[first published in the monthly congregational “Notes” for August, 2019]
The product doesn’t work as it should so we “exercise our rights” and take it back, expecting a new one. We know the law! Imagine our surprise and annoyance if we were to be told, “You no longer have any right to complain about this product. The government has changed the law and all warranties are now invalid. Your product came from the factory that way and you will just have to accept it. There will be no exchange and no refund.” We would feel cheated. Of course, depending on the type of fault we may be able to repair it and perhaps we will be surprised at how long it lasts. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it was not what it should have been and we will feel wronged. No-one likes a broken product.
So what do we do with broken people? We need think carefully before responding because we are broken people as well. We “came from the factory” that way, along with everyone else. We also need to define brokenness. We know that people are born with all sorts of functional disabilities and challenges, and we can rejoice that human learning is working to overcome these things so that more may live a fuller life. We recognise that this functional brokenness is not good; even Jesus did (John 9:1-3). But that is only part of the story. Human brokenness is moral as well as functional and there is a world of difference between the two. Moral brokenness means we will fail because we want to and that there will be times when we will like being broken.
This is the key to understanding the Bible’s message. Despite the warning he was given, Adam deliberately chose moral brokenness (willing disobedience) rather than his created perfection, and with that choice passed this moral brokenness on to every one of his descendants. This brokenness is what the Bible calls sin and why it can say, “There is none righteous…there is none who seeks after God…there is no one who does good… all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10-23).
Moral brokenness perversely denies that anything is broken and tells us we must not complain or criticise if someone else lives according to a different moral standard. “It is just how people are.” Each person becomes their own moral arbiter and everything must be accepted as morally good so long as “no-one is hurt” or “society consents.” We are seeing this view come to its ascendancy in our own day backed by the full force of law. But this “freedom” is no more liberating that the freedom Adam sought in Eden, and will lead to exactly the same result: decline, death and separation.
Mercifully God did not throw us away in our brokenness and leave us to decay even further. Instead, He appointed the righteous moral perfection of Jesus as a gracious substitution for all who repent. It is Jesus’ life for ours. He not only paid the penalty for our sin but guaranteed our full restoration. In a sense, God takes the morally broken and repentant person back under the warranty purchased by His Son, even though the faults were not His responsibility. He then re-brands us as His own work.
As we come to understand this, we should be amazed and over-awed by such a love! When reminded of our own moral brokenness we will never want to say, as others may, “That is a part of who I am!” as if somehow our brokenness is essential to our identity. We do want to not call the broken, Good! Instead, we will look forward in hope to the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) in the new heaven and new earth where righteous dwells ( 2 Pet 3:13). And as we go on, we will pray for grace to live holy and transformed lives.