“How can you hold a belief that people are these wrecked, broken things just waiting for a savior?” He asked the question honestly but with passion. There was no argument that people aren’t terrible sometimes but it seems most people try to be good or, at least, do good. The whole of humanity can’t really be these horrible sin-riddled broken creatures, can they?
The point of view underlying his question is the foundation of more than a few media portrayals of fanatical Christians. The kind of people who stand on street corners yelling condemnations and shaking their heads or fists about the sins of everyone passing by. The understanding is that humans are deeply and irrevocably flawed – broken – in a way that makes us worthy of punishment. (Although, let’s put a pin in the eternal punishment topic for today.)
Hot mess & grace
The other side of the same belief comes from the church community. Christians who subscribe to the, “Well, I’m a hot mess but Jesus loves me!” version of brokeness. They adhere to a system that emphasizes human frailty, sinfulness, and lack as if grace were only profound in the context of humanity being utterly wrecked. Of course, there are plenty of bible verses to be quoted demonstrating that humans fall short of perfection – really just pick up a bible and flip open to any chapter (Psalm 103:19, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23). It won’t take you long to reach evidence that humans make catastrophic errors on a daily basis, but here is where the point of view divides.
Human history and the biblical story absolutely support the concept of humans as imperfect and less than we could be, but does it really paint a picture of abject brokenness? Especially, continued brokenness despite faith in Christ – the biblical savior and redeemer?
Very good & not so good
Genesis 1:27 tells us humans were created in God’s image – Genesis also asserts that God charged humans to rule and cultivate the earth and called all this, “very good” (Genesis 1:27-31). So, biblically, what God created was and is good. He set up a system for humans to live and thrive under (the concept of order from chaos – a conversation for another day). When humans decided to create their own framework for living (referred to as sin), does the Bible indicate that we became broken? Genesis 3:23 records, “therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” (emphasis added). While the verses before also tell of other repercussions to the newly established human-derived system, there is no language about brokenness. Rather, as the story unfolds the language indicates a disruption to relationship, closeness, and completeness.
It’s a proximity problem
Following the language of shalom and the overarching narrative, the story the bible tells is one of fractured relationships — proximity. Adam and Eve, in choosing their system over the one established by God, created more space between them and their creator. The greater the space, the less human humanity behaves precisely because to be human is to be the image of God.
The concept of brokenness is handy for recruitment and it sure can be useful to Christians who want a reason for their un-Christian-like behavior. It is not, however, a deeply biblical idea. If you struggle with the idea of humans being broken, you are in good company – as long as you are closing the proximity gap through Jesus.
He is the only human to get it right and he returns us to full humanity through connection to Him (Colossians 1:15, Romans 8:16-17).