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Thank You, God, for Blowing My Leg Off

rebekah dimartino
Rebekah Martino’s Amputated Leg

Most Christians are taught to give thanks for everything. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

No matter what, the will of God is for them to always, in every circumstance, give t-h-a-n-k-s. When tempted to whine, complain, or pity themselves, Christians are reminded of the pain and suffering Jesus endured on their behalf. No one has ever suffered like Jesus — or so Christians are told by their pastors, anyway. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

As with all of us, bad shit happens to Christians. They get sick; they have accidents; they are at the wrong place at the wrong time, or any of the other countless misfortunes that may befall humans. They contract sicknesses and diseases, so much so that it makes an outsider wonder if the Great Physician has lost his license to practice medicine.

When it comes to physical, emotional, and mental maladies, Christians are in the same boat with the rest of us. The difference is they have to pretend that what is going on in their lives is good for them, that God had a wonderful, awesome, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious plan for their lives. They must always look on the bright side. They know every word of the Footprints in the Sand Poem by Mary Stevenson:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Jim Steinhauer spoke for many of us when he wrote:

Sorry to have to break it to you, Jesus, but those are obviously my footprints.

Look closely. See how those footprints have that wavy tread pattern on the bottom, just like my docksiders? If they were yours, they’d make a sandal mark, like the footprints next to mine a little farther up the beach when I was going through better times.

See the footprints at the time of my divorce? You’ll notice that the sandaled footprints drift off from the docksider ones. They lead to that picnic bench over there, the one with the cigarette butts scattered all over. It appears that in my darkest hour, instead of carrying me, you sat on a stump and had a couple of smokes. Real helpful, Jesus. Real helpful.

Sure, the sandal footprints came back when I got that big job promotion, but right at the point where my son Tommy died, they veer off again. Actually, now that I look again, it seems like there’s an unusually large distance between each of the sandal-wearer’s footprints around the time of my son’s death, as if the person were actually running away.

I’m sorry, Jesus, but your whole story about carrying me during my worst moments just doesn’t gibe with the facts. Besides, you’d certainly think a person would remember being carried by the Son of God, right? That’s a pretty memorable thing, wouldn’t you say? Well, either I’ve got amnesia, or you’re a liar, because I don’t recall ever being toted around by the Messiah. The only thing I do remember about my worst moments on the path of life is the horrible feeling of plodding along the cold sand all alone while icy rain fell in sheets and chill winds assailed me.

So thanks, Jesus. Thanks a bunch. You were really there for me when things got tough.

I realize that thanking God amidst adversity and suffering can be a coping mechanism. One night, in the midst of a bout of horrible pain, I found myself crying out to the God of Ceiling®. While my utterance brought no answer from the Great Physician, it did help to distract me for a moment from the unrelenting pain. My utterance also caused me to chuckle and say, hey, Bruce, who ya taking to? Dumb ass!

I don’t want to rob anyone of anything that helps get them through the rough times of life. But, when I read news reports of someone praising God for their sickness, disease, or accident, it does cause me to wonder if the person is living in denial or has been so conditioned by their religious training that they cannot see life as it is. Such is the case of Rebekah DiMartino.

On April 15, 2013, DiMartino was standing 3 feet away from the Boston Marathon finish line when a bomb went off. The blast caused severe damage to DiMartino’s left leg. Weeks later, the leg had to be amputated. She now has a prosthetic leg with the word BLESSED embroidered across the front of it.

Several years ago, DiMartino told her story (link no longer active) at St Matthew’s Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky:

“Whatever you are going through in your life, don’t give up because God has got a plan for everything. And everything that we go through, it ultimately works together for your good.” “I took everything in the back of the legs so that Noah [her son] would be saved. That is God’s purpose [for me]. I cannot feel sorry for myself in the least bit because I know my son is running around like normal today. … I thank God every day for my little boy still being here.”

While I certainly sympathize with DiMartino, and I somewhat appreciate her positive outlook on her life after the bombing, I cannot accept or embrace a God who uses a terrorist and a bomb to blow someone’s leg off. Using DiMartino’s God’s-got-a-purpose-for-everything logic, the deaths of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, and Martin Richard, all victims of the same bombing, happened because God had a purpose and plan for them. And the same could be said for policeman Sean Collier who was shot to death by the bombers. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, 264 people were injured in the bombing. Like DiMartino, 16 people lost a limb, and three people lost multiple limbs. Is this really God working out his plan for all of these people?

I understand the religious conditioning required to think like this. I used the same “reasoning” for years to “explain” my health problems. God has a plan for my life. God is working all things out for my good. God is teaching me to trust him more. God is drawing me closer to him. God is testing my faith. God is chastising me so that I might draw closer to him. Christian clichés — that’s all these are. The truth is, for Rebekah DiMartino, she was the victim of a terrorist bombing. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and her son, fortunately, was at the right place at the right time.

These kinds of stories should remind us that our lives hang by a slender thread. An accident, a genetic abnormality, a stray bullet, a moment of clumsiness or inattention, along with a plethora of diseases, can snuff out our lives in the blink of an eye. As an atheist, I have no intention of praising an absent or fictional God for the suffering and pain I must live with every day of my life. Instead, I embrace the pain and suffering and do my best to make the most of it. Certainly, that’s what DiMartino is doing. The only difference is that she thinks the Christian God is behind the wizard’s curtain orchestrating the events of her life.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Aram McLean

    Yeah, this is a messed up way of thinking for sure. A son of an old youth pastor of mine went to Afghanistan as a soldier and promptly got both his legs blown off by an IED. From the upper thigh down, just gone. But a quick look at his FB page and you’d think he was the luckiest man on earth for the experience. Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the need to find the joy in life regardless and to carry on. But I’m thinking you don’t have to be ‘thrilled’ about it either. Just another example of why reasoning a believer out of their faith is never going to fly.

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    I guess “The Lord” has a wonderful plan for her romantic life, since he’s obviously “lead” her to split with her husband. You would think he could’ve figured this out BEFORE he told her to marry the guy

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    There is much to be said of the value of gratitude. It is very helpful in life to be grateful everyday, obviously for the “good” experiences, as well as for the “bad” ones that teach us, help us grow, etc. But now my gratitude is directed towards the universe for all the serendipities of life, not towards a mythical being who supposedly holds us all in the palm of his hand. In fact, the zen way teaches that there is no “good” or “bad;” things just “are” (recognizing that of course their effects on us in a human respect can be extremely difficult to deal with).
    And how about diMartino’s comment, ‘Over the last several months I’ve come to realize that going through such a horrific event together put a fast-forward on our relationship that we each handled differently.’ That makes absolutely no sense whatever; it is an oblique attempt at evading a real explanation while trying to sound positive.

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      Thinking positively can be a powerful tool, but one must also weave in realism so that it all doesn’t come crashing down. God of Ceiling and the Great Physician have a pretty poor rating on Yelp, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in their assistance.

      It is fascinating how much power fundies often attribute to outside sources – either God or Satan – and little to oneself (except “I live in bondage to sin”, blaming oneself even if unwarranted). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches people to control what they can control and not to fixate on what is outside one’s control. I never thought fundamentalist Christianity taught very good coping or planning skills.

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    Daniel Wilcox

    Thanks for writing this article.

    Such sadness for an individual, first losing a leg, then losing a marriage that had barely started. And so many other humans, millions of them experiencing much worse tragedies….
    they think an omni-benevolent God is ordering this stuff. Whew:-(

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    Oh, NOW I get it! If God gives you a disease, God is evil. All along I’ve been missing this simple point, because I’ve never bought into the “God’s perfect plan” notion. My tradition doesn’t teach this.

    At any rate, the verse says, “In every thing give thanks,” not “For every thing give thanks.” (NRSV says “give thanks in all circumstances.”) This fits my puny understanding of awful experiences. At some point, perhaps not for a long while, I can say, I’m grateful to be alive after major surgery. I’m thankful to have known my loved one who died. I’m relieved that the tornado that destroyed the bank missed the school. Yes, bad things still happen, creating theological problems among others, but we don’t have to call bad things perfect and wonderful.

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    I used to follow a blogger who blamed every single thing that went wrong in her life on the devil. Car needs repair, the devil caused it. Heater in the house blows up, Satan caused it. Her daughter who had a stroke and a heart transplant needs a new walker because the people at the insurance company denied it because they are being held in bondage to sin. Then in the next breath she asked for money for them to go and preach the child’s testimony at churched because they are so blessed.

    I replied to her once that sometimes things just happen, and God or the devil didn’t have a clue about it. Life happens. Shit happens. I got banned and told that I was totally wrong. No skin off my back.

    Are you going to watch DIG? The USA show about Armageddon?

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    I like what Bilbo Baggins says…something along the lines of ‘it’s dangerous business going out your front door…’

    Sometimes it’s dangerous business just getting out of bed! 😉

    Your lines here gave me a big chuckle… ” …I found myself crying out to the God of Ceiling®. While my utterance brought no answer from the Great Physician, it did help to distract me for a moment from the pain. My utterance also caused me to chuckle and say, hey, Bruce who ya taking to? Dumb ass! …” 😀

    I too understand the coping mechanism of trying to find some divine purpose in the circumstances of life…and I have done the same and still ponder it at times. It’s nice to now have the mental freedom to trust doubt and more freely ponder a smorgasbord of ideas.

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    I am grateful that God never died, never lived, never existed in any way that endured for me. I rejoice that I can embrace the hellfire of misery that is life on a certain Monday morning or Sunday, for that matter. I give thanks by breathing in and out and being aware of the fullness, the emptiness. All this humanity is quite free and costs each one finally, a life. The mortal glory got co-opted, simply for profit and when I weigh the outcome, religion stands like the thief it is, its gilded library of horrors still grinding us down to serfdom at best, indentured servitude.
    Carol, I live on a sort-of farm, half-worked and half-wild. If fits me and mine and when a someone stands at the door of my home to go out, I always say, take care out there! But as rough and tumble dangerous as it is out here, my caution is more directed at the time they face once they drive back to the city, face the parking meters, so to speak! I guess it is all a matter of taste or lack of it, finally. But I don’t know more than very little about a tiny bit of life that I have managed to enjoy and endure. I like to imagine a world where tax forms were one page only and wars had to be accomplished exclusively with video games , the spoils going to health care and learning centres, all free. Imagine there’s no heaven. No hell below us. Above us only sky.

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    I noticed this was dated 2015, so I wanted to see if there was an update to her story. There is, she was remarried earlier in 2016 and her marathon plans failed. While she was cagey about the reason for her divorce it would seem she got an anonymous letter her husband was cheating. (For a dissolved marriage before the 1st anniversary it was either that or he wasn’t getting along with her son.)
    Of course being a random bomb victim with a good story will not save someone from being a total flake. She puts her life in God’s hands rather than her own and it doesn’t work out because that’s giving up her agency to something that doesn’t exist.
    Let me point out the irony that God, if defined as the power created by like minded deluded congregants, caused the Boston terrorist attacks. I suppose it is natural to want to revel in one’s good fortune, even if that is to have one’s offspring saved by the obstructive effect of one’s devastated leg, but I haven’t been inclined to see the world like that for a long time (and consequently I don’t use tragedy as a definitive proof of God’s non-existence it works both ways)

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    Re-reading this post made me think of two evangelists who were popular in the 80’s- Tim Lee and Dave Roever.

    Tim stepped on a land mine in Vietnam as a USMC Infantryman and lost both of his legs. Tim had been a rebellious youth who was turned back to God by this experience and became an evangelist.

    Dave was supporting Navy SEALs in Vietnam when a bullet hit a phosphorus grenade in his hand. He was horribly burned and disfigured from this. Dave was a good Christian man who read his Bible and prayed, despite the ridicule of his teammates. Dave never lost his faith during this time and also became an evangelist.

    So the same god used two horrendous acts to “bring about good”. Why disfigure someone who served him? Why destroy someone’s legs to get them to love him? What did this prove? That God has all of the power and he can destroy you at any time he wants. How does this show blessing and favor? I submit that it doesn’t.

    Yet, both of these people traveled thousands of miles talking about how much their god loves them and how much he wants to love you. Maybe God’s plan was for them to make a lot of money. That must be the blessing they speak of.

    I’m not disrespecting military service in any way. Nor the fact they these men have beat incredible odds to make good for themselves. I’m just questioning the devastation and destruction and how it is good for anyone.

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    Hi Ian. I think a comfy delusion is a comfy delusion is a comfy delusion. I agree with you that there is no God to show blessing and favor.
    As for military service, many countries of the world praise it. I think it is those in health care and education we must set on pedestals for praise, not people used as human fodder for the war machine. American nationalism is a sickness that allows hatred to rage all over the world for profit. Going into the military is not some noble deed by the high-minded and good-hearted. I’m with you in questioning the devastation and destruction and do not believe it profits any of us apart from the weapons-makers/dealers/users.
    Isn’t it sad that the same arguments that woo uses to strike fear into our hearts are used by militarists too…. the latest ISIS terrorist in Canada was a lad who lost his mom at age seven. His dad was in the military and remarried someone the boy could not love. Mr. Military got religion and his boy went an Islamic route…. nobody looks at the kid’s life for an answer to his choices. All they talk about is ISIS ideas on the internet and how we must prevent them from taking our children… Such shallow bullshit that covers capital D Denial concerning the human causes of the boy’s extremism. Guess what Mr. Military Dad is doing now…. training to be a pastor. WTF.

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    Around the time I was deconverting, I saw a cartoon which I can’t now find. It had jesus and a guy making the 2 sets of footprints as they walked along the beach. Then there was just the one set….and a large jesus being piggy-backed by a the smaller, sweating guy. That summed up how I felt…the opposite of Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, struggling to the cross and having his ‘burden lifted at Calvary’….I knew I wanted to be free of the impossible burden of being a x-tian, of having jesus on my back. (And once again, thank you Bruce for helping me then, and ever since, by your writings, to embrace the freedom of being without religion.)

  13. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Reading this post again, I was struck by your moment of crying out to God in pain… And then calling yourself out for the act. I often talk to the imaginary thug in the air and I do because it reminds me the cost paid at the Cross. When Jesus died because of me, it cost me and if I care to hear the fundagelical preachers even today, it still costs me. It is inportant to remember the cost of deluded thinking, collective manipulation and ritual harm done to men, women, children. Lest we forget is about more than the human wars we have numbered. It is about the endless un-numbered war of extreme religion. this war has been waged against us for longer than we know and will never stop without facts being told, over and over, as they are as I see it on this blog. And if sometimes in the bright light of the sun or under the moon, we cry out, “My God!”, it is only to reinforce what we know to be untruth, collective delusion. As Matilda says above, “I knew I wanted to be free of the impossible burden of …having Jesus on my back…”
    Exactly. And I add my thanks to you, Bruce, for your friendship and support in sharing here.

  14. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Great comments here ! I was thinking recently of that kid who caused all that horror in Boston, and his Wahabist Abrahamic zeal. Abrahamic religion systems have to be the worst import/exports ever. So here is this boy, sitting on death row, if I heard correctly. And that place he and his late brother come from. Nothing but trouble. I followed the 1994 war over there closely. Awful stuff !

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