Hands in her lap. Eyes clenched shut. Black swells of emotion rushing from deep behind her eyes down to the pit of her stomach. Sketchy scenes replay from her past as if from a damaged filmstrip. Shameful thoughts and conversations bring an uncontrollable shudder from the depths of her soul. For a second, she is overwhelmed by desperate guilt, and she falls again into unknown darkness. “I’m broken,” she says.
But just for a moment. Snapping her eyes open, the soft fluorescent lightbulb wakes her from the sleep of regret. Taking a deep breath, she imagines a new path set before her. Exhaling the pain, she rededicates herself to success. She has been taught how to talk herself out of the pit. “I’m broken,” she says, “and now it’s time to fix it.”
She envisions a time when she was whole, not shattered to pieces by the avalanches of experience. She pictures a not too distant future where she will have all the pieces back in place. Smoothing over the rifts, healing the fractures. “I’m broken,” she says, “and I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Her vision of brokenness is temporary. We like to think that is as far as it goes. We want to believe a person or situation caused the point at which we cracked. We want to hope that our lives are only fragmented for a moment. We revel in the stories of a poor, miserable sinner, smashed into the dust by failure only to be lifted high and restored before our eyes. We crave the testimony of the drug addict who now chooses a new life or the selfish son who returns to his father. They’re broken, but not for long.
When we call ourselves broken, we are not wrong. If we are honest with ourselves, we can recall a time when it was too much. We all have words and deeds that we regret, some more profoundly than others. There have been dreadful wounds inflicted upon us from institutions, peers, parents, and even friends. We may be struggling with grave sins this very second, knowing full well that our righteousness before a Holy God is broken and bleeding. There is no doubt that we are broken. But this word alone is not quite descriptive enough.
Our brokenness cuts deeper than just the times when we recognize it needs to be fixed. Our brokenness is more traumatizing than a handful of moments in our lives that are soon overcome. Our brokenness is not only found when we are at the bottom of the barrel, waiting to climb our way out. Our brokenness remains our reality even when we are at our best. Our brokenness is intensified when we think we are well. Our brokenness cannot be conquered. Not in this lifetime.
I am not simply broken; I am dead. Unable to comprehend the pit of despair in which I dwell, for my mind is lost. Blinded to the darkness in which I have been engulfed since birth, for my eyes are lifeless. Deafening silence filled with chaos surrounds me, for my ears are numb. I am paralyzed, motionless, unresponsive, dead.
Our brokenness cuts deeper than just the times when we recognize it needs to be fixed.
Our rotting bodies stink with self-righteous performances in this life. Our decomposing flesh eats up the lies of self-improvement and reminds us of our finite capacity of life. Our putrid corpses possess no spiritual abilities, no virtuous desires, no transcendent capabilities except one: death.
But “broken” sounds so much more manageable than “dead,” doesn’t it?
If we are only broken, we can still try to repair ourselves with words of wisdom and 12-step plans. But if we are dead, an outside word, an alien righteousness, an external storyteller must breathe life into our dusty carcasses. If we are only broken, we can remain in control of cleaning up our own mess. But if we are dead, something greater, something alive, someone possessing the wisdom before all worlds must speak life into our lifeless bodies. If we are only broken, our cries of desperation may be the prescribed ritual of repentance. But if we are dead, only the ridiculous mercy and love of God can resurrect us.
And you are dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we are dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:1-5, 8-9).
Paul uses a present active participle in this Ephesians passage to describe death. This is not describing a state of the past or the future, but the present reality of the people to whom he is speaking. So, instead of “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (as the ESV renders it), it is best understood as “you ARE dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” The contrast here is that God is the only one who can give life. He is rich in mercy because we can do nothing to deserve this life. We are not just broken with little sparks of goodness remaining in the scraps; we are not just temporarily out-of-service waiting to get our lives back on track. Dead people cannot make themselves live again.
The immeasurable gift of God is that he has made you alive, not simply unbroken. His grace and mercy have nothing to do with your effort, your works, or your will. The miracle is that God raises the dead to eternal life, not that he allows life to be a little easier from time to time. The great love of our Father sent his beloved son to be choked out by the darkness so that he could breathe life again into his lungs. The great love of our Creator overcame the worst enemy we now fight against: death. The great love of God proclaims you dead in your sin, so he alone can save you by his grace.
The immeasurable gift of God is that he has made you alive, not simply unbroken.
“I’m dead, but alive in Christ,” she says, and there is nothing more to say.
Thanks be to Christ Jesus, alone.