What does the Bible say about brokenness?

Since we deal with the broken soul from a distinctively Christian position, I think it is important that we show from the beginning that the reality of a broken heart (or soul) is not only acknowledged in Scripture, but also has a high profile. It is in some of the most famous and often-quoted verses in the Bible. Some lesser known Scriptures emphasize God’s very serious and real requirement for broken souls to be healed in his people.

The broken soul is something that was important enough for Jesus to quote Isaiah 61:1, right at the beginning of his ministry. This was like planting a flag regarding one of the primary purposes for his coming, to reconcile the hearts of the children to the heart of their Father. Isaiah 61:1 says:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners

It is natural to think of phrases like “bind up the brokenhearted” as figurative, like when we say, “He broke her heart,” when a romantic relationship ends. But like many Scriptures, a closer look reveals that this is not figurative at all.

Theologians teach us that the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. For example, when the Bible uses symbols, it is best to see if the Bible interprets the symbol for you, rather than leaving it to the whim of the reader. They instruct us to first look at the immediate context of the passage, then to the book of the Bible you are reading, then to the rest of the Bible. In many places the Bible interprets itself. We only need to know where to look. These are the rules we should follow if we want to know if Isaiah 61:1 is speaking literally about the broken heart. I’m going to defer to John Eldredge (author of Wild at Heart) who does a great job of explaining this when he writes:

“… when Isaiah talks about the brokenhearted, God is not using a metaphor. The Hebrew is “leb shabar” (“leb” for “heart,” and “shabar” for “broken”).  Isaiah used the word “shabar” to describe a bush whose “twigs are dry, they are broken off” (27:11), to describe the idols of Babylon lying “shattered on the ground” (21:19), as a statue shatters into a thousand pieces when you knock it off the table, or to describe a broken bone (38:13). God is speaking literally here. He says, “Your heart is now in many pieces. I want to heal it.” (From John Eldredge’s book, Waking the Dead, Ch. 8.)

It is noteworthy that the Hebrew word “leb” is also translated “mind” and “inner man,” in addition to “heart.” Theologians also tell us that the Old and New Testaments refer to the mind, soul, and the heart as virtually the same thing.

The broken heart/soul in the rest of Scripture

One of the most telling scriptures about the broken soul is James 4:8: “… purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  The Greek word for double-minded is “dipsuchos.When you look up the extended meaning of dipsuchos, you find that it literally means both “vacillating” and “two-souled,” “double-souled,” or “split-souled.” It comes from a prefix of “dis” meaning twice and “psuche” meaning soul.

Some other Scripture that use the same wording of “leb” and “shabar” (broken heart) used in Isaiah 61:1 include:

  • Psalm 51:17: “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
  • Psalm 147:3: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
  • Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

A Biblical mandate

God is very serious about healing the deep wounds of his children – specifically their brokenness. You will see in the information on this website that the broken soul can be one of the most damaging forms of spiritual oppression. I have yet to work with anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder when I did not find the disorder buried in broken pieces of their soul.  Is it any wonder that God would take this problem very seriously?

In Jeremiah, God actually calls it an abomination when God’s leaders do not heal his broken people completely.  In Jeremiah 8:7, God says that this healing is a “requirement,” and he severely chastises his people for not healing this in Chapters 6 and 8:

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace. Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all.”
Jeremiah 6:14-15

“They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace. Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done?”
Jeremiah 8:11-12

God also devotes the entirety of Ezekiel 34 to dealing with the problem of healing his people lightly. Clearly, the healing of the broken soul is a high priority in God’s own heart. He wants his church to take deep and effective care of the hearts of his people.