In my mother's antique shop were a variety of treasures for a curious child. My personal favorite was the Victrola that sat stately in the corner, a large internal phonograph that begged to be heard. The sounds it made were bold and cavernous, like an opera in a wooden box. This one was an early model, I heard adults say, and it was in mint condition. So it seemed peculiar to me that our frequent requests to put it into action were, from time to time, resisted. To me it was a perfect treasure, a magnificent and flawless toy. To the motherly owner of the store, it was a treasure that was capable of breaking before it sold. "As is" was not a phrase she wanted to add to the price tag.
A label that was seen occasionally within the shop, "as is" conveyed an item with damage or brokenness of some sort. "As is" marked the clock that had stopped ticking, or the rocking horse that had a crack in one of its legs. Because I knew my mother as one who could fix almost anything, the label also conveyed to me a certain sense of defeat. Whatever the item, it was a lost cause—a treasure bearing some distinguishable, irreparable flaw.
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Broken Eggs, oil on canvas, 1756.
In different ways and in varying degrees throughout our lives, many of us feel something like the object marked "as is," or the treasure with only a matter of time before something goes awry. With a sense of defeat, we view our lives through the lens of what is broken or has been broken, what is irreparable or what might break. Looking ahead, we see the broken down trailer behind us, which seems to declare emphatically our status "as is."
Yet writing centuries before our own, King David wrote of God:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.(1)
Such words run counter to cultures anywhere and everywhere. Brokenness is usually not something we are comfortable admitting, let alone formally presenting it as something that is pleasing to anyone. Whether in ourselves or in others, we are at times almost averse to fragility. Even as Christians who hold knowingly to the cruciform image of Christ, we seem distinctly uncomfortable with broken and grieving people, defeated and weakened lives. Yet it is by the Cross we live. "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows... But he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities."(2) Isn't it strange that we who are saved by one who was broken should struggle in the presence of brokenness at all?
Like the psalmist, the apostle points to the great potential within fragility. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."(3)
Whether we come to God shattered by our own sin, like David, or groaning from living in an imperfect world, we are never nearer to Christ than when we come with nothing in our hands to offer. God's desire is that we would come as we are—weary or overwhelmed, defeated by life, crushed by injustice. Before the cross, there is no lost cause or irreparable flaw. For in life, as in an antique shop, there would be no recognition of brokenness if there were not such a thing as wholeness.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Psalm 51:16-17.
(2) Isaiah 53:4-5.
(3) 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.