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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Salter Goodwin

A Time to Tear

Grief surged through every cell, muscle, and sinew. It rushed like a flood to find quick release. Finally, it erupted as each hand grabbed a side of garment and ripped it apart with a guttural cry so primitive and raw, that it brought him and everyone near to their knees.

Such was the practice we read about in the Bible. Perhaps the ripping and separating mirrored what death did to their heart. Was it the saw-edged crescendo of tearing cloth that gave voice to the tearing apart they felt inside? Was it something to show for what was hidden?

This same tearing also connected to repentance. They tore a garment signifying deep grief as raw and unrelenting as experienced when someone dies. And so it should be. We are too blasé about sin, sometimes to the point of downright denying it. We whitewash sin too quickly or redefine it. But what took Jesus to the cross was not pretty. To talk about sin in any other way than the ugly, self-centered, rebellious separation from a God of unfailing love is to doom ourselves to the very word we will not claim.

I would rip sleeves from their carefully sewn armholes, grab a dress and shred it to pieces if it would help someone see how sin is their undoing, not their self-actualization. Sin separates and destroys with such arrogance. Betrayals hidden behind “meeting my needs.” Abuse rising from unresolved pain. Murders that happen with guns or without them. I can only bear a moment inside the tortured heart of God who has always so loved and pursued and given everything to keep us from knowing the ravishes of sin.

I think it is no accident that this word “tear” is the same word we use when we cry. We don’t cry much over sin any more. Why should we? We’ve made it culturally acceptable, politically correct, and deviantly tolerated. Too often we live banished from the life God would give and we don’t even feel the need to cry about it. Even worse, we blame God for reversals and crisis that His love did not create and certainly could not condone.

What I do know is that anyone who comes to experience the “deep, deep, love of God” first, sees sin as the cancer it is and would do anything to rip it out. Reverse the order and God is the bully who will not give you what you want.

We need more tearing. Perhaps our altars should be furnished with tearing cloths as well as Kleenex. Can you hear it? With raging anger over the duping nature of sin that fooled someone into thinking God could not love them into wholeness or that sin was some benign given that would never go away, a person takes the cloth and rips it apart? Repentance has a primal sound emphasizing the no-turning back determination. It is a tearing that makes whole. It is a cry that heals. A child has found her Father. A lost boy knows where he belongs.

I wonder if that is the moment we might see a tear roll down the face of God. He sighs remembering the parade of prophets, the rescues, the mercy, the grace, the cross--all given gladly for this moment of discovery. What makes God’s heart glad, heals ours.

May we never gloss over the devastating, destructive, disintegrating power of sin. Find a cloth if we must and let it rip in hearty agreement with God, who alone “breaks the power of canceled sin.”

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