"God did this to me," the teenage boy on crutches told me.
Ben (not his real name), was born with horribly deformed legs. Every other part of his body was healthy and fully functional, but his legs wouldn’t support him. They were bent and twisted, and if he tried to stand without the aid of crutches he lost his balance and crashed to the floor.
Ben was good natured and cheerful most of the time, but when he talked about his legs his disposition changed visibly. "God did this to me," he would say, with an angry growl in his voice.
"How do you know it was God who did this to you," I asked naively. I wasn’t so much trying to counter his accusation against God as I was trying to learn his reasoning.
"My dad told me," Ben replied. "My dad says that if God was good and loving he wouldn’t let something like this happen to a person. It’s God’s fault dad says, and now my dad doesn’t believe in God."
Ben’s youth minister intervened at this point and redirected his negative thought pattern and speech. He said, "Ben, you don’t really believe that about God. Your dad is angry about what happened to you and he is giving you these criticisms." That ended the conversation.
But it didn’t end the conversation in my mind. Many times I have wondered what I would think about God if my legs were weak and twisted and couldn’t transport me across a room. What if I had to lie on my back and wrestle for 30 minutes every morning just to put on pants, shoes and socks, because I couldn't stand up? Would I blame God? Would I ask, "God, where are you when I need you?"
In fact, I have asked that question a few times, in emergency rooms, in counseling sessions, at funerals. "God, if you are going to make an appearance to offer healing, insight and comfort, now is the time to do it! Please give us a sense of your presence!"
Why does it seem like those times we need God the most, for our ailing bodies or hurting spirits, he isn’t around? Jim Dobson offers insight into this question in his book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense. Our ability to believe or not believe in the care and presence of God is often a matter of perception. "Because (some sufferers) don’t ‘feel’ his presence, they can not believe he cares" (p.66). But is our feeling an accurate reflection of reality?
In Luke 24 two disciples were discussing the recent death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Their faces were downcast, sad, because they were obviously disappointed that Jesus died. Their hope of the new kingdom perished with the apparent failure of Jesus’ mission.
A third man, a mystery guest, joined this duo. Together they walked, talked and sat down to a meal. After a prayer by the mystery guest the eyes of the first two men were opened and they recognized their visitor as Jesus.
How many times have we cried out to God in anger and frustration over our deep need, wondering where God was, and all the time he was present in a very personal way? Perhaps his presence was mediated through the prayer of a friend, a handshake, a hug or pat on the back. But he was there.
Our feelings are not a good gauge for determining if God cares. God does care and he is present in the lives of his faithful sufferers, whether a teenage boy with crippled legs or a young mother and father praying fervently for their child. God is as real in our lives as Jesus was to the disciples on the Emmaus Road, even if our perception doesn’t always allow us to see him. Pray, and be faithful, and one day our eyes will be opened.