Why is it that so many people long to find the beauty in the broken? It is one thing to recognize our brokenness and to appreciate and show immense gratitude for the love of God and other people despite our brokenness while desiring improvement and wholeness. It is an entirely more troubling matter to praise the brokenness itself. We can and should appreciate that God loves us “just as we are,” but we cannot fool ourselves into believing that God wants us to remain just as we are. There is a tension in this matter that is all too easy to resolve in one of two ways, both of which are evil. One way is that way popularized by the Ragamuffin Gospel , that is celebrating the brokenness of life in a fallen world without having any real desire or longing or practical steps taken to become whole again as people or in relationships and institutions. The other evil way of resolving this dilemma is to pretend oneself to be whole apart from God, or to deny one’s own flaws and imperfections by presenting a false image of goodness to the world.
How then are we to resolve this tension? I submit that there is no way to successfully and morally resolve this tension at all. Rather, our life ought to oscillate in different parts of our lives at different times between an awareness of brokenness or weakness that prompts repentance and reflection and the desire and effort to ameliorate and better that state until brokenness at length gives way to increased wholeness, until a new area of brokenness or weakness is uncovered that requires further effort. Given the complexity of our lives and the massive problems that we face in our fallen world, developing a greater congruence with God’s ways is a task that individually takes all of our lives as we better understand God’s ways and their implications in all walks of life, and institutionally and socially such a task may take generations in families or other institutions. This task is worthwhile because our actions today can make life better for our children and for our children’s children, but it is not always easy to think over the long-term in terms of generations in our own behavior, which requires us to work against the false urgency of our times and the rush to short-term thinking.
How then do we get better? First, we have to know the standard that God expects of us. We must study God’s laws and God’s ways, so that we know what we ought to strive towards in the positive and strive to avoid in the negative. We need to see God’s laws and ways in the way in which they demonstrate the practical application of eternal principles such as love and justice and mercy. The practical applications are useful in that they lead us to practically live out the ideals we all pay lip service too. We show our faith by our works, after all. That said, we do not act in accordance with God’s ways in order to earn our salvation or earn the love of others, for such things cannot be earned but can only be given by grace. Our works are not a substitute for faith, but rather spring out of our faith. Our actions should spring out of our beliefs and not merely out of blind habits learned from our less than optimal backgrounds.
We cannot expect our improvement to be as fast or as far as we might hope. As believers in God’s way, many of us come from some dreadful personal backgrounds that have left a great deal of damage, in our habits (sometimes even addictions), and in the way that we have been deeply hurt and our capacity for trust and loving relationships has often been harmed. These habits will not be changed overnight, and it may take a great deal of time and effort, of research and struggle to apply to learn what is the right way to live and to see it in action and to put it into action for ourselves, and gradually to influence the behavior of others through our positive examples so that we can be a force for progress in a world set on breaking down ever more thoroughly and completely.
What is our goal? Is our goal the pride in what we are so that we feel less guilty about the way that we are? If so, we will be proud ragamuffins that are actively aiding in the decline of our institutions and civilization, and we will be held accountable accordingly. Is our goal to be a force of change for the better rather than the worse? Then we need to think of ourselves in a larger context, and to seek to make a positive influence in bringing our world, such as we can, into greater harmony with God’s laws and God’s ways without presuming ourselves to be perfect. Such wholeness and goodness as we possess we do so by the grace of God, whether through our talents and abilities, through our good fortune in being a part of good families and good institutions, or through the efforts that we undertake with the aid of God to live God’s ways as we understand them thanks to the insight and wisdom He has given us. Let us not despair over the times we live in; rather, let us use the time that we have wisely.