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Woundedness vs Brokenness

I re-read Gene Edwards‘ book A Tale Of Three Kings last week. It’s an easy read — written in the language and tone of a children’s story — but the message is definitely “grown up.” It draws upon material from the lives of Saul, David, and Absalom to teach a lesson about authority and submission. Ironically, the story of David’s submission, even in the face of injustice, has been used by some leaders to coerce people into submission. On the flipside, some leaders have been compared to Saul so disgruntled followers who see themselves as “Davids” could attack them (which David didn’t do).

In the Preface, Edwards says that he wrote the book specifically for Christians who had been “devastated by the authoritarian movement.”  He hoped that it would help them heal and move on… but overall, he gave survivors a rather grim prognosis: “I have never seen anything that has damaged so many believers so deeply. The wreckage appears to be universal, and recovery from it is almost nil.” Not exactly what you want to hear, right?

The author makes no apologies for stepping on toes throughout the book. As the story unfolds, he paints a picture of authority and submission that can be somewhat frustrating for those of us who have lived under legalistic authoritarian leaders. Edwards reminds us that God uses flawed people… and even bad leaders can be “God’s anointed.” There’s no pity party, no encouragement to stand up to leader(s) in question and give them a piece of your mind. Instead, Edwards suggests that it’s best left in the hands of God, and our best response just might be no response at all: just submit quietly, and when you cannot stay any longer, leave quietly without seeking revenge or restitution.

On the one hand, we probably recognize the nobility of such a meek response. But on the other hand, there is something within us that cries out for and even DEMANDS justice when we perceive that a great injustice has been done. Anything less seems wrong — or at least “unAmerican!” (After all, it was Thomas Jefferson & Ben Franklin who said “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”) David’s response to a cruel and unjust leader (King Saul) almost appears cowardly in comparison. Today, a young David would be ridiculed and considered a wimp because he didn’t retaliate against Saul. Someone who had been treated so badly surely he had the right to fight back… but David didn’t! Saul threw spears at David — and David didn’t throw them back. He didn’t even complain about them. As a result, God was able to use Saul to develop brokenness in David.

Gene Edwards says that God doesn’t have many broken men and women, yet this is what He wants (p 15). When I first read that, it seemed strange. I thought I knew or at least knew of a lot of broken people. After I left a legalistic church, I certainly felt like I was broken. But by Edwards’ definition, I was far from it. Someone who is broken learns how to dodge spears without throwing them. Without demanding justice. Without calling attention to it. They don’t get bitter — even when a spear has pierced their heart.

I wasn’t broken. I was wounded. I was bitter, angry, frustrated. I felt beaten down, hurt, the victim of injustice. I mistakenly equated that woundedness with brokenness. Yet by Edwards’ definition, that sort of woundedness is clear evidence of a lack of brokenness (p 19-20). The times when David was most broken before God were the times when he was least interested in promoting himself, proving he was right, or perserving his position. He was broken before he was king when he had an opportunity to kill Saul in a cave, but refused. He was broken when he wept over Absalom, even though Absalom had tried to kill David and take his place.

By that standard, I don’t know if I’ve ever truly been broken… or if I’ve just nursed my wounds and thrown my spears from the safety of a circle of approving (and similarly wounded) friends.

Woundedness seeks swift justice. Brokenness seeks God’s mercy. Woundedness looks for ways to save face. Brokenness looks for God’s face, even in a cave. Woundedness wants to correct others by taking action against them. Brokenness wants to be corrected by God. Woundedness just leads to more woundedness. Brokenness leads to healing.