Will People Have Disabilities in the New Heaven and Earth? Part 1

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If you never thought about this question before, you probably think it is ridiculous even to ask it. Your answer may well be, “Of course not. When people first disobeyed God, all manner of difficulty entered into our world, including disabilities. Even Jesus said that the evidence of his coming into the world is that ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Strong evidence, but not convincing for everyone.

  • On a radio program one time, Ben Mattlin talked about his disability with pride. Then he asked, "Are there no wheelchairs in heaven? I'm not buying it. For me, if there is a heaven, it's not a place where I'll be able to walk. It's a place where it doesn't matter if you can't.”
  • I have talked with people who are Deaf, whose first language is sign language. They have told me that they do not consider themselves to be disabled at all, just people who have a different language and subculture than most Americans. Why would God take from them an essential part of their identity when they go to heaven?
  • In his book, Theology and Down Syndrome, Amos Yong argues that his brother Mark, who has Down Syndrome, is whole and complete as he is, and Amos fully expects Mark to be the same person (including his Down syndrome) in the new heaven and earth as he is today.
  • When she was a child, the late Nancy Eiesland, who lived with a congenital disability, was told that she would no longer have her disability in heaven. Horrified, she wondered, “ . . . ., having been disabled from birth, I came to believe that in heaven I would be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God. My disability has taught me who I am and who God is. What would it mean to be without this knowledge?” Like Eiesland, many other people consider their disability to be part of their identity. Take away their disability in heaven, and they wonder who they would be.

Whether people will live with disability in heaven gets personal for me, because both my mother and my daughter live with severe disabilities. Mom’s abilities have declined significantly due to her dementia. She now refuses all food, and most liquid. We don’t expect her to live more than a few weeks anymore. Her memory is so poor that she needs help with the basic tasks of daily living. She rarely remembers the names of her children, though she still knows that we are her children. Usually, “conversations” with her last for one exchange. Someone speaks to her or asks her a question, and she responds. By that point, she forgets why she said what she did, and that “conversation” ends.

Should I expect that mom will be like this in the new heaven and earth too?

Our daughter Nicole seems to enjoy life at her group home and at school. She enjoys the people at our church on Sundays, and she loves to worship. Someone looking on from the outside might pity her. She can’t speak or walk independently, the things that most adults consider to be important parts of a fulfilling life will never be available to her: work, marriage, children, and so on. But if she could speak, I suspect that she would tell you that overall her life is good.

Still, all of us who love Nicole will never converse with her using words. I love words. I love talking with my wife and our other children. I talk to Nicole, but her responses cannot include words. Sometimes I feel sad that she can’t tell me how her day is going, what she is feeling, what she thinks about this or that. I wonder too whether she would like to be able to walk and use her hands and arms the way most people do.

Of all the things I long for in the new heaven and earth one of the deepest is this: to see Nicole come running up to me, and say, “Hi dad, let’s talk.”

Will people live with disabilities in heaven? I have more to say, and I’ll save that for next time. I learn so much by listening to other who have walked the road of disability too. When we stop listening, we stop learning. I’d love to hear from you. What do you think?

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Thanks for this post. I know this is premature since you haven't "weighed in" yet, but I wonder if you think this question will be answered differently depending on the nature of the disability. For instance, your mom wasn't born with dementia. It isn't an essential part of who she is. Dementia was a disease that happened to her. The same thing could probably be said of your daughter. A few more weeks in utero and she would have been a different person. But my friend Robyn was born with 47 chromosomes. She has Down Syndrome. I don't think there's a Robyn "in there" waiting to get out because who Robyn is is within what we call a disability. Do I think that in heaven her heart disease will cease ot exist? Yes. Do I think her eyes will look different or that she'll be "smarter"? No. In the same way I don't expect that I'll be a chess or calculus superstar in heaven. That's not who God made me to be.

Mark I wouldn't worry about it, God said the after life is going to be great. I don't think we can imagine what we will be like or how we will look. We are restricted to limits of human thought and Jesus advised us not worry about things we truly cannot comprehend.

Ken

Participant

Mark, you're right. I've never thought to ask this question before!  It's kind of an intriguing thought.  But honestly, my first reaction, was NO!  That's probably because the disability we live with in our home is mental illness, and all the challenges that come with that.  I can't wait until our son will be able to live and function in complete wholeness.  I look forward to the day he lives in happiness and true shalom. Even as I type these words I envision what the New Earth will be like for Kyle. No anxiety. No rages. No pain (real or imagined). No confused thinking. Peace, happiness, wholeness, joy.  Life as God originally created it.

One passage I love (about the New Earth) is Isaiah 65.  Along with the promise of "no more crying" (which we all seem to gravitate to) are listed several more beautiful promises.  God seemed to highight verse 23 for me one evening after an especially trying day with our son.  "They will not work in vain, and their children will not be doomed to misfortune. For they are people blessed by the Lord, and their children, too, will be blessed."

For me, it seemed as if God was giving me a big reassuring hug and said, "Bev, this is just for now. When I come back and establish the New Earth, I promise you that your son will be happy, healthy, and whole.  Just like I made him to be."

Just my two cents worth!

Participant

If I may, I'll add one more comment.  I was born with a birth defect.  My left hand never fully developed while in the womb, so I have only two "functional" fingers, my thumb and my pinky.  My index finger and my ring finger are just tiny pieces of cartiledge, and my middle finger (also just cartiledge) was removed when I was 16.

I HATED my hand when I was little and was very self-conscious about it.  But you know how kids are, they just want to fit in.  Oddly enough, though, I never thought of myself as "handicapped" ("different" yes, but not handicapped).  I wanted to take piano lessons (since my older sisters did), so my folks put me in piano lessons starting in first or second grade.  I thought it was weird that the teacher spent time looking at my hand (it made me uncomfortable, but I didn't know why she was holding it and looking at it).  I learned how to play the piano fairly well and did a lot of accompanying for groups as I got older.  It wasn't until I was in 6th grade, that the word "handicapped" was first used to describe me.  I played a piano solo for a school fine-arts program, and the judge complimented my playing.  "You play so well, in spite of your handicap."   That was honestly the first time I ever heard myself described as handicapped.  Satan used that opportunity to fill me with shame and feelings of unworthiness and insignificance. 

But as God is so fond of doing, He takes the very things we struggle against and with His healing power turns them into opportunities for His light to shine!  I believe He used my simple birth defect to mold and shape my heart into one that more closely resembles His.  He has given me a heart filled with compassion and love for the marginalized in our society. 

My hand is such a part of who I am -- who I've become.  I would be very happy to have this birth "defect" in heaven.  I don't think it would bother me at all!

Last Memorial Day I had this discussion with a friend around a campfire.  It's a great question and it is so revealing to hear the different answers people have.  I have heard both the anticipation of a person who can't wait to run to his heavenly Father because he can't run now and others with very similar reactions as you state above.  They don't know who they would be without the disability.

I believe it is a matter of identity.  You touch on this, but I also think this is where the answer is.  For all people with disabilities, that disabilities has strongly shaped their identity and how they relate to thew world, to God, to family...  But as Christians we must always remember that our primary identity is in Christ.  Who Christ wants us to be and become is our first and only aim.  He uses things like disabilities, race, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, to help shape that identity, but in the end we must surrender all of those things to Christ and let him work.

This is key for our eternal salvation.  Life is learning that surrender so when we come into His Kingdom, we are prepared for that radical transformation that finally turns us into what he always intedned us to be.  Right now we only know in part.  Then we will know in full!! (1 Cor. 13).

In the "Great Divorce" CS Lewis picks this idea up in several different ways.  A mother who only wants to get into heaven to see her son who tragically died years earlier refuses to enter Heaven because she has to see God first.  A person who had become the puppet of some strange demon and had to choose to cut the leash and enter the Kingdom or go back to the "gray town."  Both are people who would not surrender something they cherished, or feared to love without in order to be made complete in Christ Jesus.

The question then isn't so much if there will be disabilities in Heaven.  But whether or not a person is humble enough to accept the true and complete person God has intended for them to become, of which we are only shadows of now!  If that true and complete person hasd a disability in Heaven, can the he accept it if all he wanted his whole life was to run...or...can she accept that her body will be perfect if her whole life she couldn't imagine herself without the disability?  It is a matter and question of faith.  I might not be a white male in heaven who sturggles with his attention span, but I will be the me Christ intended.

Once we are at the point of surrender, once we enter the Kingdom, a fully realized heaven and earth, with our new bodies and transformed souls, fully integrated into the human being Christ has destined us to become, I don't believe there will be physical, mental or emotional disabilities, but I hope my Christian walk will have brought me to a point where I can trust God if there are.  ...Only by His Spirit.

Guide

In a post about living with Cerebral Palsy, Chantal Huinink says, "The prospect of an eternity where everyone is fully known and understood by God and one another is more meaningful to me than that of  a perfectly functioning body."

Community Builder

 Well, for my part I sure hope not.  I can't wait to be rid of my schizophrenia.  It's been hell for me, and I don't refer to myself as being schizophrenic.  If some people identify with their disability to such an extent that they can't visualize life in the New Jerusalem without it, that's their problem, but I WANT OUT.  

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