by Scott Regener
In the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius became the first amputee to win a non-disabled world track medal. He did so only after winning legal challenges that claimed his artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage. Without a prosthesis, he never would have run at all, but with one, he could run as well as the best athletes in the world.
Many non-Christians criticize believers by saying that Jesus is just a crutch. The impulse to embrace that identity is a good one, but I believe the analogy falls short of the truth of what Christ has done for us. When a person breaks their leg, they are no longer able to stand on their own two feet. They are “broken” in a very real way. However, with a doctor’s care, the bone can be reset so that it can heal, and a crutch is leaned upon while the healing takes place. Eventually, the leg is restored and once again the person can stand on their own two feet. For a non-Christian, this is an appealing metaphor because it allows them to look at people who use a crutch as weak, while they are strong enough to stand on their own without using a crutch.
However, we are all born with a congenital defect – we call it original sin – which makes us utterly unable to stand on our own. A crutch cannot restore us to health – we are missing the very thing we need: to be able to stand before the throne of God. Our sin nature has been passed down to us from generation to generation from the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. If we are ever to stand, let alone walk or run, we need something we don’t have. Instead of walking with God as Adam and Eve did in the garden, we are surrounded by people who crawl on the ground, dragging their bodies in the dirt because the very concept of standing is foreign to our experience.
All analogies break down at some point, and I would never argue that “Jesus as a prosthesis” is not without flaws. But when an unbeliever refers to Jesus as a crutch, it may be useful to consider correcting the analogy to better help them understand the key points of the faith. We stand, and we walk, only because we stand upon the righteousness of Jesus. He doesn’t simply come alongside us to lean on when it gets difficult or carry us when we are tired. He gives us new legs. We run because he runs in us and we in him (1 Cor. 9:24-25; 2 Timothy 2:5; 4:7; Hebrews 12:1).
We can do nothing by ourselves. When unbelievers see us bearing the unbearable, they can look to what we stand upon and see their lack. And we can give all the credit and the glory to Jesus, for without him, we all fall. We are not experiencing an injury from which we will recover, depending on a crutch for a time until we will be restored to normalcy. We need something that is missing from our lives, and only Jesus fills that empty space.