Do You Feel the World Is Broken?

by Roger Sappington on

Articles 7 min read
Isaiah 58

I still remember getting the call that first week of September 2005.

That year I had been helping a small church on the east side of Plano, Texas with its outreach programs and youth ministry. My paying job was with an urban ministry in Dallas, but the Lord had led me to Willow Creek Fellowship in a pretty crazy way to serve the needs of the working-class community where it was located. The church didn’t have much, but one of its greatest assets was a multipurpose building that served as a gym, adult Sunday school space, and Spanish worship area.

The call that I received that day was that our multipurpose building would be serving as a shelter for evacuees fleeing the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had led left behind in New Orleans the week before. Our senior pastor, Roy, told me that we would be receiving about 40 evacuees and asked if I would be willing to serve as the shelter director. I agreed, but really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

For those who are too young to remember, let me give you a few details about Hurricane Katrina. First, she was a beast of a storm – a Category 5 hurricane with wind speeds up to 175 mph. Second, Katrina caused 1,833 deaths, the 4th most in American history. Third, she is the costliest storm in US history, totaling $196 billion dollars in damage. Fourth, though Katrina reduced in strength to a Category 3 by time she made landfall, the storm surge and failure of the levee system in New Orleans resulted in catastrophic losses of life and property. Even fifteen years later some areas of New Orleans were still recovering.

When the evacuees began arriving at our church a couple days after that call, we began to better understand the depth of the devastation that this storm had brought to people’s lives. Loved ones had been lost. Homes had been utterly destroyed. Clothes, photo albums, furniture, birth certificates, and more had been left behind to slowly rot as the waters receded. Some of those we served were suffering from PTSD. Others were simply downtrodden and hopeless.

In the week and a half that I served as director of that shelter helping this group begin to put their lives back together, I saw just how pervasive the damage of one storm could be. Brokenness was everywhere.

In some respects, Hurricane Katrina was a magnified microcosm of the state of our world: loss, division, hopelessness, anger, poverty, violence. In recent days it feels like this experience of pervasive brokenness has become more apparent and felt. It’s probably why the lyrics to the song Is He Worthy? written by Andrew Peterson seem so appropriate:

Do you feel the world is broken?
(We do)

Do you feel the shadows deepen?
(We do)

But do you know that all the dark won't
Stop the light from getting through?
(We do)

Do you wish that you could see it all made new?
(We do)   

There is great juxtaposition in these lyrics: darkness/light, broken/made new. These words sum up our experience as Christians in this world. We live in two realms. One that is dominated by sin and brokenness and another that is ruled by life and wholeness. Daily we feel the tension between these two domains as we interact with others, scroll through our news feed, and live with ourselves. It is important for us to recognize that this was the experience for the first disciples, and it will be for us until we go to be with the Lord in glory.

However, the question that must be asked is, “In the days the Lord has given us this side of heaven, is there anything we can do about the brokenness all around us?” For anyone who has much spent time in God’s Word, the answer is undoubtedly, “Yes!”

Looking back at my time as a shelter director for the Katrina evacuees, I saw firsthand the brokenness of our world, but I also experienced the incredible love of God’s people as they stepped into the middle of chaos. So many people provided essential items, financial resources, meals, counseling services, free medical care, transportation help, and spiritual support. The gospel was on full display as the Body of Christ didn’t run away from this challenge but met it head on with the grace of the gospel. That same Spirit-empowered resolve for good can be demonstrated in every area of our lives today. 

As we consider what tangible things we might be able to do in our chaotic world, I think there is no better place to turn in Scripture for guidance than Isaiah 58. In this period of Israel’s history in which Isaiah was written, there was great need for renewal both physically and spiritually. However, Isaiah believed that restoration really was possible. For that to occur the Lord told his prophet that what was needed was true worshippers – people of God who would pursue righteousness and justice within their communities and reject the vain, self-centered worship that so many in Israel were guilty of.

In verse 12 of chapter 58, Isaiah writes of those willing to accept this call. He calls them “repairers of the breach” and “restorers of streets to dwell in.” So, what were these “repairers of the breach” to do to see renewal take place within their society? Here’s what Isaiah said (some of it might surprise you):

  1. Treat those under your authority with kindness and grace.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.” (Isaiah 58:3)

  1. Choose peace over conflict.

“Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight  and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:4)

  1. Seek to remove oppression wherever it is found.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

  1. Share your financial resources with those in need.

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:7)

  1. Call upon the Lord for help.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” (Isaiah 58:9)

The Lord spoke through Isaiah that the result for this kind of righteous living would be that “the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11). True flourishing would be experienced by more people.

Though we must be careful not to overly compare any modern nation with the covenant people of God called Israel, it is the case that when God’s covenant people called the Church live with greater faithfulness to the righteousness and justice of which Isaiah spoke that their communities experience a greater measure of the shalom of God. So may we be encouraged that though things will not be fully restored until Jesus returns there is still much we can do to mend the brokenness we see and experience in our midst.   

Hurricane Katrina damage photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.

About the Author

Dr. Roger Sappington (D. Min. Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, M. Div. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Executive Pastor of Central Bible Church and the author of 30 Days in Exile.