David once implored God, “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice” (Psalm 51:8).
The idea of God breaking our bones is hard for me to understand sometimes. He punishes us for sins, yes; He allows us to experience trials, yes; He lets us reap the consequences of bad decisions…but to personally break our bones? For a loving God to intentionally inflict that kind of pain on His servants, even metaphorically, seems almost cruel. And yet there it is, preserved in Scripture, inspired by God for us to see—there are times when our Creator breaks our bones.
When we break a bone, our body begins the long and arduous process of joining the broken pieces back together. It diverts resources to begin recalcifying and reconnecting the individual pieces. Unfortunately, the human body only knows it needs to join those fragments back together—it has no idea how to restore them to their original position. For this to happen, the broken bone has to be set, usually in a cast or a sling, in the position in which it needs to heal. Otherwise, the body will join the bones together in the most direct way possible, resulting in what the medical field calls a “malunion.”
Depending on the location and position of the break, a malunion can manifest itself in different ways. The Cleveland Clinic explains that a malunion “may result in a bone being shorter than normal, twisted or rotated in a bad position, or bent. Many times all of these deformities are present in the same malunion.” The bone has healed, but the result is less than optimal and can even be detrimental.
There’s a way to fix malunions, but it’s extremely unpleasant.
You have to break the bone…again. By recreating the fracture, the bone can be reset, allowing it to heal correctly…but until that break is reintroduced to the bone, the deformities and other issues accompanying the malunion can never be remedied.
The spiritual angle
So. Back to our question. Why does God break our bones? We know David was speaking metaphorically; it’s not as if God comes to earth and karate-chops our femurs. It’s something that runs much, much deeper than that.
Sin causes damage. This is fundamental; it’s the very thing that makes sin…sin. It causes damage on spiritual, mental, emotional, and even physical levels, which is why God hates it! It hurts those around us and cuts us off from Him, “there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
It’s possible to spiritually damage ourselves through sin to the point where, not seeking God’s assistance, we don’t heal correctly. We end up with spiritual malunions; deformities that continue to cause us pain and discomfort even after the initial damage of sin has passed. In other words, God has to break our bones again to fix what we’ve already broken and made worse. We become spiritually damaged, imperfect, flawed—and in order to fix the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves, drastic measures are required.
The prophet Hosea reminds us of God’s purpose when He breaks our bones:
Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
How this breakage occurs varies from circumstance to circumstance and person to person, but there’s one thing that remains constant: It’s not out of spite or anger that God strikes or tears us—He does so in order to bring us healing and reviving we might not even know we need. He does it so that we can live in His sight.
Caring for our bones
It’s important to understand why, from time to time, our bones must be broken for our own benefit—it’s even more important that we put into practice measures to make those moments as infrequent as possible.
Consider that without our physical skeleton, we would be little more than a quivering, jelly-like mass of skin and organs. Our bones give us structure, allow us to function…allow us to exist. Continuing the analogy, our spiritual skeleton is therefore formed by our values, our integrity, and our beliefs—the spiritual components that provide us with structure and allow us to take action.
To prevent spiritual malunions, the best approach is to take steps to protect our bones against breaking in the first place. Here are three ways we can do that:
1. Stop hitting yourself!
If your goal was preserving your physical skeleton, would you start swinging a sledgehammer at your shins? No, because that’s like the dumbest thing you could possibly do. So what sense is there in caring for your spiritual skeleton while pursuing sin?
Sin eats at our values, our beliefs, and our integrity. It’s a kind of spiritual osteoporosis. The more we expose ourselves to its influences, the more we compromise our skeletal system and the more likely we are to break something. James wrote that “when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15). That’s how this works. The more we follow the road of sinful desires and actions, the more we damage our bones. Eventually, the damage becomes too great to sustain, and the only thing we accomplish is our own self-destruction.
2. Fortify your bones
It’s no secret that including certain foods in your diet goes a long way toward strengthening your bones. Bones function better when they’re receiving the minerals and vitamins they need to become strong.
Spiritual bones are no different. Our physical frame benefits from calcium and vitamin D; our spiritual frame draws its strength from a continual intake of the word of God. You’re heard it before, and you’ll keep hearing it for as long as the Church is around to preach the gospel: pray, study, fast, fellowship, and meditate. We need a steady balance of these five things in our lives if we want strong spiritual bones. Solomon said it best when he admonished,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
We normally attribute exercise as contributing to muscle growth, but the truth is that your bones gain strength the more you use them. Astronauts who spend long intervals in outer space invariably return to Earth with a decreased bone density because a zero-G environment demands much, much less of their skeletal structure.
Want to keep your spiritual bones strong? Then use them. Make sure your values, beliefs, and integrity aren’t gathering dust on a shelf somewhere—adhere to your values. Practice your beliefs. Hold fast to your integrity. Paul writes that “solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Strength comes by reason of use and by exercise.
The path to completion
God wants us to hear joy and gladness, just as He wants us to be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4). He will bring us to that completion…but before we can be whole, we occasionally need to be broken.
Until next time,