As I reached down to grab what I thought was clearly my vibrating phone in my pocket, my hand came up empty, and I rolled my eyes to discover that, once again, I had been tricked by my own body: my phone wasn’t even with me. Apparently, I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon (as many will be relieved to hear). The idea of “phantom ringing” started to appear years ago with the proliferation of pagers, and once we all turned to owning smart phones, the feeling went widespread. A singularity that afflicts most at one point or another, many will admit to swearing that they feel the vibrations of their phone against their leg, only to find no such vibrating occurring. Chalk it up to how tied we are to our phones, I suppose.
However, a similar situation also occurs with 60-80% of amputee patients. Dubbed “Phantom Limb Syndrome,” this condition arises when patients who have lost a limb or other significant body part feel varying amounts of pain, discomfort, or itching in a part of the body that no longer exists. Patients absentmindedly reach down to rub or scratch the missing part, only to be painfully reminded that the part is no longer there. They have become so used to the limb being a part of them, that their body is having trouble adjusting to a time without said body part. Like the phone, it is as if the specter of the limb haunts the person missing it, leaving them with nothing but empty air to grasp at.
I mention these two ghostly examples as they are like the way in which we allow past sin to hang over us, where even though we have been forgiven and the sin is no longer with us, it negatively affects our actions and mindset, discouraging us from being the forgiven person we are. We sometimes have a hard time grasping Christ’s forgiveness, as He takes our wrongs and, once forgiven, places them as far away from us as possible. Psalm 103.12 states that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103.12). Our sin can be no further away from us than where Christ has placed it. We are completely dissociated from it.
Yet, we tend to ruminate and reflect on what we’ve done despite the forgiveness we’ve received. Yes, we’ve all done some pretty bad things where we’ve hurt others, cursed God, and destroyed ourselves both literally and physically. Despite the forgiveness we’ve sought and received, we allow our past actions to hang over us like a dark cloud. Like the man who walks through a spider web and for the next few hours swears that spiders are crawling on him, the guilt of our sin hangs lifelessly over us, haunting our every move regardless of the forgiveness received. Despite our feelings, that sin is not there, so why do we allow the guilt to hang over us? It is because we’ve lived with our actions and the guilt of them for a great deal of our life, so we “phantomly” perceive them to be there. Like the non-existent phone or ghostly limb, we erroneously think it’s with us always, yet the reality is that those sins have been forgiven, and we need to adjust to this new reality. Christ desires us to not only be forgiven but to feel forgiven, as that is when His grace shines most brightly. So perhaps we need to rebuke the specters of our past sins and their associated guilt and begin to live as the forgiven, saved people we are. This week, don’t allow forgiven sin and phantom guilt to haunt you. Refuse to let it dampen the joy that comes with grace. Don’t let Christ’s mercy be dulled by the perceived grime of our past actions, but instead reject that phantom guilt and live as saved individuals. Amen.