One of the tragic occurrences in life is that people lose limbs. But their loss can be made even more severe if they develop phantom limb pain. Phantom limb pain occurs when the patient’s brain acts as though the limb still exists. The amputee may have the perception of an itch on the lost limb even though there is no limb to scratch; may feel toes curling; and may even feel tremendous pain in their non existent limb.

Dr Paul Brand tells of one of his patients, a Mr Barwick, who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg. The doctors recommended amputation but Mr Barwick refused. Finally the pain became too intense and Mr Barwick agreed to the operation.

In the lead up to the operation Mr Barwick grew to hate that leg of his, so much so that he asked the doctor to preserve it for him in a pickling jar. He planned to place it on his mantelpiece and then sit in his armchair and taunt it saying, “Hah! You can’t hurt me anymore!””

The doctor followed Mr Barwick instructions but sadly it was the leg that got the last laugh. You see Mr Barwick developed a severe case of phantom limb pain. He had hated the leg with such intensity that the pain of the wound lodged permanently in his brain.

Dr Brand suggests that “phantom limb pain provides a 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. They live in fear that someone will discover their past. They work overtime trying to prove to God that they’re truly repentant. They become as pitiful as poor Mr Barwick, shaking his fist in fury at the pickled leg on the mantle.”

Source: Adapted from Dr Paul Brand & Philip Yancey, Leadership Magazine (Summer 1984)