My school had a missions conference this week, and instead of our regular class, we attended an open seession in the chapel. The speaker is currently pastoring a church, but in the past he spent quite a bit of time in various locations in Africa.
He talked a fair bit about the popularity of the prosperity gospel in poor African cultures. He made the comment that in some Nigerian wedding ceremonies, the vows between husband and wife aren't "for better or worse," but "for better or better," indicating a hope that things will only get better. The prosperity gospel is spreading rapidly in Africa. This led him to ponder the question about what our gospel message looks like to others.
Something which intrigued me was his comment about a "gospel of authentic brokenness." By this he meant that we focus regularly on our brokenness, and how authentic it is. The problem comes when we never get up from that brokenness. The bearer of that kind of message never sees any victory; it's all being broken and genuine. He didn't think that was an accurate presentation of the gospel.
The emphasis on brokenness is everywhere. In the past, I have read blogs which focus almost exclusively on personal brokenness; their struggles, humbling experiences; their frailty; confession of sin. A humble, broken spirit is a good thing, but when it's all the person ever writes about, I eventually lose interest. It's all lament and no praise. The gospel is good news, and while it is necessary to have a penitent heart, there must be a moment when we rise from the ashes, so to speak. I can't help but think of Psalm 102, which spends the first 11 verses relating despair, but then in verse 12, turns back to the Lord, "But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever." Lament is good. We need to be free to lament, but ultimately lament is about us, and we need to turn back to God. I think this "gospel of authentic brokenness" can be the kind that is focused more on me than on God.
It is not surprising that being authentic and open is valued. No one likes to think that she is the only one with struggles, and it is frustrating to feel like we have to pretend that life is always rosy when we all know that is not true. I find it hard relating to people who are never honest about their struggles. But I do understand the reluctance to share about each and every one. Some people are more private, and that's just fine.
When it comes to the gospel message we share with others, though, we do have to move beyond brokenness, because brokennness isn't enough. There has to be a moment of repentance, and repentance is not merely feeling bad. It requires action. It requires change. It requires turning away. We can't do that if we're still flat on the floor in our brokenness. There comes a time when we have to reach out and receive the forgiveness Christ offers. The good news is that Christ came so we could be healed from that brokenness. We are new creatures in Christ, and praise God, we can live in his strength.