In this short excerpt, pastor and author Austin Fischer describes a surprising dynamic that sometimes occurs in the life of a Christian: believing so strongly in a loving God that one cannot fathom the depths of the world’s suffering, and thus, can lead to a loss of faith:
Christianity sows seeds of celestial charity in our hearts, and those seeds can mutate into an existential broken-heartedness on behalf of the suffering world. The radiance of divine love can morph into a tumor that destroys faith. Christian faith creates a love so fierce that it can accidently subvert faith in the name of love in the face of savage evil.
In other words, it is often those with deep faith, firmly grounded in the love of God, who find their faith languishing in the shadows when faced with creation’s ceaseless pain: “The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering of the world.”
Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
“It is Not the Healthy Who Need a Doctor”
Ann Voskamp, in her book The Broken Way, describes what it was like to have mental illness trivialized from the pulpit, as someone who identified with similar struggles:
I was eighteen, with scars across my wrists, when I’d heard a pastor tell a whole congregation that he had once “lived next to a loony bin.” I’d looked at the floor when everyone laughed. They didn’t know how I had left my only mama behind the locked doors of psychiatric wards more than a few times. When they laughed, I felt the blood drain away from my face, and I’d wanted to stand up and howl, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
I’d wanted to stand up and beg: When the church isn’t for the suffering and broken, then the church isn’t for Christ. Because Jesus, with His pierced side, is always on the side of the broken. Jesus always moves into places moved with grief. Jesus always seeks out where the suffering is, and that’s where Jesus stays. The wound in His side proves that Jesus is always on the side of the suffering, the wounded, the busted, the broken.
The One Thing Going For Us
As for Christians, well, we really have just one thing going for us. We have publicly declared… that we are desperately in need of Another to give us his righteousness, to complete us, to live in us. We have publicly and flagrantly abandoned the project of self-justification that is at the heart of every person’s compulsion to manage perceptions…
This means telling the world-before the world does its own investigative journalism—that we’re not as bad as they think sometimes. We’re worse…If we’re being honest about our own beauty and brokenness, the beautiful broken One will make himself known to our neighbors.
Our Brokenness and Taking up the Cross
In their excellent book Invitation to a Journey, M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton describe the reality of what it means to “take up our cross” in our daily lives:
Sometimes we suffer under the illusion that our incompleteness, our brokenness, our deadness is something like a sweater that we can easily unbutton and slip off. It is not that easy. Our brokenness is us. Like Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” This is what Jesus indicates when he speaks about losing yourself.
That part of you which has not yet been formed in the image of Christ is not simply a thing in you—it is an essential part of who you are. This is what Jesus is pointing to when he calls us to take up our cross.
Our cross is not that cantankerous person we have to deal with day by day. Our cross is not the employer we just can’t get along with. Our cross is not that neighbor or work colleague who cuts across the grain in every single time of relationship.
Nor is our cross the difficulties and infirmities that the flow of life brings to us beyond our control. Our cross is the point of our unlikeness to the image of Christ, where we must die to self in order to be raised by God into wholeness of life in the image of Christ right there at that point.
Taken from: Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Copyright (c) 2016 by M. Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Suffering is Evidence of God’s Presence
Suffering is not evidence of God’s absence, but of God’s presence, and it is in our experience of being broken that God does his surest and most characteristic salvation work. There is a way to accept, embrace, and deal with suffering that results in a better life, not a worse one, and more of the experience of God, not less. God is working out his salvation in our lives the way he has always worked it out—at the place of brokenness, at the cross of Jesus, and at the very place where we take up our cross.
Value after Brokenness: The Art of Kintsugi
There are going to be broken times when you feel as if everything is under demolition. When things feel unresolved or ruined inside of you. When the only thing you might have the strength to do is three-quarters-of-the-way trust that God will take the broken pieces and glue them back together. That’s called kintsugi. Kintsugi is a Japanese term that means “join with gold” or “golden seams.”
If you were to break a jar and wanted to put it back together using the method of kintsugi, someone would take the jar and piece it back together with a glue that is mixed with powdered gold or platinum. It wouldn’t be like superglue, where the item looks perfect because the glue is clear. You would see the gold in all the cracks.
You would know that the object has breaks in it. Those who practice kintsugi believe that just because something breaks doesn’t mean it cannot be used anymore. It’s not about perfection; it’s about resilience. The once broken thing becomes more valuable because now there is gold binding the pieces together.
The Way of the Spiritual Life
Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.
The Weight of Hell Shifts to the Weight of Glory
In her book The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp shares a beautiful exchange between her and her husband (The farmer). His encouragement is for all of us: that God uses the broken things in this world for good.
“You know—everything all across this farm says the same thing, you know that, right?” He waits till I let him look me in the eye, let him look into me and all this fracturing. “The seed breaks to give us the wheat. The soil breaks to give us the crop, the sky breaks to give us the rain, the wheat breaks to give us the bread. And the bread breaks to give us the feast. There was once even an alabaster jar that broke to give Him all the glory”…
He looks right through the cracks of me… He says it slowly, like he means it: “Never be afraid of being a broken thing.” I don’t—I don’t even know what that means. I am afraid. And I think this journey, this way, will not spare any of us. But maybe—this is the way to freedom? I’ve got to remember to just keep breathing—keep believing.
In Christ—no matter the way, the storm, the story—we always know the outcome.
…I’ll take his words like a daring covenant, not knowing yet what’s to come: there is no growth without change, no change without surrender, no surrender without wound—no abundance without breaking.
Wounds are what break open the soul to plant the seeds of a deeper growth. I whisper it to the Farmer, one line that unfolds like willing, cupped hands: “Brokenness can make abundance.” And the weight of hell shifts almost imperceptibly to feel more like the weight of glory, even if I’m not quite sure yet if that greater grace will come.
What Makes you Weep?
Will Rogers was known for his laughter, but he also knew how to weep. One day he was entertaining at the Milton H. Berry Institute in Los Angeles, a hospital that specialized in rehabilitating polio victims and people with broken backs and other extreme physical handicaps. Of course, Rogers had everybody laughing, even patients in really bad condition; but then he suddenly left the platform and went to the rest room.
Milton Berry followed him to give him a towel; and when he opened the door, he saw Will Rogers leaning against the wall, sobbing like a child. He closed the door, and in a few minutes, Rogers appeared back on the platform, as jovial as before.
If you want to learn what a person is really like, ask three questions: What makes him laugh? What makes him angry? What makes him weep? These are fairly good tests of character that are especially appropriate for Christian leaders. I hear people saying, “We need angry leaders today!” or “The time has come to practice militant Christianity!” Perhaps, but “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
What we need today is not anger but anguish, the kind of anguish that Moses displayed when he broke the two tablets of the law and then climbed the mountain to intercede for his people, or that Jesus displayed when He cleansed the temple and then wept over the city. The difference between anger and anguish is a broken heart. It’s easy to get angry, especially at somebody else’s sins; but it’s not easy to look at sin, our own included, and weep over it.
Wholeness and Jack Pines
The educator Parker Palmer writes, “Wholeness doesn’t mean perfection: It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” When Palmer speaks of wholeness, he doesn’t mean a perfectly functioning body, or even a worldview where all the pieces fit together. What he has in mind is closer to the idea of integrity. He uses Douglas Wood’s meditation on a jack pine to illustrate:
Jack pines . . . are not lumber trees [and they] won’t win many beauty contests either. But to me this valiant old tree, solitary on its own rocky point, is as beautiful as a living thing can be. . . . In the calligraphy of its shape against the sky is written strength of character and perseverance, survival of wind, drought, cold, heat, disease. . . . In its silence it speaks of . . . wholeness . . . an integrity that comes from being what you are.
Taken from Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness by Liuan Huska. Copyright (c) 2020 by Liuan Huska. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com. Source material from Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 3.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Brokenness. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!