I like words. Words are miniature symbols – portable, transferrable, memorable – freighted with meaning. Take a word like “fired,” for instance, as in “He was fired from his job.”
He lost his job.
But it was a trial by fire.
Like being burned at the stake. Or sacrificed in a pagan ritual.
The kind of crisis that changes a life. Or ends it.
I like words a lot.
I also believe that words should be egalitarian and democratic. Words are the currency of social exchange. We all have them. We all use them. We teach one another, and we learn from one another – which words go where, which words work best – as we stretch every little symbol (sometimes far past its breaking point) in our attempts to know and be known. There is give and take, intent and effect, stimulus and response.
Words shape our connections. Words also shape our culture. And our world.
If you want to know a people, it pays to pay attention to their words.
But we are mostly desensitized to the language we use. We don’t hear our words. Or feel them. And it is possible to become enslaved by old ideas enshrined in contemporary clichés.
At a recent gathering of evangelical Christians, we sang a song in which one verse focused on God’s desire that we be broken. I say, “We sang,” but I didn’t sing that line. It didn’t make sense. Doesn’t make sense. Why would God want me to be broken?
Am I broken? The lyricist probably intended something like humility. But broken goes farther than that. It’s not just the wrong metaphor. It’s also harmful. It suggests that there’s something wrong with the human condition. And by association, it suggests that there’s something wrong with God. An illustration:
I’ve never broken a bone in my body. I’ve crashed bicycles, tumbled down a set of stairs, fallen from a roof. One time, driving too fast on a mountain road, I couldn’t make a corner and slid right off a cliff’s edge. I landed in a tree. It was embarrassing and frightening, but I walked away whole.
And I was grateful.
Words matter. And this particular word – broken – at least the way we use it, suggests that God is 1) a bumbling fool, 2) malicious, 3) or weak.
Here’s what I mean: a God who desires that creation be broken is 1) a God who didn’t make things right. 2) Unless God did it on purpose. 3) Or didn’t have a choice.
If my arm’s perfectly good, breaking it doesn’t make it better. People created in the image of God don’t get more godly by being broken down.
What’s it mean that people need to be broken? It means there’s something wrong with the work God did the first time around. Sure. God gives second chances. But why would God need one?
God made me in God’s image. God made me whole.
The truth is that sometimes, I slander others. Sometimes, I play politics to improve my position. Sometimes, I undercount Monopoly spaces and land on Free Parking instead of Kentucky Avenue. Sometimes, I tumble down a set of stairs or fall off a roof, or drive too fast on a mountain road.
If I’m broken, then, it’s not because I’m missing something important that God forgot to give me. It’s because I think that what I have or who I am just isn’t enough.
Broken’s not the word for that. At least it’s not God’s word. A sense of brokenness is what motivates us to seek out bigger and better and more. God’s desire for us isn’t that we would be broken. Instead, God wants us to open our eyes and see that all our bones are still there. We’re still alive and breathing. We may be stuck in a tree on the side of a mountain. But we’re going to be all right.
There’s a light breeze. Tree branches brush up against the window. The sky’s on fire.
And the view is breathtaking.
There’s a light breeze. Tree branches brush up against the window. The sky’s on fire. And the view is breathtaking.