Flaws in the Footprints
Why Footprints is a Big Dumb Poem
If Christians are good at anything it is producing sappy literature. A hallmark example of this is the Footprints poem. It’s so sappy, in fact,I can not even bear including the anonymous work in this post. But if you must study the actual work itself, you can find 3 versions of it here.
The poem is about a recently dead person having a precious moment walking with God along a beach. This particular beach is a magic beach with scenes from said person’s life, from birth to death, projected into the sky like some long, dull PBS movie I assume. Somehow — and this is where the poem gets really trippy — there are 2 sets footprints in the sand corresponding with every scene in the sky of the recently dead person’s life. One set of footprints is the person’s and the other set is God’s.
This leads to a crisis. During the tumultuous parts of the movie there is only 1 set of footprints! God abandoned the person when they needed God most!
Why, God? Why?!?
But wait! God can explain: “The scenes when you see only one set of footprints is when I carried you,” God says, leaving us tingly with warm hearts. And it should leave us that way. We all long for God to be present, to understand our idiosyncratic sufferings, and to love us enough to help us.
But as tingly as it is, the poem has problems. Consider the idea of God carrying us through the tumultuous scenes in our movie. If God was carrying us, then why was it still so tumultuous? What good was it for us to be carried?
You might respond: “our experience would’ve been worse if God wasn’t carrying us.” But we are talking about God here, the creator of the universe, the omni-everything-guy. Couldn’t God carry us in such a way as to protect us from all the tumult? (In fact, shouldn’t the scenes where our holy and majestic God is carrying us correspond to the good scenes in the movie?)
You might respond: “God allows us to experience a certain amount of the suffering because it is good for us.” Suffering builds character, you might say, or shapes our spirits, or whatever. Your point is: suffering does good things for us. But if this is true, then why does God carry us? If he carries us isn’t he preventing us from getting as much character growth out of our experience as we can get? Isn’t he robbing us of great growth opportunities?
You might respond: “Only a certain amount of suffering is good, and too much suffering can be destructive.” This response is acceptable if you are an Open Theist. The response fails, though, if you hold a classic, or a Reformed, view of God. That is, if you believe that everything happens according to God’s plan, then the poem ought to be seen as absurd.
Consider: If only a certain amount of suffering in a situation is good for us, and God creates every situation, then why not create situations where there is always the right certain amount of suffering? If everything is part of God’s perfect plan, then there shouldn’t even be instances of too much suffering. Every instance of suffering ought to be just the right amount.
You might respond: “God allows for instances of too much suffering so that he can show his love for us by carrying us.” But this is crazy — maybe even sadistic. Now God, in the poem, is producing suffering just to show off something about himself. It is tantamount to telling us: “In those times where I shot you in the face I was there to perform plastic surgery on you.”
Furthermore, how are we supposed to feel about the extra suffering that God sops up by carrying us? Are we expected to feel thankful? But how can we? We were never meant to experience that suffering to begin with. We may as well be thankful for not having cramps in our wings, or for not having dull beaks!
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