Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Gen 1:26 (NIV)
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life…” John 9:3 (NIV)
As we are in the 25th year of Young Life Capernaum, I thought it would be helpful to spend some time on what I have learned biblically and theologically as I have given my life to Christ and serve my friends with disabilities. So the next few reflections I write will focus on this.
It seems to me the most basic starting point concerns kids’ identity in this world. Are they accidents and unfortunate tragedies? Are they less than others because of mental disability? This is what much of our world believes and sadly the church is not all that different. However, these perceptions say a great deal more about our culture than they speak with any accuracy about our friends with disabilities.
It seems to me there are two central verses when it comes to looking at our friends with disabilities. In Genesis 1:26 we are told that all of humankind, male and female, is made in the image of God. All. Not some. Not just righteous, saved people. Not just physically or mentally whole. All!
This is how we see our friends and how we portray them to our culture. They are created in the image of God and because of this they are no less or more than anyone else. They are people made in the image of God who happen to have disabilities, rather than disabilities who happen to be kids with the image of God tucked away somewhere inside their souls.
One question that all of us have probably heard or asked ourselves is, “Are their bodies the result of the fall?” There is disagreement on this. I know people who say they will remain this way with their disabilities in heaven because to say otherwise would be to designate them as less than.
While I don’t pretend to believe I or anyone else can know with certainty, I don’t believe this. Just as I know I would want a new body in heaven, a desire that anyone who ages would readily welcome, I believe God’s creation of us is to have bodies that work as He designed them to work.
Jesus’ statement in John 9 to His disciples counters the idea that this means they are in some way defective. His disciples assumed the blind man was born blind as the result of sin; as a result of the fall. Jesus blows this to pieces saying that he was born this way to show the glory of God. And then Jesus heals him. This chapter, along with 2 Samuel 9 and Acts 3 are whole chapters focused on a person with a disability. In John 9 and Acts 3, the content of the chapters and the dialogue are a direct result of Jesus’ encounter with a person with a disability.
Here Jesus is saying to the blind man, to His disciples, and to all of us that the blind man is not a mistake. Instead he is the vehicle through which the glory of God is revealed in his disability. Haven’t we all experienced this with our friends at club in countless beautiful ways?
When we look at Paul’s reference to us as cracked clay jars where the treasure of Christ spills out, is this not especially true for our friends with disabilities? I believe our friends are a witness to all of us that God’s strength is perfected in weakness rather than in our strength and ability.
In this understanding, our friends with disabilities become our prophets and prophetesses – turning us away from the idol worship of power, success, and appearance. They call us to our gloriously flawed humanity while recognizing God does His greatest work in the lowly, ordinary, and weak in this world – cracked clay pots.
Paul in I Corinthians speaks of the Body of Christ and all its different members. At one point he states, “God himself has put our bodies together in such a way as to give greater honor to those parts that it lacked…” He also says that we cannot get along without parts of the body that seem to be weaker, and those parts we think aren’t worth very much are the ones we treat with greater care; while the parts of the body that don’t look very nice receive special attention, which the more beautiful parts of our body do not need.
In all this our friends are whole because they are created in the image of God, and yet like us they are human, fragile, and weak. God redeems this by reminding us it’s through our very weakness and disability that He most powerfully reveals Himself.
Next week we will look at sin.