“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
WHETHER WE HAVE A “BROKEN AND CONTRITE HEART” IS ONE OF THE MAIN FACTORS IN OUR READINESS TO ACCEPT THE GOSPEL. If, as the Scriptures teach, the gospel is about the forgiveness of our sins, we won’t listen to it if we don’t believe that sin is a problem for us. It is “godly sorrow” that puts us in touch with our need for the grace that is available in Christ, and while grief for our sins is not pleasant, it is the one experience that opens us to the gospel.
But godly sorrow is an experience that not everybody has had. Consequently, the gospel will seem like just another “religion” in the world — one more system of social ethics and personal well-being. And seen as such, the gospel may not compare very favorably with the humanistic psychology and social ethics we’ve been using up to now. The lives we’ve put together in this world may not be perfect in every respect, but they are very good, at least for many of us. Absent the grief that comes from seeing our sins realistically, the gospel will seem silly and superfluous. Jesus Christ is an answer to questions we are not even asking.
But a broken and contrite heart changes all of that. “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner . . . began to wet [Jesus’] feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment . . . And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (Luke 7:37,38,48).
So is there no joy in the gospel of Christ? Yes, there is a greater joy than can be found anywhere else. But here is the catch: this greater joy is available only when we’ve accepted the loss of our lesser joys, especially those of self-sufficiency and pride. As long as we’re content to believe that we’re doing all right — and that any remaining problems are within the power of science and psychology to solve — we will cut ourselves off from the highest of all joys: reconciliation with the God who created us. Ironically, then, it is only a broken and contrite heart that is in a position to receive the joy that human beings were created to experience.
“Christianity is certainly not despair; it is, on the contrary, good news — for the despairing; but for the frivolous it is certainly not good news, for it wants first of all to make them serious” (Søren Kierkegaard).