“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Differences called disabilities

I just had a fun lunch with a colleague of mine. We discussed a variety of theological issues related to disability. One of the points that I was making was the intersection of the sovereignity of God in relation to disability. The question is whether God causes disability or whether it is just the natural order of things as a result of the Fall. We came away with different perspectives on this issues and had a wonderful time discussing them.

One conclusion that I drew from our discussion, however, is that as Christians we run the risk of characterizing "disability" in the way the world does, a largely negative fashion, and then will say that God could not cause this negative thing. We call a characteristic of people negative and then say that God does not cause negative things to happen to people, therefore it is not of God.

If society were to take a person with Down's syndrome, for example, and as a society say that people with Down's syndrome are wonderful, loving people (which they are, although society does not agree when you look at the rabid efforts to prenatally diagnose and abort those with the syndrome), would we now credit God with the creation of Down's syndrome and thank him for it rather then say it is caused by natural processes and God just allows it? I think the answer is that "Yeah, we might do just that." If in my limited understanding, I can only see negatives in Down's syndrome, independent of where the negative comes from, I therefore will not be able to imagine that God would be the author of Down's syndrome. It is difficult when people suffer, whatever the cause. However, if people experience suffering related to their condition only because of the way that society treats them because of their condition, I need to rethink any fear of "blaming God" for the condition.

Now of course there are disabling conditions that are coupled with pain and suffering. God's sovereignity could be discussed in these cases as well. However, these are something different. Sin of individuals in society is typically not the cause of suffering in this case.

Yet in the case of many types of differences, called disabilities by society, the social consequences may be worse than the condition itself. I find this is particularly the case in those with intellectual disability. I have little difficulty seeing intellectual disability (as it is labeled by society) as an aspect of the creativity of God, and therefore the sovereignity of God. I can see God's sovereignity at work in the beauty, the change these individuals bring to those around them.



Lynn said...

Hi Jeff, what an interesting can of worms you have opened up here. I guess we could debate who is right and who is wrong, but that wouldn't achieve anything. The fact is, intellectually disabled people just ARE. How they came to be that way is almost irrelevant, while their lives and the impact of their lives on those around them is huge.

I am blessed to have some people with intellectual disabilities in my family and others are much loved friends. Their life journeys have been anything but easy. What has been their greatest difficulty? Dare I say, sadly, a lack of acceptance, a lack of respect.

So many people are scared of these people. (the lesser of this list of evils) Others are repulsed by them. Still others see them as vulnerable and take advantage of them. Others speak to them like they are nothing and nobody.

Yet some treat them with the love, dignity and respect they deserve as God's handiwork, a reflection of His glory, put here on earth for His Holy purposes. Too few, sadly.

I was involved in a discussion related to this myself only yesterday. One woman was telling me about her precious three year old grand daughter with Down Syndrome.

Her sister in law was (at the same time, without listening, obviously) sharing about how her daughter had had prenatal testing, aged 35, because she didn't want a baby with disabilities.

She was talking about someone close to me. I was quietly horrified. I said calmly that I would hate to think any babies would get to heaven prematurely because they were deemed to be "imperfect". I asked who of us were without imperfections and weaknesses, and did we deserve to have our lives taken from us due to these conditions?

One had a heart complaint, another diabetes, another cancer. None perfect. Some might have suffering ahead of them. Reason to kill? Of course not!

I believe every baby created by God is a blessing and a reward from Him, no exceptions, no returns.

I believe that inside every person with an intellectual disability is a healthy living soul and spirit in perfect condition, just as there is in every other human being; be they blind, physically disabled, suffering diseases or deformities, living with cancer or any other medical conditions or mental illnesses, and yes, even the able bodied people who reject Christ and all He stands for.

All here for a reason, all valuable to the God who made them, all loved beyond measure unconditionally, all precious in His sight.

Our God does not discriminate. He loves each and every one of us the same, sacrificially and not because of anything we have done or can do to please Him.

I can see God's sovereignty in each intellectually disabled person, just because they ARE, not because of anything they can do or achieve or not. Because God is God and He made them. Just like He made us. Because His grace is enough. For us and them.

Be blessed and be a blessing Jeff. Be the voice of reason in this age of self and the search for perfection at any price. To God be the glory.

Sarah said...

Yes Lynn, people with disabilities ARE - they are God's children just like any one else. Maybe if people took the time to get to know someone with a disability, they would think otherwise. I think families are the ones who suffer from rejection and lack of acceptance of their child with a disability. I can't imagine the hurt families feel when their child is rejected. I also feel it is a lack of education. People are scared and do not know how to act around people with disabilities as if there is special training. Thanks for sharing - God Bless

Anonymous said...

People with disabilites are almost always viewed with a negative perspective. This realization is unfortunate however true. I have a cousin who is Autistic and it pains me to see the struggle his parents go through. I think too many people see disabilities as a punishment, that it is God's doing. I have heard people say "why is God punishing me", that phrase alone shows how negative and insensitive people are towards those with disabilities. I think we should look more on how great and wonderful those with disabilities are. If there was not this constant negative assumption on people with disabilites, than it would be alot easier to see them as a blessing rather than an inconvenience. People with disabilites are first and foremost people, their disability is something they have not something they are.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog entry. I have questioned why God allows certain things to happen in our lives and to those around us. How could he allow one of his children to suffer and go through life not “whole.” If one has a disability I have imagined that their lives must be full of suffering and pain, it is a negative thought process. I attach pity to that person and their disability. This blog gave me an insight that I have never thought about. It is our society that has conditioned us to think that those with an intellectual disability are not perfect or purposeful and we attach negative values to them. As a Christian I should not view what I perceive as disabilities through the lens of the world but through the lens of how God would want me to. God knows everything about us and loves each one of us; He has given each of us a purpose regardless if society has labeled us “perfect” or not. If each of us focused less on the negativity of what the world views, but on the love of Christ we would not see disabilities as a negative hindrance. Instead we may see the love of Christ shining through them.

Lori Mendoza
EDU 341

Anonymous said...

People always assume that when something bad happens that God had his hand in it and sometimes they blame on God, like saying, how can you let this happen to me. But the fact is that God's love allows personal choice, therefore the world and all the sin in it can attack any person, but with God we know we have a promise in heaven and no matter what happens here on earth we are good. I think that disability is a cause of the world and because of the elements we have in this sinful world. This is not to say that God does not use and love these persons any less, all have a plan and are in Gods big plan for us all.

Anonymous said...

The word disability will always carry negative connotations within society. This is because when people think of someone who is disabled they think of them not being able to do something that everyone else can do. However, when you really think about it we are all disabled in some way. Nobody is perfect and God made us all unique with our own little flaws or what some would call disabilities. I for one wear glasses. This can be seen as a disability by some and at a time I bet it was seen as such. But over time society has learn to overlook and accept this disability as “normal”. Now I’m not saying that over time we will accept intellectually disabled people as a normal part of society. What I am saying is that before we classify someone as disabled that we should look at ourselves and realized that we are not perfect and that we are all disabled in some way. We were all made with flaws and it’s these flaws that make us unique. We should learn to accept this and learn to accept everyone for how they were created and look past their flaws and understand them as a person. A disabled person will always have a different view on the world and therefore we can learn so much from them. We must also understand that just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean they are suffering it just means that they had to adapt and overcome thus making them stronger that those who are “normal”. Another thing we can learn. While all this may be in a perfect world one can still hope to enact some change by starting it with ourselves in hopes that it will spread around us.

Suzanne Giffin said...

After reading your blog I feel that the question is not about the sovereignty of God, but rather what the definition of "disability" is. The definition would be altered by the perspective of the person answering the question. A person without a "disability" might answer this question as a disease, or impairment of some kind that causes a difference in abilities. A person with a "disability" might look at their difference as a "gift" that helps them to see the important things in life. The apostle Paul wrote in the book of 2Corinthians 12:10 "Therefore, I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ's sake; for when I am weak then I am strong".

Deana S said...

The idea of "disabilities by society" helps me to see intellectual disabilities in a new light. Society's view of one's disability is often worse than the condition itself. Why is it that we, as a society, have to view people who are different as unworthy, less valuable, and/or unlovable? Yes, I am sure that being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder includes many challenges, but does that mean that that person is going to "suffer" endlessly, or does it mean that they should have been aborted so they wouldn't have to "suffer" such hardships? I don't think so! Should I have been aborted because I am only 5' 0" and live in a society that values tall models? Of course not, but growing up I definitely knew that others made fun of me and did not value me for who I was. Because of other's (society's) view of normal, I had very low self-esteem, until I surrounded myself with people who valued me as a person. Unfortunately, most people with disabilities can't make the choice to surround themselves with only those who appreciate them.

I'm sure this sounds as corny as I think, but why is it so hard to simply enjoy EVERYONE for who they are, strenghths and weaknesses included? I do understand that fear plays a large part in societal attitudes toward people with disabilities. However, I believe it is a matter of choice. Personally, I choose not to debate God's role in individual circumstances. I choose to focus my energy on how I treat others; with respect and kindness. I know that discussing God's role in people's hardships is an intersting and important idea to contemplate, but certainly far too complex for me to even think I have the correct answer to. I simply believe in Him and His will, and I believe that each INDIVIDUAL has a purpose and is of great value.

CBU Student said...

It is my pressumption that society has always viewed disabilities as something bad rather than good. Therefore, society has created a false idea of what it means to be a disabled person. I don't believe that God causes disability, like I also do not agree that a disability is a curse. I believe as Lynn stated earlier that people with disabilities just ARE. I think people always fear the unknown; if we all took the time to get to know one another and be compassionate and kind, we will all be doing God's work. God created each one of us individually and he did not make any mistakes when he did so.

Blaine Clyde said...

I think we need to remember that God’s wisdom is not anything like ours. He has purposes and plans that we will never understand in our human knowledge and wisdom. While our society chooses to honor the rich, good looking, famous and athletic Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:25-29 that God chose the so-called weak and foolish of the world to shame the wise and strong.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Corinthians 1:25-29

George said...

" Sin of individuals in society is typically not the cause of suffering in this case.

Yet in the case of many types of differences, called disabilities by society, the social consequences may be worse than the condition itself"

I take particular interest in this comment near the end that you made. So in relating this comment back up with the original topic of whether or not God caused disability or that it was just the natural order of things as a result of the Fall, there are some major implications. You have discussed in other posts about not equalizing disability and suffering because if the society was able to accept and embrace the disability then there would be no suffering. I think the situation presented in the current post falls in the same boat. Disability IS created by God in his sovereignty. Disability itself is not a result of the fall. However, the negative implications of disability are the result of the fall. We must make this distinction between the two. As a result of the fall, we are all inherently sinful and therefore do not love and accept others as God had originally intended. Now, when a person who is different than us is created and placed on this earth, we run into these issues of love and acceptance and now the person with disabilities has to endure a lifestyle of negativity. Then, as curious humans who never understand the purposes of our God, we assume that the Lord would have never created someone destined to a life of hardships and negativity. However, what we are failing to realize is that God did not create this human with that intention, however, we are the ones who have fallen and we are the ones who need to change. God is completely sovereign in every situation and has created everything for a distinct purpose. Maybe people with disabilities are here to show us our faults and show us those times where we do not love so hopefully we can repent of that and change our ways.

Jeff McNair said...

Very interesting perspective, George.

Unknown said...

Similarly to your perspective, I too agree that when people think about disabilities or encounter a disabled person, they only see negativity. Too many people feel pity for disabled individuals despite their incredible strengths. I, too, felt this way until I began volunteering at a camp for disabled children and adults. After each experience at this camp, I felt more and more homogeneous to the campers who had disabilities. They were brilliant, much more brilliant than me. They were resilient, talented, selfless, and so incredibly intelligent. Sheila was a quick-witted math wizard. Benny could play piano like Elton John. Savannah could beat ANYONE at chess and Connect Four. April made the BEST snowmen. I fell in love with these people and their talents, and I can honestly say that I learned more from them than they did from me. Not only did they try to teach me their talents, but they also taught me how to see beyond a disability, whether it be intellectual or physical. Like you said, "God is completely sovereign in every situation and has created everything for a distinct purpose." I have always believed that since I was a little girl, as I was told at a very young age, "once someone fulfills their earthly purpose, they go home to heaven." Disabled people, in my opinion, have a very unique and beautiful purpose. God intentionally and wonderfully made everyone on this earth, and therefore we should treat each person with kindness, acceptance and understanding.