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Is a “broken spirit” a good thing or a bad thing? 
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What do you think of this:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:17)

This verse is so familiar to us that we may not really think about it very much any more.  But let’s take a minute and actually think.

Is a “broken spirit” a good thing or a bad thing?

David seems to think it’s a good thing, in fact necessary if we are to come to God.

What does our culture think?

We strenuously object to being broken in spirit!

Being “spirited” is a good thing: it means we’re ambitious, we’re achievers, we stick up for ourselves and don’t let anyone put us down.  Being broken in spirit is the opposite:  in our culture it means we’re passive, we won’t stick up for ourselves, in fact it may mean we’re damaged emotionally.

Yet another way in which God’s ideals and standards are at odds with the world’s.

It’s clear which side Jesus comes down on.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)

The word Jesus chooses to use for “poor” means abjectly poor, a pauper with no recourse but begging.  So, broken indeed.

Our culture simply reflects our nature.  We humans really can’t stand to be broken in spirit.  To us, that equals being totally defeated, stripped of respect including self-respect.  Depending on the circumstances, we view it as contemptible, or pitiable, or outrageous.  We strenuously object to being broken in spirit!

We should recognize that we might be dealing with “broken” in two different senses of the word.  One refers to being damaged so as not to work properly.  The other is to be subdued, tamed, to have wildness trained out.  I think in these scriptures we are seeing both.

To arrive at the point David says we must, in order to approach God, we must have our pride and our willfulness subdued. 

That will never happen while we still proclaim, “I am whole, I am capable, I am my own master.”  That attitude is the wildness, part of our nature, that has to be trained out of us.  And it we don’t get there until we come to a key realization:  we are indeed broken—damaged, non-functional, infirm, in need of healing.

It’s sin that has broken us.

And the solution to sin, David teaches, is entirely dependent of us realizing how broken we are.  Then we can come to God, to His mercy, and seek to be repaired, healed.  Then, Jesus teaches us, we’re on the path to the Kingdom.

The world despises the broken, looking down on us in either pity or contempt.  They cannot see that they themselves are the ones truly broken, that their claims to be whole are lies.

We, on the other hand, who confess ourselves to be broken, are the ones—now healed—who have been made whole at last.

Love, Paul

Suggested Readings
When I was a young Sunday School student, I remember my dad, Bro. Bob Brinkerhoff, looking agitated. It appeared that something was troubling him. Finally, he stood up in the ecclesial hall and said, “You know brethren, Jesus’s body was not broken! The Apostle’s reference was to the broken bread in this passage in 1 Cor. 11:24.”
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