by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

February, 2016

Note: This edition of Person-2-Person describes a very disturbing incident. If you’re accustomed to sharing Person-2-Person with children, please exercise caution.–DP

A 15-year-old Pakistani boy cut off his own hand to prove he wasn’t guilty of blasphemy. A cleric leading a celebration of the birth of Muhammad whipped the crowd into a state of frenzy. At one point, he asked, “Who among you doesn’t believe in the teachings of the Holy Prophet? Raise your hands!”

The boy didn’t hear clearly and raised his right hand. Immediately, the cleric accused him of blasphemy in the presence of approximately 100 worshipers.

The boy went home and, hoping to prove his love for “the Prophet,” put his hand in a “grass-cutting machine” and chopped off the offending hand. Then, bleeding severely, he picked up the severed hand, placed it on a tray, and carried it back to the nearby mosque before he lost consciousness.

He later said, “When I raised my right hand unwittingly, I realized I had committed blasphemy and needed to atone for this . . . The hand that commits blasphemy should be chopped off.” Despite all he has been through, if he hadn’t “atoned,” he may have endured a worse fate at the hands of a violent mob.

As I heard what had happened, I was sickened and revolted. I couldn’t help comparing his situation with our experience as Christians. He felt compelled to prove his love for “the Prophet.” But we have a God who proves his love for us: “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Rom. 5:8 Holman Christian Standard Bible). The one who had no need to prove anything to us gave his only son.

As Christians, we’re familiar with the verse “‘And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!’” (Matt. 5:30 HCSB). But we also know Jesus was speaking figuratively. We are supposed to shun sin, not mutilate ourselves. But we don’t do it for God’s benefit or to “prove” anything but rather for our own spiritual growth. We don’t need to cut off body parts or otherwise harm ourselves to prove we’re sincerely repentant.

Instead, we “prove” our love for God by our obedience. Jesus told the disciples, “‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’” (John 14:23b HCSB). One of God’s greatest commandments is that we love others (Lev. 19:18b; Matt. 22:39). Jesus told the disciples, “‘I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (John 13:34-35 HCSB). When we obey God and love others, we show that our profession of faith is genuine.

But we do these things as a witness to others, not as a demonstration to God, because God knows our hearts. Jeremiah wrote that “‘I, Yahweh, examine the mind, / I test the heart’” (Jer. 17:10a HCSB). God knows and tests each of us, and knows the content of our hearts. God knows our motivations, and looks at why we do what we do, and not just what we do.

That brave, devoted boy sacrificed his hand to prove his love for “the Prophet.” As we enter Lent, many of us will consider giving up something, making a “sacrifice.” What will we sacrifice to show our love and gratitude to God? Will we give up criticizing our coworkers, as I’m inclined to do? Will we give up gossip? How will others see Christ in us? In me? May our light shine brightly into our world each day (Matt. 5:16).

“Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.
“You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
“The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.” (Psa. 51:15-17 HCSB.)

Copyright © 2016 by David Phelps