Most of us are willing to let God bend our will in the hope that when he lets go, it will spring back to how it was. Yet only by allowing ourselves to be broken can God re-make us.
The verb to break has taken on a darker meaning in the twenty-first century, as it has come to be applied to people, not objects. In the furore over the interrogation of terrorist suspects, all kinds of euphemisms have been employed to describe techniques in ways which supposedly fall short of legal definitions of torture. But the goal remains the same: to break someone so they will give you the information you desire. It is not a pleasant thought.
At a less sinister level, we speak also of broken people, whose lives have been devastated by misfortune. Broken people are objects of pity, in some cases even of scorn. Another word which has taken a turn for the worse in recent years is loser. No-one ever wants to be a loser, but now it is employed derisively to describe people of no worth. When I once described someone as a good loser, the person I was talking to burst out laughing, interpreting what I was saying less as a commendation of someone’s graciousness in defeat, and more as a seal of their uselessness. As the Australian politician, Lindsay Tanner has observed, losers are modern-day lepers. One might go further, and suggest that in a graceless world, the word loser has replaced the word sinner as an object of shame.
As people make their way through Lent, they often recall the words of the psalmist: ‘the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (Ps. 51:17). These words are attributed to David after his affair with Bathsheba was uncovered by the prophet Nathan. There was no wiggle room for David: he was guilty of a great sin and was required to confront this in the presence of a holy God.
It is an uncomfortable thought that God wants to break us, yet it is an inescapable aspect of a personal relationship with him. Sin is, essentially, wilfulness. We seek to exert our own will over God’s will. In a clash of wills like this, only one can prevail – the other must be broken. Letting God break our spirit can be a painful, tearful process. In reality, most of us are willing only to let him bend our will, in the hope that when he lets go, it will spring back to how it was. Yet only by breaking us can God re-make us into the people we are called to be - where love, joy and peace replace selfishness, cynicism and insecurity.
Many people are affronted by talk like this, because it challenges their presumed autonomy, as if God has no right to expect this of them. Yet it is the outcome of a relationship freely entered into on both sides, and it is predicated on the personal sacrifice of the Son of God, whose own body was broken by crucifixion. The tormentors of Jesus could not break his will (to adopt modern lingo), shown in that powerful moment when he commended his own spirit to God as his life ended. By comparison allowing God, in his own time, to reshape our desires and ambitions in life is a much small matter.
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