Sin breaks God’s heart.
In the wilderness, Israel’s rebellion “grieved” God (Psalm 78:40). In Ezekiel, Israel’s idolatry caused God to be broken (Ezekiel 6:9). He is the loving Father who taught his children to walk, who led them, carried them, fed them, yet they rebelled (Hosea 11:1-8).
Sin breaks God’s heart because he knows that sin promises so much and only takes everything. Sin deteriorates and demolishes, debases and destroys. Yet God does not give up. He is the Father who waits eagerly for his spiritually dead son to return (Luke 15:11-32).
What do we do when we have sinned? Do we dismiss it as something trivial? Do we delay repentance to another day? Do we become demoralized thinking there is no hope?
Dismissal, delaying, demoralization, those are not God’s wishes for us.
What can Israel and her most successful king teach us about dealing with sin?
Throughout scripture we find the practice of rending garments. Reuben and Jacob tore their clothes at the loss of Joseph (Genesis 37:29, 34). When Israel was defeated at Ai, Joshua tore his clothes (Joshua 7:6). When David heard of the death of Saul and Jonathan, the anointed king tore his clothes (2 Samuel 1:11). Josiah tore his clothes when the book of the Law was found and read (2 Kings 22:11). It was a display of grief over loss, a demonstration of humility, and a recognition of sin.
God responded to Josiah’s actions with mercy,
“Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you hear how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD” (2 Kings 22:19).
Because of Josiah’s reaction, God would not allow this good king to see the destruction he would bring upon Judah.
Yet this rending of garments could be merely a show, a superficial display lacking any depth. The prophet Joel spoke God’s words to a people soon to experience God’s punishment. But there was still hope.
“’Yet even now,’” declares the LORD, “’return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12, 13).
God did not want a mere outward show of repentance. The tearing of the clothes was to represent the torn heart, not replace it.
David understood this well. After giving in to temptation, walking deep into its clutches, and committing horrendous sins, David was confronted by Nathan. When convicted of his sin, we see why this man is described as a man after God’s own heart. His heart is broken by his sin. In agony he crawls to God confessing his sin and seeking forgiveness (Psalm 51:1-5).
“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6).
“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:9, 10).
David understood that burnt sacrifices without a changed heart were worthless. Torn clothes without a torn heart are futile.
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burn offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16, 17).
When we sin, we break God’s heart. When we come back to God with a broken heart, both are healed.