Thursday, September 15, 2016

Crutches Aren’t Necessarily Bad

Have you ever tried walking with crutches? I’ve only had the need once, and admittedly didn’t stick with it for long.

It was after having arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. When I was diagnosed, I told the orthopedic surgeon, “Doc, if I had known I had a meniscus, I wouldn’t have torn it!” But tear it I had, so after a brief operation to remove the damaged cartilage and perform some minor repair work, I was sent home, knee bandaged and crutches by my side.

However, after a few unsuccessful attempts at maneuvering around with the crutches, I tossed them aside. Twice I’d nearly lost my balance and concluded a broken neck would be far worse than a torn meniscus. Instead, I bounced around on one foot or grabbed furniture to support me whenever I had to get from one place to another.

That wasn’t ideal for moving about, but fortunately my recovery time was brief. Soon I was able to walk gingerly as the knee healed. If I could have mastered crutch mobility I’d have been better off, but fortunately was walking around with no limitations after a few weeks of physical therapy.

So I’m not opposed to crutches. We just need to understand how to use them – and why they’re necessary.

Have you ever heard a person snidely refer to Christianity as a “crutch,” proudly declaring they didn’t need such a thing? Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, in his book, Church: Why Bother?, describes it this way:

“I used to bristle when I heard someone accuse Christianity of being a ‘crutch’ religion, a faith that attracts the poor and the crippled and those who could not quite make it on their own. But the more I read the Gospels and the Prophets, the more willingly I admit to a ‘crutch’ faith. Those who make such disdainful comments about Christianity are usually self-confident, successful over-achievers who have made it on their own by looking out for number one, without asking anyone for help. Frankly, the gospel has little to offer people who refuse to admit need. Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said, and those who mourn, and the persecuted. Basic repentance requires me to come prostrate before God and admit that God, not I, is best qualified to tell me how to live.”

There’s a lot to chew on in that single paragraph. I especially like his statement about “self-confident, successful overachievers” that don’t think they need help in any way. Searching the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ, we don’t see Him actively seeking out such people. Because if you’ve concluded you have the world by the tail, it’s hard to convince you that you don’t. People typically don’t seek out a physician until they realize they’re sick.

In reality, everyone has a “crutch” of some sort. For some, it’s their intelligence, strength or personality qualities. Affluent people use their wealth as a crutch. History is replete with stories of rich people whose lives were destroyed when they suffered catastrophic financial reversals. For others it’s science, the belief that the physical, observable world holds all the answers if only we look far and deep enough.

“Crutches” also can take the form of superior physical ability, status, relationships, alcohol or chemical dependency, even overly protective parents. The problem is, not one of these or other life-crutches is permanent. One day they all will be lost. Then what happens?

That ideal job is lost. Cherished family members, friends and lovers fail us. Physical and mental capacities decline. We discover wealth can’t buy intangible treasures like meaning and purpose. Disease confronts us. Death starts its inevitable knock. Where do we turn then?

That’s why this “crutch” called Christianity is so compelling, so vital to our start-stop, success-failure pilgrimage through life. It’s the only crutch that won’t fail us, even with our final breath.

From beginning to end, God has made us this promise: The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). It’s repeated in several other passages. In other words, He’s saying, “Lean on Me; I won’t let you down.”

In Psalm 50:15, we find this assurance from God: “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” And all of us have had – or will have – “the day of trouble,” maybe numerous times.

Even the very last thing Jesus said to His followers before His ascension was the promise they could always depend on Him: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

So, as Philip Yancey wrote, is Christianity a “crutch”? Yes. We act up and living according to the faith we have in the God who says He will always be there, through good times and especially in bad times. But it’s the only crutch that will not, sooner or later, fail to sustain and provide for us.

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