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Are We Using the Word “Brokenness” Biblically?

This article (“2 Reconciliation Primers” by Pat Quinn) originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.

We often hear Christians today talking about “brokenness.”

Many seem to use “brokenness” to describe the underlying reason they sin. Someone might say, “I struggle with pornography because of the ‘brokenness’ I experienced growing up in a home with a father who objectified women.”

Others seem to use “brokenness” to describe the result of being sinned against. For example, “I experienced deep ‘brokenness’ when I was emotionally ‘wounded’ by my mother’s rejection of me.”

Still others seem to use “brokenness” to describe the result of enduring suffering. Such as, “Failing in three business ventures left me dealing with ‘brokenness’ and battered self-confidence.”

First, Empathy for These Usages of “Brokenness”

Anyone who has ever read any of my blog posts, any of my books, or heard any of my lectures, seminar presentations or messages knows that I teach that God calls us to empathize with one another in suffering. Biblical counseling is not only about confronting heart sin; it is also about comforting those who have been sinned against, those who have endured great suffering in a fallen world.

As I like to say, “We live in a fallen world and it often falls on us.” When it does, it can “break” us—it beats us up and beats us down. The great apostle Paul candidly admitted that when life knocked him down, he despaired even of life and felt the sentence of death (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). That’s pretty “broken.”

Second, Caution About These Usages of “Brokenness”

I don’t have a lot of problem with calling the result of being sinned against and the result of facing suffering “brokenness.” Unless, in doing so, we think our number one issue or problem is our brokenness or woundedness from suffering.

Our number one problem is our sinfulness—having sinned against God. Our number one problem is not our brokenness—others having sinned against us or facing suffering because of living in a fallen world.

That’s why I have a significant problem with the first use of “brokenness”—where we use it to describe the underlying reason we sin.

Think about Job and Job’s wife. They both faced the same horrific suffering. Job’s wife responded by telling Job to “curse God and die”—give up on God and give up on life, yourself and others.” Job responded by saying, “Blessed be His name—the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Their “brokenness”—their suffering—was staggering beyond imagination. But their brokenness did not cause their sin.

If I were counseling Job and Job’s wife, yes, it would be helpful for me to understand the personal reasons they each might struggle with a particular temptation to sin. Just like it would be helpful for me to understand that the man I’m counseling about a pornography problem had a father who objectified women. That’s helpful in understanding his particular temptation, but it is not causative. His history and upbringing and broken family life does not demand that he give into that sin. Nor does it robustly explain why he gives into that sin.

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Bob is the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, the Vice President for Institutional Development and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College, and the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. For seventeen years he served as the founding Chairman of and Professor in the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD.