Recently, I was watching a PBS show in which a primatologist was observing chimpanzees ("our closest relatives") in order to learn more about humans. The point of the study was to understand, perhaps a little better, our condition - specifically, our brokenness.
We study our world to learn more about ourselves. We also have our history, our literature, and our personal experience to teach us about ourselves. Yet even after we consider it all, we remain surprised at brokenness.
And surprise is an interesting response. It means something has taken us off guard, something is out of place, something is not as it ought to be. Unless it is late at night and we are exhaustedly shuffling to bed, we are not often surprised by the placement of our dining tables. More than likely, we placed the table where it is. We expect it everytime we see it. The surprise comes when we find that it is no longer where we put it. Being surprised by brokenness seems to me to be similar to being surprised by our dining tables.
We are surprised by brokenness because of our pride. We thought we were better than shooting at rescue workers trying to evacuate hurricane-stranded people. We thought we were better than torturing prisoners. We thought we were better than bombing innocent women and children. Some of us, content in our pride, shake our heads and say, "I am better than that." There is comfort in self-deception.
Our surprise also emerges because each of us has been stamped with our Creator's image. The scriptures tell us how we were created in and bear the image of God. This likeness identifies us as his creation, his children. That same story tells us how we broke that image, and how the cosmos broke with it. But the image, though broken, remains. It leaves us longing for wholeness. We long for things to be set right: oppression, war, poverty, disease, sin, and death. We long for the cosmos to be renewed, for the end of floods, fires, earthquakes, and tsunamis. And in the midst of this Sehnsucht, we get the surprise.
Of course, there's more to the story than brokenness.