I’d like to begin this post by expressing my regret that, after enduring the pain and emotional exhaustion of a wife battling cancer, a man lost his leg in an accident involving a falling crucifix. I begin with that expression of regret because I want to be clear that I don’t bear any negative feelings toward the man described in this CBS 2 story from New York.
It was tragic.
But in reading this story I was presented with a few theological considerations, perhaps prompted by poor or unclear writing: “David Jimenez believed his devotion to a crucifix was responsible for his wife being cured of cancer,” it says. This sentence infers the man had a devotion to a particular object, a crucifix. And in his desire to show reverence for that object, it dislodged and crushed his leg. What is this story saying, or not, about faith, and about God?
It should be said that the man is suing after this accident, though it isn’t clear who is being sued–the parish, the insurance companies, all-of-the-above? The man’s reported devotion to this crucifix, and his belief that devotion led to his wife being cured, led him to want to clean the object. It only had one screw, says the attorney, which quickly broke loose.
The church’s pastor told CBS 2’s Slattery by phone that parishioners collected food and some $7,000 for the Jimenez family, but Kitson said the insurance company for the archdiocese has been less than forthcoming. So, the injured man is suing.
Jimenez, who believes in the power of prayer, is now praying for a judgment, not from a higher authority, but from a civil court.
My first thought in reading this story was to ask what faith-skeptics might take away from this story. The headline proclaims Mr. Jimenez as “Deeply religious;” his devotion to the cross is mentioned throughout. Those faith-skeptics might proclaim: Ahh, see what good faith is? See what praying leads to? It did not help you? Where was God?
Readers of this website probably already know I do not share those skeptical views of faith. But I did, briefly, ask myself other questions.
First, I was struck by the story saying the man was devoted to the crucifix. While a crucifix is a holy symbol, it is not to be prayed to directly. The crucifix is an object to remind the believer, or focus the believer’s attention on God. By praying to an object, as the awkward syntax in the news story presents, the crucifix has itself become an idol. One need only go to the fourth commandment to know praying to the object itself is a sin. The cynical Christian might say, “Well, so the man prayed to an object, and thus was taught a lesson by God.” Despite graphic episodes in the Old Testament, I argue God’s new covenant (testament) makes clear he is not in the smiting business, and he is a loving God. In the view of Christianity, it is through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection that man is saved, and provided the Holy Spirit to discern manifestations of God within us and others.
That cynic may then ask, “Then why would a God allow this to happen to this man? One who showed devotion? One who is very religious? Why would God cure a man’s wife, only to take his leg? How does that prove God is loving, if he would allow such pain?”
The issue of pain, and suffering, is one often invoked in considerations of the existence or purpose of God. C.S. Lewis, of course, expounded upon the issue in “The Problem of Pain.” I do not believe this episode with the crucifix is the same issue as the broader question of why pain exists, however.
Man-made atrocities are the product and consequence of free-will; because we were given free-will, the consequence is the existence of evil in the world, and the possibility of sin. Natural disasters are not the consequence of free-will, of course, but are occurrences we have to manage.
How can someone dying from a hurricane prove God’s love? It doesn’t. We all die. We all are afforded a certain amount of time on Earth. Our end is predetermined. The fact our end will come, and is known by God, does not contradict the idea of free-will because we still choose how to live in the time afforded us. We choose while we can. And we know not the day, nor the hour, when our time will be done.
So, back to Mr. Jimenez. If we take the news story at face value, that Mr. Jimenez is a ‘deeply religious’ man, and he has chosen to be devoted to God, then why is his leg crushed? Hasn’t his trial of experiencing a wife with cancer been enough pain for him?
I don’t mean to sound flip when I say this, but we do not know fully where we are going in life, the lessons we must learn, the spiritual growth we must experience. We do not know if opportunities for charity are at first blurred by pain and what we see as tragedy. Is this episode with the crucifix a needed occurrence in this man’s spiritual journey? Faith is not faith until it’s tested. Love is not love until it’s tested. (So said C.S. Lewis) Perhaps this is an opportunity for this man to start a charity, or engage in some ministry? We just don’t know “why.”
Do I find it good that this man has lost his leg? No, of course not.
But we cannot know why this happened. It is through faith we seek the strength to believe in the plan set out long before we came into existence on this Earth. And it is in faith that we seek strength to stay the course when met with epic sadness, or seemingly insurmountable pain. God does not give you more than you can handle, right? Well, he certainly doesn’t give more than He can handle.
At times, I don’t think we know how much we can handle, or how much more we must grow or experience. We do not know everything. Jesus recognized the difficulty of our having true faith in what cannot be known, referencing the power afforded by faith only as big as a mustard seed.
It is in those darkest of nights, in the face of the most daunting tasks, that even the slightest bit of faith can give us the strength to push farther than our minds thought possible.