Think of the finest crystal goblet – delicate, flawless, transparent and shimmering like flowing water. It is a work of art exquisite in its perfect symmetry and grace, and suitable for serving the finest wine. Now imagine that same goblet damaged through careless handling. Is there any way it could be slightly damaged? Could it be “a little broken” yet still useful? That might be possible for cruder articles, but not for delicate crystal. The nature of such a finely-crafted creation is that the tiniest crack or chip shatters it completely. It is either perfect – a vessel suitable to serve a king, or it is a collection of jagged shards to be swept into the trash. A broken goblet is not ‘flawed,’ it is ruined!
It’s like that with the exquisite goblets that God created as vessels for His own holiness – they’re called ‘people.’
Though any analogy is imperfect, that image of crystal goblets may help us recognize the true nature of our own brokenness. You see, most people think of themselves as rather ordinary vessels – crude pewter mugs, perhaps – that are scratched and battered but still serviceable despite the many cosmetic flaws. With such a self-image it is easy to fault God for being so judgmental and ‘picky’ – I may not be the best-looking specimen on the shelf, but there are surely many that are worse off. And with a little self-attention, perhaps I can hammer-out a few of those unsightly ‘dings,’ buff out the scratches, and polish myself to a fine shine that will make me a worthy specimen for God’s inspection. If God is ‘fair’ He will surely recognize that I am better than the average, applaud my efforts at self-improvement, and pronounce me ‘good enough.’
Well, there are two problems with that image of damaged but serviceable vessels. The first is that it ignores the evidence of our own heart. Shattered and broken though it may be, each human heart retains the longing for the perfect beauty and joy for which it was created. We see glimpses of that bright expectation in the faces of small children – and we secretly mourn the knowledge that their hopeful innocence will eventually give way to the reality of life’s brokenness. A saying often attributed to Henry David Thoreau captures that sense of resignation: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” We each, in our own way, learn to accommodate the symptoms of our own brokenness as we pursue and hopefully find a measure of happiness and satisfaction in life, yet always, just beyond our reach is the knowledge that there is something more for which we were destined. In the words of the iconic rock group U2: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
And the second problem with a self-image of “flawed but adequate” is that it totally under-estimates the true beauty and perfection for which we were created. God created us in His own image – perfect vessels for His own holiness, and shimmering reflections of His own goodness and beauty. We were not created as ordinary tableware to be used and abused, but as treasured goblets for the Divine service. But when man rebelled against God, that holiness was lost – not ‘damaged a little’ – but shattered hopelessly – irretrievably. And that’s why it’s no good to think that we can fix ourselves – broken crystal cannot be repaired.
But God did not abandon His shattered creation to the trash heap as befits the reality of its condition. Instead, He chose to share our desperate situation by becoming incarnate (human flesh) in Jesus Christ – the Divine Essence poured out in the brokenness of a human life – a brokenness that defied all reason by embodying all of the struggle, temptation, and vulnerability of human existence while yet retaining the perfect purity of God Himself. In Jesus, human brokenness became complete with the agony and abandonment of the cross. But by His glorious resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus demonstrated that God’s power can and will repair our fatal brokenness if we put our trust in Him – not a patch-up job, but a full restoration to the perfection and meaning that God created us for. It is that assurance that allows us to not only live with the hope of a glorious future, but to find healing and joy in our present circumstances as God’s indwelling Spirit lovingly reshapes us for eternity.