At 56 years of age, my dad lost his right arm just below the elbow in an electrical accident. He was rebuilding another old house on 60th and Pratt in Omaha (His 4th!) and he and mom lived in the basement while he rebuilt the 15 phantomkitchen above. It took some time for his arm to heal and the worst part of the injury was what the doctors explained as “phantom pain.” It’s the sense that his wrist and fingers of his right hand were burning or itching and he couldn’t scratch them because they no longer existed. He would often dig at the stub to relieve the pain, but it didn’t help. It took some time to get over it.

Dr. Paul Brand, writing with Philip Yancey, told a story about a man named Mr. Barwick, who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg, but who refused to allow amputation. But finally, the pain became too great for him to bear, and Barwick cried at last, “I’m through with that leg. Take it off.” He had developed an irrational hatred for his own leg and after the operation Barwick took the amputated leg and put it in a pickling jar. He actually installed it on his mantle shelf. He said, “Then, as I sit in my armchair, I will taunt that leg, ‘Hah! You can’t hurt me anymore!’ ” But the leg had the last laugh. Even long after the wound healed, according to Brand, “Barwick could feel the torturous pressure of the swelling as the muscles cramped and itched and throbbed.”

Brand then made the comparison of phantom pain with false guilt. He writes, “phantom limb pain provides wonderful insight into the phenomenon of false guilt. Christians can be obsessed by the memory of some sin committed years ago. It never leaves them, crippling their ministry, their devotional life, their relationships with others.…” False guilt is produced by something that isn’t really there. We’ve failed to live up to the expectations of others, we’ve not met a standard that we’ve set too high for ourselves, or we’ve let God down in such a way that we can never be forgiven. Many of us have our false standards, expectations of others right alongside our past sins Jesus died to pay the penalty for up on our mantle and often just stare at them and feel the pain of our failures over and over again. We dig at the stubs of our sins. But there really isn’t anything there. They’ve been removed by the great physician himself. In 1 John 1:9, we read that whenever our sins are confessed to God He is faithful (can be depended upon!) to forgive us and cleanse us of our sin. But then in 3:19-20 It says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”