Good Intentions Gone Awry

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Recently, Max Lucado, a Christian author, published a book from which I read an excerpt with reflections on disability and disease called "We Shall Be Like Him." Although he intends to encourage the reader, the language used and assumptions made in this excerpt diminish people with disabilities.

Lucado is a fine author with a heart as big as Texas. His insensitivity toward people with disabilities in this particular devotional really surprised me.

In this reflection on Ephesians 1:10, Lucado unpacks what he believes to be a few implications of this verse with regard to human bodies, including the replacement of our bodies today with eternal bodies.

He writes, “Even on the days you felt fine, you weren’t. You were a sitting duck for disease, infections, airborne bacteria, and microbes. . . . I hate disease. I’m sick of it. So is Christ. Consider his response to the suffering of a deaf mute," quoting Mark 7:33 and 34.

Lucado continues, “Jesus will heal all who seek healing in him. . . . To say some will be healed beyond the grave by no means diminishes the promise. The truth is this: “When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, emphasis mine).”

Then he concludes, “’We shall be like him.’ Let every parent of a Down syndrome or wheelchair-bound child write these words on the bedroom wall. Let the disabled, infected, bedridden, and anemic put themselves to sleep with the promise ‘We shall be like him.’ Let amputees and the atrophied take this promise to heart: ‘We shall be like him.’”

As the parent of a child who has severe disabilities and a friend of many people who live with disabilities, I find Lucado’s words unhelpful and even upsetting for several reasons.

Confusing disease and disability

He says that he “hates disease,” then illustrates his point with Jesus’ healing of a man who was deaf. Most people I know who are deaf or hard of hearing would find this illustration to be confusing at best or offensive at worst. Deafness as well as most other disabilities are not diseases. In fact, people who are Deaf (capital D) will tell you that not only is their deafness not a disease, it is not a disability at all. They will tell you that they are a language and cultural subgroup of the broader society, surely not people afflicted with a chronic disease. Many people with disabilities aren't looking for "healing" at all.

Lack of People First Language

Although at one time Lucado’s word choice was acceptable English usage, that time has passed. Just as it is no longer acceptable and appropriate to refer to African Americans as “Negroes” or “colored people,” likewise, the time is passing for terms like “deaf mute” and “wheelchair-bound child.”  Even if Lucado is not aware of the increasing use of people-first language with reference to people with disabilities, surely his editors at Zondervan should have made this correction before the book was released.

Belittling People with Disabilities

Lucado’s concluding paragraph implies that people with disabilities are less Christlike than people who do not have disabilities. It’s reassuring for all of us that we shall be like him in the new heavens and earth. Why would the parent of a child with Down Syndrome find this more reassuring or important than the parent of any child? As the parent of a daughter who lives with severe disabilities, I admire her Christlike abilities to live in the present, to endure suffering without a hint of self-pity, and to show kindness and joy to the people she meets. Frankly, many people that I have met who have Down syndrome or use wheelchairs are much more Christlike that many Christians who do not have a disability. Christ himself bears the marks of his disability in his resurrected body!

The purpose of this blog is not to slam Max Lucado. His literature for children and adults has advanced the cause of Christ in many ways. But James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Those of us who lead in the Christian community with our spoken and written words must recognize that even well-intentioned and articulate people can cause hurt. May God help all of us who teach and write to do so in a way that builds up and does not tear down.

Posted in: Disability Concerns; Blog Photo courtesy of - http://www.flickr.com/photos/soulforce/4533446925/in/photostream/ Image: See Credit

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Mark, I hardly know what to say about your article.   While appreciating your great concern and empathy for disabled people, I think you are perhaps focussing only on one side of the equation.   Remember that Jesus said to John the Baptist something like, the Messiah has come to cause the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see.   I think this is true in both a figurative and a literal sense.   Whether we are blind physically or whether we do not see spiritually, Jesus can heal us.   It is not a dimunition of disabled people to know that Jesus heals.  

There is not a great deal of difference between someone who cannot walk, and someone who has terminal cancer, and someone who must wear glasses or a hearing aid.  (and I really wish I did not have to wear glasses...)   All can contribute, all can be spiritually enriched and help others in spiritual ways.   Sometimes the disability, the sickness, or the life-changing horrors of war and abuse, can enable a deeper empathy or spiritual contribution (I'm reminded of Corrie Ten Boom and her message, or Paul and Silas in prison, or Joni Erickson-Tada).   But in spite of the possible richness of experience and the potential contribution because of it, I don't think we ought to be  diminishing the healing of Christ, whether spiritual or physical. 

Christ died to make us new!   We shall be like him!   We shall see Him as He is!   And to some extent, we are already somewhat like him if we trust in him, knowing that Christ too had to suffer physical pain and anguish and death for us.   But Christ arose.   Resurrected!   New again!   Therefore we can be content in all circumstances, recognizing that our weaknesses and problems, whether propensity to disease or disability or suffering from persecution, can still be used for good.   And sometimes these weaknesses provide us with a special light, such as from those blind musicians who are able to concentrate their effort on their music and praise God in a way that is difficult for many sighted people.   Or the boy with down's syndrome who can lead us in musical sign language, which I never have learned.    And we thank God for those and similar blessings.  

  It is also true as you say, that physical perfection will not make us more Christ-like if our spirits are not Christ-like.  

John, thanks for your comment and this opportunity to clarify. I'm not suggesting that Jesus does not heal, nor am I saying that the new life we will have with our resurrected bodies won't be unspeakably wonderful. My concern is with Lucado's handling of these themes with regard to people with disabilities. In my opinion, in his attempt to foster hope for the future he diminishes people in the present. I'm especially concerned with his implication that people with disabilities are somehow automatically less Christlike because they have a disability. This may not be his intent, however, people with disabilities frequently endure subtle and overt suggestions that their disability is a punishment for their lack of faith or for some sin in their lives. For example, my wife and I were told once that our daughter lives with severe disabilities because we don't have enough faith. This devotion by Lucado plays right into the wrong-headed and unscriptural teaching that people with disabilities are less Christian than people who do not have disabilities.

Mark, excellent critique.  It makes me wonder is Max represents many in the evangelical world who believe any disability is a "problem" for lack of a better word.  I wonder if a nice email to Max might encourage some good dialogue.  I know that he is pretty open to that sort of thing.

You might even get another article out of the interaction.  :-)

Allen, how would one get in touch with him?

Mark, Jesus was quite clear that the disabilities of some people were not due directly to the sin of the person or their parents, nor to their lack of faith.   And the converse is also true, as in the question of the psalmist who asked, "why do the wicked prosper?"    And the question about faith to heal is headed in the wrong direction.   Jesus healed to demonstrate that he was the Christ.   The apostles healed in Christ's name, to demonstrate that they were showing Christ's mercy and message.   Faith to demonstrate Christ, is different than the faith to heal.   Jesus did not heal everyone and neither did the apostles.   And I believe the reason is found in the book of Job, which demonstrates that we cannot understand why for the present time, suffering must still occur.  

I wouldn't worry too much about those who suggest that parents do not have enough faith for their children to be healed.   Ask them if they have enough faith themselves to heal your daughter?   None of us has enough faith, and no one needs to have a false pride about that.  While some of my prayers are answered, other prayers are answered in the negative, and other times I do not even have enough faith to pray for some things.   But I trust God knows what He wants to do, that He loves me, and that he turns evil for good, including imperfect eyesight and declining hearing.  

I very much doubt that Lucado is suggesting that a person's sin, or lack of faith is the cause of his sickness or disability.   Do you seriously  think that  he would  be thinking that they are less Christian or less Christ-like?   

If we do not all realize that we are all diminished in the present in some way, we are missing out on the glorious transformation that God has in store for those who love Him.   Disabled people may be diminished in some ways that are more obvious, but they are no more diminished in reality than any of the rest of us.   Their physical problems are merely a metaphor for the things that disable us, whether it is our lack of understanding, our temper, our desires, our laziness, or our poor perception.  And the ways that physically or mentally disabled people deal with their problems are often an example and a teacher to us, to realize that they and we are forgiven sinners, and can rejoice in God's grace. 

Perhaps I appear too callous or un-caring when I suggest that yes, disabled people have problems.   But it is naive and nonproductive and essentially uncaring to think otherwise.   I say this having dealt with severely disabled people in different ways, to the point of building ramps for a wheelchair to enter our house.  Of course there are additional problems.   But that's okay.   To hide this fact is to make the person less real, or to make the problem even more significant than it really is.    Just as me having to make sure I wear my glasses, and having an extra pair with me, is more of a problem than for those who do not need glasses.  So what?    We all have our problems, even those who think they don't have problems.   Maybe especially those who think they don't.  

There is great joy in being able to help people with problems, regardless of what those problems are.   To lessen their burden.  To find joy in this life as a gift from God.   To realize their problems are not insurmountable.   To realize that their problems are not forever.   That God is bigger than their/our problems, both in this life and the next.   Sometimes those problems bring people closer together, precisely because there are problems and things are not so smooth.   Sometimes they allow the expression of a love that would otherwise remain hidden. 

If I can no longer walk, I would not want someone telling me I don't have a problem.   I would want a wheelchair, and someone to help me up the steep slopes.   Nice words will simply leave me at the bottom. 

John, Yes, Jesus was very clear that disabilities are not punishment for sin. But most Christians throughout church history have ignored that fact. You wrote, "I very much doubt that Lucado is suggesting that a person's sin, or lack of faith is the cause of his sickness or disability.   Do you seriously  think that  he would  be thinking that they are less Christian or less Christ-like?" Not only do I agree with you, I said the same thing, starting in the title of the blog. My point is not Lucado's intent, it's his delivery. When people get subjected repeatedly to patronizing and discriminatory comments and actions, they want it to stop. In the same way that a white person who speaks and writes about racism must bear in mind a long history of words and actions that have hurt people of color, so a nondisabled person who speaks and writes about disability must bear in mind a long history of words and actions that have hurt people with disabilities. Whether one is dealing with racism or ableism, good intentions are a good start, but they must be followed by speech and writing and action that back up those good intentions, not undercut them.

Mark, I agree we should be considerate of our language.   But over the years I have also found it an onerous and impossible task to avoid what some regard as insensibility in language.   This has been particularly true for the racial issue.   The terms white and black and colored are used in very strange ways.   At times I am offended by being referred to as white.   It puts me into a presumed category which may not apply in every instance.   But I know that in general, it is a waste of time to be offended by it. 

When homosex people got the right to marry, I then no longer wanted to be identified as married, since I felt the term had become sullied, and had lost its meaning.   But, what term can one use instead?  

Last night we watched a video on Mother Teresa working in India.   Her weathered skin was as dark as that of many of the East Indians and Pakistani people, yet she was referred to as "white", by the Indians.   The afro-americans are often referred to as "black" in USA or "colored" in South Africa.   But whether the term is a problem, is usually in the ears of the hearer, and sometimes in the intentions of the speaker.   Most afro-americans in the USA are not black but brown or in many cases tanned.   But the colors become a euphenism for their racial background.   I find it an impossible situation to satisfy all the feelings associated with the nuances of various designations. 

In the aboriginal situation in Canada, they were originally called Indians in english.   Then they wanted to be called "Natives" or "First Nations", both terms which offend me, especially "Natives".   (as if I was not a native, but they are...therefore suggesting that perhaps I do not belong in this country... )   "First Nations" is simply presumptious (to me), as if to suggest that perhaps Quebec was a second nation, and Canada a third nation.   And of course, how many "First Nations" were there, and of those, how many exist today?   But the point is political, to suggest that they are still viable or valid nations with the possibility of governance, on a par with Canada, and perhaps superior to the provinces.   And, since their ethnicity is enshrined in our constitution, they want to maintain their racial distinctiveness, whatever it is called, since it gives them all sorts of entitlements that the average Canadian does not have.

So the main reason I have problems with the usage of words, is when they convey a lie, an untruth, or attempt to paper over the reality of the situation.   Thus using the terms of a deaf mute or a wheelchair bound individual is only problematic if not true.   Provided that we realize that deaf mute people are people, and can still communicate in other ways, and are still valuable to God, and to us.

Trying to suggest that disabilities are not diseases, may be technically true, but misses the point.   Sometimes diseases cause great disabilities, such as polio causing lameness, or cancer causing colostomys, or flesh-eating disease or diabetes causing amputations, meningitis causing other problems, cataracts causing blindness, etc.   Whether a disability is caused by a disease, or by an accident, or by genetics, or by gestational problems, does not really matter in the effect of the disability.   The disability still causes problems, and we are called to help, to love, to care, not to ignore or dismiss.  

I know a person who must continually wear a brace (even while swimming) to support his back, which is severely bent and mishaped from birth.   He can still get around, and can drive, and has a marvelous sense of humor, and I like him.   He knows his problem, but he also knows it doesn't have to stop him from being a person who can do what he can do.   He faithfully visited his mom in the nursing home until she died, even though she barely knew him.   He visits different churches almost every week, mostly I think to see who he can cheer up, and as a way of bringing people together (at least that's how I see it).   I've never heard him whine or complain. 

I know a teenage girl who has cerebral palsy, and had spina bifida.   She has a good mind, but it does not connect well to any part of her body, and so it is difficult for her to speak or write.   But she can speak if you are patient enough to listen.  She has a motorized wheelchair and loves to race around on the grass with it, or pull kids behind her in a cart.   Is she disabled?   Does she have problems?   yes!  major problems.   Sometimes she has pain.   Can't feed herself (or barely), can't walk, can't bathe herself or bring herself to the wc.   It's a lot of work getting her around, using lifts and hoists, sometimes, (but I can still carry her up and down the stairs, and frankly, I don't mind.   )   But she has still learned much, has a good memory, and knows when and how much medicine she needs to keep her muscles from binding up too tight, she can read, and she has a sense of humor too.   She takes up a bit more space in our church, but that's okay.   Maybe she reminds us to be thankful for our small problems.   She teaches us to be patient, and when we think of building improvements or renovations, she is always on our mind.   And we don't mind.  

I know a fellow who lost his hand and wrist in an accident.   It causes him some problems, but he works hard every day at a physical job, and figures how to get aound his disability and minimize its effects.   But it's an in your face kind of disability, that he also turns into a kind of humor from time to time.   I also know a young girl born with a missing hand and wrist, who took her situation for granted, but was quite pleased to meet the older fellow with the missing hand.  (She is also "black" or "colored" or something.)   They had a great time doing the "high-five" with the short arms!  

What am I trying to say?  Maybe the same thing as you.   That people with disabilities are people first.   That disabilities are part of who they are.   That some disabilities descibe a person almost as much as their occupation, or the color of their hair, or their nationality, or their ancestry.   I am glad you are concerned for them. 

John, I'm sure we are very close in our thinking. Obviously, you care a great deal about the people in your life, including people with disabilities, and see them as the image-bearers of God that they are. You see the person first, as I also try to do. Regarding language, on the one hand, if we get too uptight about what we say, we'll never be able to talk about any controversial subject at all. But If we speak or write without regard to the feelings of hearers or readers, then we show disrespect, even if the disrespect is unintentional. Let's say that a company division just got a new manager, fresh with her MBA out of prestigious business school. Without getting to the know the people or the culture of that division, she immediately implements a variety of changes in the way her division works. She hasn't taken the time to listen first and build trust and respect before implementing changes. Thus, she communicates disrespect. Similarly, if someone is going to write or speak about disability, he needs to listen to some people who live with disabilities and listen to what others are saying and writing about it before diving in, otherwise, unintentionally, he communicates disrespect because he has not listened to the collective experience of others. That's my sense of what happened with this particular devotional by Lucado. Once again, he's a great writer and pastor and has done many people good through his work. But we all make mistakes. I wrote about this devotional as a teaching tool to remind all of us who speak and write that we are held to a higher standard, and we must take care, lest our words have the opposite effect of what they intend.

Thanks Mark for your message and warning.

Such a statement made by Lucano is a very popular one. I realized that it was faulty as you mentioned when one of our members who had a child with a great disability drew a picture with him with Jesus with the very same disability, rather than a 'perfect' person. 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Lucado's thoughts, Mark.

The discussion has prompted several thoughts of my own, and having just read the 'interview' with Joel Boot and his acknowledgement of the need to be able to question, I guess some of my thoughts sort of question what is meant by certain phrases in the Bible.

1.  I think in any situation, not just in relation to persons with disabilities, people-first language is very important.  Jesus did the same during his life on earth, and with good reason.  By failing to do so, we make assumptions about people that may or may not be true, and we risk not getting to know who they really are and what they are about.  What a loss that would be!

2.  Here's one of my questions:  what does "being made in God's image" mean?  Can we mortals know what God "looks" like?  I think we often think of outward appearance when we ponder this verse, but perhaps this isn't what God had in mind at all.  As a person who is less than able physically, I don't think too much about becoming more physically able so I will "look" more like God.  I am more interested in being Christ-like in my faith and my actions, and maybe that's what God's image is all about.

3.  Now here's another question:  what is meant by "all will be healed when Christ returns"?  Again, does this refer to physical healing, or will that be irrelevant?  Perhaps the healing will be in the spiritual and emotional realm, or even a combination of all?  Is this our sinful nature that tends to focus on our physical imperfections, all the while ignoring our spiritual shortcomings? 

I guess what I am trying to say is that I don't think it matters to our gracious and loving God whether we are disabled or not.  He is more interested in what is in our heart, and that we love Him and want to live our best for Him.  As has been so ably demonstrated in examples in previous posts, we have all been given the capability to love the Lord and live for Him to the best of our abilities.  Let's all be Christ-like and accept that of each other as well, able or disabled.

My first thought on reading this was, "Oh please."  My second thought is, "Lighten up, Fancis."

Nothing Lucado said in the passages you quoted belittled people of any sort.  Nothing he said indicates that people with disabilitites are less Christlike.  Indeed, it's a pretty standard riff on Isaiah 61 and not much different from Jesus' answer to John's disciples in Matthew 11.   We shall be like Christ - whole, body and soul.  That's all he's saying.

Your suggestion that most deaf people don't consider it a disability is also rather hard to believe.  Ask them: if they could be granted hearing, would they take it?  Ask those who once could hear but now cannot: do you miss it?  I know a few people in both categories, and all would answer affirmatively.  They have adjusted, and learned to live with it quite well, but that's not the same as saying it isn't a disability.  A youtube video not long ago showed a young woman having a prosthetic hearing device activated, and the joy of hearing overcame her.  I don't think she considered deafness simply a "language and cultural subgroup".

And what's so wrong about calling a disability a disability?  All of us are broken in some fashion - some breaks are easier to mask than others, some harder to adjust to than others, but there's something wrong with everyone.  We live in a broken world.  We adjust as we can, rely on the grace of God and the love of our brothers and sisters, and look forward to a time when we are made whole.

As to the specifics of what it is to be made whole, I note that after his resurrection Jesus still had the holes in him.  Leads me to think that the wholeness of our union with Christ, fully experienced, overwhelms any such minor considerations as an extra hole here or there, but I really don't know for sure.  Guess we'll find out when we get there.

There are enough real problems to deal with in the mean time.  We don't need to be inventing them, placing impossible burdens on each other to the point where we hardly dare say anything for fear of offending someone.

b-ver, thanks for your comments. Here's a Wikipedia article which will help you understand what I meant when I wrote, "In fact, people who are Deaf (capital D) will tell you that not only is their deafness not a disease, it is not a disability at all."

And so at the resurrection, do you think the hearing of the deaf will be restored?

The resurrection will be unimaginably wonderful for all who are raised to new life in Jesus Christ. Instead of giving my thoughts about your question, it would be much better for you to ask someone who considers herself to be a member of the language and cultural group who call themselves the Deaf.

Might I suggest that perhaps instead of just giving our own thoughts, whether we are deaf or hearing, we go first to scripture and ask what God says about this.   What indication does Jesus give about this?   Whether deaf or hearing, our own thoughts will just be that:  our own thoughts.   Our own thoughts may have little bearing on the reality of what God has actually intended for us. 

Help me, John. I don't recall Jesus saying anything about what our resurrected bodies will be like. In fact, Scripture as a whole is sketchy as to what the new heavens and earth will be like. Revelation 21:4 says, "‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." But it doesn't say how God will accomplish this wonderful new life. As far as I remember from Scripture, what we do know about the resurrected body is the little that is said about Jesus after he arose. And that, shockingly, is that the disciples did not recognize him at all, except in the marks of his most disabling moment, his crucifixion! (Luke 24:36-40) These marks became part of his identity which he will carry with him throughout eternity. Likewise, in some truly amazing way, God will make sure that the "old order of things has passed away," while still maintaining our identities. The late Nancy Eiesland, who lived with a congenital condition and needed to use a wheelchair, did a very interesting theological reflection on Jesus' resurrection body and her own identity and disability that you may want to read.

I will have to agree with b-ver on this.   Jesus fulfilled prophecy while healing on earth, prophecies that can be also applied to our eternal life with Christ in the future, when our bodies are resurrected.   The fact that Jesus had holes in his hands, was what made some of the disciples look more closely at his face, which they had never expected to see again on this earth.  They were a sign of His voluntary obedient sacrifice for us, and not really to be compared to the sickness and blindness and other frailties and incompletenesses that we experience in our own lives.   I don't think it would be right for us to compare our poor eyesight or lameness with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, as if we had become blind or lame in order to be obedient to God in our service to others. 

If our resurrected bodies were going to remain crippled and blind and lame and deaf, then it would not make much sense to rejoice in the healing that Jesus did while He was on earth, or even the healings that sometimes still occur today.   Then we might as well just shrug our shoulders and say, "oh well.   Whatever."  

It is one thing entirely to "be content in whatever the circumstances".   But it is another thing entirely to assume that all our circumstances today are divinely ordered permanent blessings in spite of their difficulties and trials.   Even the book of Job suggests that his trials and troubles were temporary, and that God had something better in store for him in the future.   In his case on earth;  in our case perhaps not till heaven. 

Not sure why it would be "better" to ask someone who considers herself (what, don't bother asking deaf men?) part of the "Deaf".  Seems to me the whole "Deaf Community" notion runs counter to what you call "people first" language since it defines people in terms of a condition rather than their humanity, but such contradictions are inevitable when we get into the land of "self esteem" and political correctness.

In Matthew 11, one of the signs of the Christ is that the deaf hear (along with blind seeing, lame walking, etc.).  While it is not definitive, it is certainly reasonable to believe that deafness will be no more when Christ returns in the fullness of his glory and we see face-to-face what we now see through a glass and darkly.

Nor would I deny that comfort to one who yearns for the day when we are made whole on the grounds that Jesus' resurrected body still had holes in it from the crucifixion.  It is entirely appropriate that a mother grieving over a son who died because his head was blown off by an IED, for instance, should look forward to being able to see his face again in the time to come, so some notion of restoration and wholeness applies even to that physical body.

So, how about we not look for reasons to be offended by Max Lucado, using language that is highly reminiscent of Scripture itself, saying that we shall be made whole, able to hear or see or smell where once we could not.  How about we not try to pretend that a disability isn't a disability, but support those who are dealing with it with as much of dignity and independence as can be managed.  And how about we not balkanize ourselves any more than we already have.

b-ver and John,

Thanks for your comments. I think what we are talking about is the whole matter of hope. This gets personal for me. My mother now lives with severe dementia. One of my daughters has lived with severe disabilities her entire life. I have never been able to have a conversation with her. And for a guy who loves words, this is a painful reality that I live with. Walking is difficult for her, and her lungs are full of scars so that she can only walk a few feet before become winded. I firmly believe that when all things are made new in Christ, mom will have her mind back, and my daughter will have abilities that she never had on this earth. I can't wait to sit down with her and have a conversation, but that won't happen on this earth.

My point in this blog has not been to question that God is going to renew all of our bodies in the new heavens and earth, my point is that those of us who write and speak must be very careful how we speak about that so that we foster hope, not crush it.

Since we've been talking about the Deaf community, let's imagine a man who is a member of that community. (b-ver, a man is as good example as a woman.) My example is hypothetical, but it is all based on real people. Let's imagine that this man, Ted, is born to parents who are also both deaf and speak American Sign Language (ASL) in the home. When Ted was born and his parents learned that he, like them, was deaf, they rejoiced because he would be much more a chip off the old block than if he had been born with hearing. Ted grew up in this home speaking, from his very first word, in ASL. He went to Deaf schools and graduated from Gallaudet University, whose mission is to ensure "the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English." His wife, his occupation, and his friendships all revolve around the fact that he his deaf. Then Ted comes across this statement written by a Christian leader, "I hate disease. I’m sick of it. So is Christ. Consider his response to the suffering of a deaf mute . . . "

Ted might think to himself, "Wait a minute. People who were deaf in Jesus' day probably did suffer severely. But that's not me. Since when has deafness become a "disease?" I can't imagine myself not being deaf. It's has formed who I am. In fact, if heaven means that I have to give up my entire identity, then I don't want any part of it."

Now contrast Ted with Herm. (I was Herm's pastor, though I've changed his name.) As Herm's hearing grew worse and worse, he withdrew from his wife, his children, and grandchildren. He considered himself too old to learn to read lips, and didn't want to ask others to write things out. More and more, he was alone in his thoughts, and grew more and more depressed. Now imagine that one day Herm's wife reads these words in a devotional, "I hate disease. I’m sick of it. So is Christ. Consider his response to the suffering of a deaf mute . . . " When she finished the devotional, she said outloud, "Amen." She showed it to Herb who read it and a tear formed in his eye. They copied it off and sent it to all the children.

My main point in this blog is this: as leaders seek to foster hope, they need to keep people like Ted in view as well as Herm. I could give many more examples as well, such as Amos, who embraces his brother Mark's identity as someone who lives with Down Syndrome, and can't imagine why God would take away that identity when Mark goes to heaven.

Of course, the bottom line is that for each of us, our identity is not in the accidents of our bodies but in our union with Christ. For many who live with a disability, that disability is a horrible intruder in their lives, and they can't wait to shed it. But for some of our fellow Christians, their identities are closely allied with their disability. Those of us who speak and write need to be careful not to alienate those folks as we seek to comfort the people for whom disability is a rude intruder.

I understand the sentiment.  I would only point out that if, in the example you posit, Ted's entire identity is wrapped up in being deaf and born to deaf parents, then it is not wrapped up in union with Christ.

If union with Christ means I never hear another note of music or the sound of children's laughter, then I will be deaf and content.  I cannot understand why the reverse would not also be the case for Ted - if union with Christ is the core of his identity, anyway.

To be sure, Ted has not "suffered" in the same way that someone born deaf would suffer 2,000 years ago or even 150 years ago.  The development of ASL and other tools to help a deaf person adjust and function in a society that assumes an ability to hear have been tremendous blessings, as have devices, techniques, and treatments that restore or establish hearing to varying degrees.  Perhaps Max was wrong to call it a "disease" since it might not be in a technical sense.  But if, in the providence of God, heaven is a place where everyone can hear and Ted learns to distinguish the sounds, for instance, of a Bach concerto, I don't think he will be the worse off for it. 

If it's Snoop Dogg, well, then, maybe the ability to not hear would be the more heavenly state.

Does it matter to our gracious and loving God whether we are disabled or not!  Surely it does!  We believe in a physical resurrection, not just a spiritual one.  The Lord can't wait to restore, renew and "untwist" this world as we know it.

From the Lord's perspective, isn't even the concept  of  "disability" a bit arbitrary?  To him, (because he can see what we all "could" have been), aren't we all disabled  in some way, though we draw lines and say "he is", and "she's not"?  Are any of us fully and completely "the way we are supposed to be" both spiritually and physically?  

I think Max may have been trying to get the evangelical and reformed worlds to "re-cherish" God the Father's love for our physical, mental and emotional body instead of emphasising our "spiritual" resurrection over our physical resurrection.

I just can't wait to see how my cousin, who lived heartily, died humbly,  has/will rise again with a "restored" physical body.  Will he be "free" of the "disability" that he knew?  Will he have both arms again, and run and jump and play like he once did as a toddler?  Would he want to?   Would I recognize him if he did?

I am firmly convinced that at his funeral, when we all sung "Great is the Lord" it was not just to celebrate his spiritual resurrection" but also because, somehow, in a way the Lord only knows, his ressurected body and mind is fully "the way it is supposed to be".

Amen.

Being I,m the only one commnting as a obviously disabled person unless someones holding back, . I am not sure it matters because it is my perpective based on what know as Christian and as broken person. I think everyone wants to think we are being fair when talk about things like sickness and other types of dysfuctionj. I think erveryone here has a grasp on God's calling to treat the least of these with care and honor. I think as John mentions, that it gets frustrating trying to be socialy correct when the thing that counts the most is intent and and equal decorum. No reverse discimanation . The facts in these and even racial issue's well understood. Everyone should be treated equally as God intended. I believe we are trying so hard to due these things correrct accorrding to our perspective of God's commands. In fact I actually believe we are trying to hard.

   God knows our intent and maybe Mark he has correct Godly concept of this issue. I don't know his heart and I always try entertain the idea that I did't read it correct or his words mean something different to him. John, I know what your talkng about some people seem to rise up agianst disease and disability. They are normal in a lot of situations. I like using and recieving banter from people I trust. Even at my disfunctions exspense. ( I have brain damage what is your reason?) It makes you feel like part of society.

  What you may not completly grasp is most of us that do have no real viable options if we are going to perform to the nesessary exspectations of our peers. It is a lot of work to make ourselves as acceptable as possible. I try respect other peoples perceptions by try with Will God grants you.

   The other thing I keep in mind is that is extremly difficult grasp perspectives that you haven't experienced. Such as the words you have ALS or your Bi-polar. you try to imagine but it is impossible. When I was told I have secoudary proggresive MS and its prognoios it was sureal.The changes that occer along the way deepens your dependence on Christ and people who can help becomes a lifeline. AS your need grows Jesus gets bigger because you need him so badly. Most people I meet that don;t understand whats its like and may be insesitive to my appearance or actions doesn't bother me. I am no better.

  You guys that feel there should be even treatment your correct. So I guess that means we are both metephors and we are both broken and require Jesus's grace to live wholey. We also should asume that its ok for disabled people should feel free to not worry about sensitivty in there words about normal people. You probobly wouldn't like some the words because I don't either. They are unfair to normal people because we are no better than normal people. It can be difficult at times to keep a health perspective that God intended. I find myself convicted by the Lord when I Judge people that don't have the atvantages of being broken. It is painful and profound experience. But did tell us it was going to be a narrow road.

Thanks, Ken.  I watched my father struggle with MS, too, and I know how difficult it was to make the above comments - not psychologically or emotionally maybe, but physically.

I am grateful for what you say, and honor you for the effort expended in saying it.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Blessings.

Thankyou B-ver,

  You are perceptive to see me through the words. The experience with your father and what you guys shared is precious. Now look at good fruit that God created from that difficult experience and pain. In other words go look in mirror!!

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