Why I do/do not like calling people “broken”

A friend of mine got what-for on Twitter recently when he encouraged Christian parents to teach their kids that they’re broken. Very broken, in fact.

People went berserk (in love, of course). Disagreements were shared. Tribute comics were even drawn.

It might surprise you that the suggestion of teaching children (or anyone else for that matter) that they’re broken would be offensive to professing Christians. After all, the Bible is pretty uninhibited in its depiction of humanity. But in all honesty, I can see both sides of the issue. In fact, I kind of have a love/hate relationship with “brokenness.”

Here’s why I like the term “broken:”

1. It’s true. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, to reflect what He is like into the world. But their sin shattered that image and the mirror is broken. You still see glimpses of the glory meant to be displayed, but it’s splintered by shards and cracks. So it’s a good general overview.

2. It speaks well to victims. We never want to shy away from the truth about our situation—that we’re all responsible before God for our own sin. Nevertheless, it’s not always the best lead-in in a conversation, especially if you’re talking to someone who is trapped in an abusive situation. But what it can do is help them begin to see how the sins of others affected them, which in turn can lead to an understanding of the impact of their own sin.

Those are my two principal reasons for liking the term. Here’s why I don’t like it:

1. It’s kind of fuzzy. This, really, is a problem more with the user than the term itself. When I first heard the term “broken” gaining popularity, it was most often used by folks who tend to go soft on sin. “Broken” sounds way less offensive that “child of wrath” doesn’t it? Similarly, because the word has been used a great deal by people on both sides of the theological carpet, the meaning tends to get lost. It sounds nice, and depending on what we mean by it, it may well be helpful. But we need to make sure we’re defining it properly.

2. It doesn’t go far enough. Again, this is an issue less with the word itself, but with inadequacy of all language on this point. Just as human language will always fail to adequately capture the glory and majesty of God, so too it fails to capture the depth and depravity of sin.

The Bible itself reserves its harshest language for sins of various sorts and kinds. When the Bible states that man’s intentions from his youth is only evil continually, it means it. It’s meant to shock us. When we read that we’re dead in sin, that we’re at war with God, that God hates sinners with a righteous hatred—we should soon realize that “broken” doesn’t begin to adequately describe the seriousness of our condition.

So there you have it: two reasons I like the term, two why I’m not a big fan.

What’s your take: Do you like the term “broken”? Should we be using it? 

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  • Matthew

    I think that this is very similar to other words and phrases in that it depends on who you’re talking to. Use for instance your thoughts concerning an abuse victim… broken just comes across better. Like any other conversation, we’re relational beings, and what is helpful for one person can be not helpful – or downright hurtful (and not in a good way) – for another.

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