The Virtues of Brokenness, Part 2
[Kevin J. Eames, Ph.D. is professor of psychology and chair of the Psychology department at Covenant College, in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He is also an adjunct professor at Richmont Graduate University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His research interests center primarily around the psychology of religion and the cognitive science of religion, both from with the framework of a Christian psychology. He is currently at work on a textbook on the cognitive psychology of religion to be published by Waveland Press. Kevin is our blogger for the month of July and this is his third post.]
Last week’s blog post began an exploration of brokenness and I made three observations about knowingly broken people. First, broken people are realistic. Second, broken people are humble. Third, broken people are hopeful.
While realistic people know that pain involves unpleasant emotions, Tim Keller notes that religiosity is uncomfortable with those emotions – somehow expressions of sorrow and grief are synonymous with a lack of faith. If you’re sad, you’re not praying enough or you’re not in the Word enough, or you just don’t have enough faith. Do you see how incompatible this view is with the Bible? Throughout the Word of God, there is sorrow and lament over the evils of this world, including our own sin. Jesus Himself, who was the embodied Word of God, wept before the tomb of Lazarus. Did He who was the Word need to spend more time in the Word? I think not.
There seems to be this artificial separation between our corporate sadness and our personal sadness. So many of you are enrolled in majors you hope will help you to respond to the hurt in the world. Many of you for example are deeply moved by the suffering involved with human trafficking and see it for the outrage it is. Why then does it seem that we are discouraged from being personally sad? Someone once said to one of my daughters, “It’s OK to smile.” But it is also OK to be sad. Tim Keller warns us that there is a myth that faithfulness always leads to safety and security. Keller tells us to expect tears. The more we walk in our faith with the Father, the more we weep. Why? In Ezekiel, the Lord tells us he will remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. As our heart softens, we are more easily moved by the sufferings of others.
I suspect some of you may be wondering about James 1, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (1:2-4) The “joy” to which James refers is about the result of the trial – endurance, maturity, and, in verse 12, the crown of life. The joy is an attitude we adopt through the intentional focus of our cognitive abilities. John 16:21 addresses this as well, “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.”
I can’t very well imagine having said to my wife while she was in labor with one of our three children – “cheer up!” or “be joyful!” It would have been likely that I would have needed medical attention myself. As Proverbs 15:20 says, “Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.”
It is not only appropriate to express sorrow, but the expression of sorrow also agrees with God’s perception of the world, which is one that it is broken and whose redemption He accomplished through the death of His own Son. Suffering and sorrow should not surprise us. After all, what kind of a world did Jesus come to save? One where we are safe and secure? The reality of the fall is that we will suffer and experience sorrow. In fact, our failure to acknowledge this makes it that much harder when we do suffer. We have sorrow for two things: that which brings us pain, and the fact that we have to experience pain.
But God has also provided us with a model for how to cope with our sorrowing. Throughout the Psalms, David cries to God, wrestles with God, complains to God. Tim Keller calls some of these outpourings of anguish “prereflective outbursts in the presence of God.” In the immediate midst of our sorrow, we have a Father who understands weeping, who loves us enough to allow us to wrestle with our sorrow and suffering with Him. Moreover, as C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain noted, He doesn’t want us to get too comfortable in this world. He writes, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” So, it is not cynical or pessimistic to expect bad things to happen. We live in a broken world – what else would we expect?