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Yesterday over lunch Matt, a global minister who serves in Germany, shared something important. Brokenness, he commented, is something we all experience in a fallen world but our experience of brokenness is wider than our own sin.
By that he meant that particular sins reveal our broken relationship with God as spiritually fallen humans. We also experience the brokenness of others as their sin spills over on us. And, finally, we experience the broken state of the creation as we deal with illnesses, earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods that come out of God’s Genesis 3 curse.
Matt also mentioned how we as Christians can respond to these challenges: our own brokenness calls for repentance; the impact we experience from others calls for our forgiveness; and the broken state of the cosmos calls us to the assured hope that God will eventually restore his creation as he promises in Romans 8, 2 Peter 3, and elsewhere. Addressing all three features of brokenness is crucial if we are to find God’s peace.
As I appreciated Matt’s reflections I thought back to my own “aha” moment years ago when I first explored Richard Sibbes’ 17th century theology. The Puritans argued about salvation—the cure of sin—while presuming that they all shared a common definition of sin. Yet different versions of sin were in play: covenant or law breaking for some and self-love for others. So separate trajectories of salvation emerged. One centered on resolving the behavioral sins of law breaking while the other called for turning from self-love to a new love for Christ. Both options are still active.
Matt’s thoughts led me to reflect on how our separate insights intersect with each other: we experience the brokenness of others through their behaviors. We may realize, of course, that selfishness motivated the behaviors, but it’s the behaviors that first cause the hurt so we mainly focus on reducing or avoiding those behaviors. A law-based version of spirituality supports this focus.
That leads us to a crux issue: if we avoid asking whether our own hearts are sinfully broken—whether we still live as selfish individuals—we can defend ourselves against the complaints of others about our sins by deflecting attention to what others have done to us, or to the pain of illness or natural disasters that justify our self-caring.
These become the big issues of life based on an underlying premise that we deserve to be free from the pain of brokenness. Thus we hide behind a behavioral disease-and-cure solution—as in, “What I did isn’t so bad compared to what others have done to me!”—and thus avoid treating our selfishness as feeding the realm of brokenness. This behavioral morality and a subtle relativism readily blinds us to our own role in the mess.
Can it be any different? Yes! For one, we can say to ourselves, “Oh Lord, I now see how blind others are—and Adam was—to the hideous impact of selfishness!” That also tells us about ourselves: “I’m certainly just as blind, given my own brokenness.”
This premise, that even with the coming of salvation we are still sinful, with habits of our heart—the “flesh”—still defined by self-interest, is critical to finding peace in a broken world. It is only by seeing sin as self-love that we start to turn from spiritual myopia to seeing the truth about ourselves—that we bring brokenness to others just as they bring it to us.
Isn’t it time, then, to confront sin at every level? We can find a way forward by repenting at the heart level. Given the self-blinding nature of sin we do this by asking God to search us and to show us where our hearts are out of line with his own heart. We also listen to him in his Word and respond as he exposes our brokenness through Biblical truth.
Only then will we move on to the next steps of forgiving others and embracing the hope God offers us. That, in turn, brings us peace in a broken world.