I have heard, for as long as I can recall, the idea that God’s hands in this world are those that he has given to us. Put very simply, God has no hands but ours, no arms but ours, no legs but ours.
I once mocked this idea because I felt it directly attacked the notion of divine sovereignty. I even said that if this was true then God was a poor and broken cripple who could do nothing in this world at all but wait on us to act.
When I understood where this idea came from, and what it really meant, I changed my mind. Let me explain.
One popular story says that following Word War II some German students volunteered to help rebuild a cathedral in England damaged by Luftwaffe bombings. As the work progressed the workers were not sure how to best restore the statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched and bearing the inscription: “Come unto Me.”
The workers repaired all the damage but could not find a way to repair Christ’s hands. They decided to leave the hands off and changed the inscription to read: “Christ has no hands but ours.” (More about the credibility of this account in a moment.)
Before you assume anything please understand that however this came about, or even if this English cathedral story is apocryphal, people did not come up with this idea entirely on their own. The tradition behind it is deep and ancient. St. Theresa of Avila once prayed:
You have no body on earth but ours,
No hands but ours,
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion
Must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still
Go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which
You bless people now.
Bless our minds and bodies,
That we may be a blessing to others. Amen.
Multiple interpretations of this event abound (an Internet check reveals several different similar events) but one simple fact is clear – the idea behind this Christ without hands statue is sound if the thought is correctly understood and not stereotyped through misunderstanding like that which I had in the past. God is sovereign but the Sovereign God has assigned us the role of being the body of Christ in this world. Both truths are clearly taught in Holy Scripture.
Further, the idea of the body of Christ being Christ’s hands and eyes, etc. is underscored in one of the most famous prayers ever spoken and written, that of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, union.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.