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 lets go into her desperate remorse. Leaning backwards off her hidden cliff of virtue, falling into an 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 broken is immediately 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 fragmented lives are only 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 times more profoundly than others. There have been dreadful wounds inflicted upon us, from our 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 it’s not quite descriptive enough.
Our brokenness cuts deeper than the times we recognize it’s bad and then strive for the good. 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 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. Paralyzed, motionless, unresponsive, dead.
Our rotting bodies stink with self-righteous performances in this life. Our decomposing flesh eats up the lies of self-improvement and quantity 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?
As disgusting as it sounds, we are dead in sin and not only broken. If we are only broken, we may 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 carcass. If we are only broken, we may be responsible for 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.” (Ephesians 2:1-5, 8-9)
Speaking about the ones who are dead here in Ephesians, Paul uses a present active participle. This is not a state of the past or the future, but the present reality of the people to whom he is speaking. You ARE dead. 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, we are not just temporarily out-of-service and God is waiting for our lives to get back on track. The grace and mercy of God has nothing to do with your effort, your works, your will. You are dead.
The immeasurable gift of God is that He made you are alive, not simply unbroken. The miracle is that God raises the dead to eternal life, not that he causes this life to be a little easier for a 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.
“I’m dead,” she says and there is nothing more to say.
Thanks be to Christ Jesus, alone.