Brokenness – Value?

When my wife and I exercise in our bonus room we watch some kind of DVD.  Today we watched the biography of St. Patrick.  Though I was familiar with much of his story, I was intrigued when the video narrated the following from his Confession.

I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.”  Confession of St. Patrick, 12

He saw his enslavement in Ireland as a divine punishment for his own sins and irreligiosity. His enslavement was a humbling which he took to heart and it ultimately changed his life.  As a slave he spent hours alone tending the flocks and he used that time to pursue God in quietness and solitude. It had a profound affect on his life. His humbling turned him to God so that God could utilize a useless stone mired in mud (sin) as a building block in his kingdom. His years of meditation, prayer, and service brought him to this conclusion about his own life.

It reminded me of a biblical text from the longest “chapter” in the Bible.

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word…It was good for me to be afflicted that I learn your decrees…I know, O Lord, that…in your faithfulness you have afflicted me.  May your unfailing love be my comfort…Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75, 76a, 90a).

Psalm 119 is one of those Psalms that has, at times, seemed rather monotonous to me. By the time I am through the eigth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Psalmist seems rather repetitive. “Boring” is a word that comes to mind….but that is on my bad days, my distracted days, days of relative spiritual apathy.

But I am always struck by the Teth section (verses 65-72),  It contains an astounding, indeed unfathomable, statement.

“It was good for me to be afflicted.”

I admit it.  I don’t like that statement.  It has, at times, seemed incredulous to me. It is one of those “hard sayings” in the Bible. But there is more! As we continue to read the Psalm, he makes another astounding, indeed for many unfathomable, statement.

“…in your faithfulness you afflicted me.”

God did it!  I don’t know specifically what he did to the Psalmist, but the Psalmist believes God afflicted him. Not only that, he believes it was an act of divine faithfulness.

Can affliction be a act of faithful love? It seems so. For this particular Psalmist, he saw the affliction as Yahweh’s loving wake-up call in order to arrest his degeneration, to round up his lost sheep.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now….”

But now…that is the key. Affliction can become an experience of divine grace. It calls us to introspection, to humility, to dependance upon God. And God is present in the midst of that affliction to receive us, love us and renew us.

I’ve been there. I’m there now. Affliction is sometimes a divine act of transformation.

But we must be careful here. We cannot interpret another’s experience, only our own.  And we cannot say that all affliction fits the language of Psalm 119.  The Psalmist interpreted his own experience as a moment of divine grace, but it does not mean every affliction must conform to his interpretation. Not everyone of mine does. Job’s did not either–Job was not afflicted because he went astray.

But sometimes it does. Sometimes I see a divine hand in my affliction. I see his mercy and his grace. I see his call to holiness. I see an invitation to become like him.

Sometimes affliction is what what I need, what is best for me, and is a pathway to true peace.

God’s mercy is wondrous, his faithfulness sure, and his sovereign power effective.



10 Responses to “Brokenness – Value?”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I would never propose a reason for any specific instance of suffering and affliction. However, there certainly are many examples where people endured affliction and in hindsight they can look back and see the redemptive value of their suffering. Nevertheless, you are right to point out that we must allow the sufferer to interpret his/her experience rather than impose our own judgment.

    BTW… I posted a link to you hermenuetical series on my blog as part of a post I did about an observation Alister McGrath makes (which I quote in the post) concerning the polemical use of the Bible among the Lutheran’s and Calvinist’s. His observation could be said of our Restoration Movement as well. The quote come from his book “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”. I don’t know if you have read it but it is a pretty easy and interesting read.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  2.   Q Says:

    Rex,

    I agree there can be a redemptive aspect, but I don’t believe the redemption is the reason. That sounds almost vindictive: God allows this in order to prove a point. I think it is instead that this (whatever “this” is) happens and God redeems it to prove his nature.

    There is a value in brokenness, but only if we allow there to be. The value isn’t, I think, inherent.

    Reading through the parable on the talents, though, I’ve formed the opinion that talents aren’t just things you’re good at or resources you have — it’s anything about you God wishes to use for his greater purpose. Burying your talents is essentially making yourself, and those things about yourself, unavailable to him. It’s scary that the things that have hurt and the memories that are the worst and the things that cause most fear might be the exact things that God, in his redemptive work, is calling me to open up to him, to his will. That these things I didn’t ask for any more than I asked for the ability to sing or to write or to have blue eyes, that these are things that he’s entrusted the realization of the “value” of those things to me. Burying it, trying to escape or resolve or secret it away and making it unavailable to the healing and help of others allows it to remain what it always was: a hurt, a stain on the image of God, an unredeemed act and worthless. While I don’t have trouble, usually, giving God access to my assets, my time, my easily recognized and named talents, giving him access to this has always felt like the real sacrifice. And a scary one at that.

    I’m rambling, though. I shouldn’t attempt to articulate at 3 in the morning. I realized as I finished writing that I was no longer addressing Rex and probably not even the context of this post. But I think I’ll leave it anyway; there might be merit in it somewhere.

  3. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks for linking, Rex. I appreciate your blogging very much.

    Q, it is so difficult to think about redemptive suffering or the value in suffering. I tend to protest the idea myself and I can only speak of my experience and how I understand Psalms like 119.

    Perhaps it is not that there is inherent value in suffering but that suffering is a means by which some values are communicated, occasions for brokenness, and opportunities to experience divine redemption.

    Ultimately, each sufferer searches to find God’s peace in the midst of their suffering and to experience how God will redeem their own suffering. When it comes to interpretation of another’s suffering, we need to mind our own business. :-) At the same time, it is important for me to listen to the testimony of others and learn from their experience of God in suffering…and without my own personal critique.

    Thanks for sharing, Q.

  4.   Q Says:

    My response wasn’t intended to sound as contrary as it did. It was more late night/early morning wrestling that got out of hand, I think, and would have been more appropriately wrestled out elsewhere — in my journal, probably.

    I do recognize the value of hearing the testimony of others and stand in awe of the redemptive work of God. Sometimes — sometimes I can respond the way the psalmist does. Often I can’t. But my personal experience is hardly a litmus test for all human experience; I didn’t mean for it to sound that way.

  5. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    I did not take it as negative, Q. It is good to hear from you and I value your contributions.

  6.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Brokenness. Shattered Dreams. I confess that I despise them. I am not the first to feel such nor will I be the last. Nor have I quite made it to the point where the Psalmist did. I still find my self ranting at the cold dark night sky. Sounds pathetic almost doesn’t it.

    I am grateful that God in his mercy has included laments and even imprecations in the Psalms because they have been just what I have needed … even came up with a few new ones. He has not zapped me yet so I hope he has heard.

    I can agree with the opening of your post too. I can honestly say that I had no clue what it meant to “live by faith” until this period of my life. I just had no idea what that meant. So in that sense I suppose I can say “it was good” for crap to happen. God has blown, or has allowed it to be blown, my world to smitherieens … or it seems so. And through it he has been there I know.

    Bobby V

  7. Avatar of johnmarkhicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

    Recognizing the “good” in our suffering is always difficult and often impossible. Only with hindsight…and even then perhaps not at all. Some suffering seems too meaningless to ever yield anything that could be called “good.”

  8.   Q Says:

    “Affliction is sometimes a divine act of transformation.”

    I’ve been thinking about this line a lot.

    In my more lucid moments, I can accept not only that affliction has been for me an act of transformation, but also *formation.*

    In my life, I have come to believe that some of the things that I wish had never happened are some of the things that have shaped me most, and not all in negative ways.

    Because of my “affliction,” there are things for which I have developed a greater empathy and passion for/about than I otherwise might. And those empathetic and passionate impulses are what have often driven me to continue striving for healing, for justice, for peace in the lives of others affected (afflicted?) by the same things long after I, personally, am tired and want to quit. But they bring me out of myself and help me to realize that there are things in my life, even (and often especially) things that I hate, that God intends to use to help and heal others, if I let him.

  9.   Richard constant Says:

    I find it interesting that job is asked a lot of questions by God toward the end of that book.
    I also find it interesting how Jesus responds to sate after being in the desert 40 days and 40 nights fasting.
    I also find it interesting how he responds to the Pharisees all the time.
    And then in the garden approaching his father three times takes it to a whole another level.
    I’m not really certain what God intended with the creation before Satan and men got their hands it. But it was good of that I’m sure.

    Then we get God manifested in the flesh to come down and fix what is broken in a dark and godless world.
    The irony I see here. Is that God left the word here to change us to the divine nature, in a dark and faithless world.

    God shows us by example the way.
    And some of the costs to him for redemption.
    As we discussed in previous posts each and every one of us have a predisposition God deals with us through that predisposition for h is purpose.
    That’s his purpose.
    I guess one day the church will grow up.
    And it will be through people that have learned to say yes Lord..
    we do have a predisposition for instant gratification.

    I could put some other things in here like he’s dealing with as sons inflicting is a plan that’s necessary.
    Which goes along with as you have ability there is a certain responsibility that’s entailed.
    I don’t mean to state the obvious but look at what you’re doing here John Mark only rearranging the last 200 years.
    And I hate to remind you of words but did you not say to clean up some mass requires a lot of verbiage.

    It’s always hard to wrap my head around this

    And he learned obedience through the things he suffered

    Quite honestly this is God and he gets to learn obedience.

    There must be 10. Million Books written on that one

    Oh well all this is long enough blessings rich in California just a thought or two

  10.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Q,

    My comment about the redemptive value in suffering was not intended to say that suffer happens per se for the purpose of redemption. I would not want to say that as a matter of fact since I do not know what God is thinking when x,y, z happens to a person(s). Nevetheless, we do find in the experiences of others (including my own) redemptive value and therefore over time we can possibly find redemptive value in other experiences of suffering.

    A couple years ago at the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, TN, as part of their “Faith in Crisis” series I was asked to speak on the subject of “Why Does God Let Children Die?” My short answer was and still is “I Don’t Know!!!” But what I did show was how the suffering of Jesus on the cross served redemptive, pedagogical, and punitive purposes. Now for reasons that would take too long in this comment, I do not believe suffering is related to punitive goals (thus, I strongly disagree with people like Pat Robertson who claim that tsunamis and hurricanes happens as a divine punishment for peoples sins). But I do find in my own experience and the experiences of others the values of redemption and learning. Does that say that God causes/allows suffering explicitly for those purposes? Again, I do not know the mind of God so I would not want to make any specific claim as to why.

    When I spoke at the Highland congregation I also stressed that rather than trying to discern why every experience of suffering happens, that God is with us in our suffering and the church, as ambassadors of Christ, has the responsibility to be with the sufferer too. When it comes to dealing with this subject in a ministry context, I had a great Adjunct Professor at Harding University Graduate School of Religion:-).

    Thanks for the conversation,

    Rex

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