What Is It? The Meaning of Brokenness
Brokenness. It can mean a lot of things. It may imply messiness and imperfection. It may mean heartbreak. It may mean physical weakness. For some, it’s a reason to demand pity; for others, it’s motivation to stay “true to themselves” in their flawed humanity and not attempt to appear all put together in a nice, neat package. For others it’s a cool word, a trend. There’s a lot we could talk about in regards to the meaning of brokenness.
But I want to talk specifically about brokenness before the Lord.
Brokenness, in His eyes, is to be broken, crushed, and torn in spirit over sin.
A Perfect Example
“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 blunt honesty vocalized his guilt. 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 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 a simple phrase:
“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 lime- light, his sin highlighted. David, the man we rightfully respect and look to as an example in our Christian lives, is a sinner. David, in this moment, has been reduced to a liar, an adulterer, and a murderer.
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. 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 in this moment is just to be clean again, just to have his ugliness erased, just to be pure, just to be forgiven and restored to his precious friendship with the Lord, and is asking the only One capable to accomplish it. (51:7-15).
We see it in a man who would do anything to get back to 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).
What the Lord Desires
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 (2 Cor. 7:10).
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 the hurt of 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.
The reason brokenness is beautiful is because of how God can use it in our lives. It is something that can draw us near to Him. Brokenness can make room for a contrite heart and repentance to bring us back into fellowship with Him when we have miserably failed. It is not lovely in and of itself, it is not the end of the journey, it is not a cute hashtag to put on a picture of a dirty house. It’s not a word to use when you want to feel “authentic”. Standing alone, it is messy and sad. No, the beauty in spiritual brokenness is found in where it brings us.
True brokenness is a tool by which God brings His wandering sheep back into His loving arms.
Anna Wishart is a graduate of Ethnos360 Bible Institute, and continues to seek ways to be involved with missions through writing. She currently lives in Winchester, Virginia, and enjoys biking, art, friends, the mountain views, and serving at Fellowship Bible Church.