does not want we sinners to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and try harder. He does not want us to feed our pride by “making things right”, nor does he simply want sadness and sorrow over the consequences and pain our sin brings to us.

He wants spiritual brokenness, the kind of brokenness He can use. He wants godly sorrow that leads to repentance. 

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation.” (2 Cor. 7:10a)

A man I respect had struggled deeply with a sinful lifestyle for some time. Upon giving his testimony he said this, “The most wonderful thing about sin is that it makes you so desperate that all you want is God.” Yes, deep sin can make us desperate.

And out of that desperation, out of grief and a fractured heart over sin, God longs to produce humility in us. It is humility that allows us to recognize, as David did, who God is and who we are in comparison with him. It is humility that sets us up to come to grips with our sin and turn our gaze back to the Lord.

Brokenness Over Ourselves: What God Can Do

The meaning of brokenness over sin in our lives is found in how it can lead us back to our God. It’s something that can draw us near to Him. Brokenness makes room for a contrite heart and repentance to restore us to fellowship with Him when we have miserably failed. It is not lovely in and of itself, and it is not the end of the journey. Standing alone, brokenness over our sin is sad and messy. But its beauty is seen in where it brings us.

True brokenness over sin is a tool by which God brings His wandering sheep back into His loving arms.

So Lord, break me.