Aside from the Bible, the books that have had the biggest impact on my faith have been the four in Frederick Buechner’s Book of Bebb. The series follows a pastor and his family, and it’s filled with flawed characters and messy mistakes. Despite all the shortcomings and sins of his cast of characters, Buechner fills the novels with themes of grace and redemption. The first of the series, Lion Country, is still one of my favorite books ever.
Before I read these books, I had only thought of grace as a good thing, but by the time I finished, I realized that was only part of the truth. The truth was that grace was a beautiful thing.
These books changed how I look at the world, other people, and even my own faith. For the most part, these changes have been for the good. For the most part.
Recently, I’ve realized my view of grace has gotten a bit skewed. I’ve seen the picture of a broken humanity redeemed by a perfect savior and recognized its beauty, thanks in part to Frederick and his books. That’s good. But then I chopped that picture into little pieces and convinced myself all those pieces are beautiful on their own, too. I didn’t realize what I was doing for the longest time, because most of the pieces of that equation really are beautiful by themselves. Unfortunately, I managed to latch onto the one part that wasn’t – brokenness.
I’m not talking about the brokenness we sing about in worship songs. This isn’t the emotional state we reach when we realize we need a savior. I’m talking about a different brokenness. I’m talking about the ruined state of the world we live in. Somehow, I’ve looked at that brokenness, and I’ve told myself that there is a profound tragic beauty in it. It’s easy to miss how wrong this statement is when you wrap it up in nice-sounding words, but what if I dress it differently? Let’s try this:
There is something tragically beautiful in the twisted effects of sin on this world.
Not so sweet and pretty anymore, is it? And essentially, that’s what we’re saying when we try to beautify brokenness. When we beautify brokenness, we beautify all the horrible things sin has done to this world. This picture of grace – a perfect Savior redeeming a broken humanity – owes none of its beauty to that kind of brokenness. This picture is beautiful because of the redemption. It’s beautiful because of the Savior.
And that’s why it’s so deadly to say brokenness is beautiful.
Broken sinfulness is the only part of the picture of grace that humanity contributes. So when we point to brokenness and talk about how beautiful it is, we make the story of grace about us. And it was never supposed to be about us.
Maybe you don’t look at brokenness the same way I do. Maybe you’ve never seen tragic beauty in a fallen world. If you haven’t, congratulations. But I’m willing to bet you’ve found another way to steal the spotlight. We humans are a selfish, narcissistic bunch, and we all have our own methods for twisting the story of grace. The trick is recognizing it when we’re doing it.
Do you ever find yourself making the story of grace about yourself?