The late Nancy Eiesland lived with significant physical impairment all her life. In an article, she describes her struggle with the meaning of disability. One day, she was given an insight while reflecting on Luke 24. In this passage, the followers of Jesus do not recognize their resurrected Lord when he first appears among them. Then, he shows them his hands and his feet. In the marks of his crucifixion, they recognize their Lord.
As Eiesland thought about the import of that moment, she came to a new insight about her own disability. “The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear marks of profound physical impairment. In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God. Jesus, the resurrected Savior, calls for his frightened companions to recognize in the marks of impairment their own connection with God, their salvation.”
Jesus still bears those marks today, as he will throughout eternity. Ever since his crucifixion and resurrection, these are marks of his identity. If Jesus, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, will bear these marks, we can expect that his followers will bear the marks of our own disabilities and challenges throughout eternity too. As jheyboer says in a comment to last week’s blog, it’s all a matter of our identity.
Our identities are formed by a variety of factors including our experiences. In another comment, Bev Roozeboom talks about living with a birth defect in her left hand: “I believe He [God] 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.”
However, in another comment, she longs for that day when her son Kyle no longer will have to live with mental illness. “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.”
Will there be disabilities in heaven? I couldn’t say it any better than jheyboer who wrote, “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!”
Frankly, none of us has a clue what heaven will be like, except that it will be good beyond our wildest dreams. But here’s an expectation of mine: our experiences here on earth will shape our identities in heaven.
Kyle, Bev, Nancy Eiesland will bear the marks of their disability in heaven, as will my mother and daughter. What will that look like? I don’t have a clue, except that it will be wonderful. Each of them will bring to heaven a unique wisdom and richness.
Likewise, every child of God will bear the marks of our experiences here on earth throughout eternity – the joys and delights, the sorrows and horrors. God will make all things new, not with a “scorched earth policy” of throwing out who we were while here on earth and starting over, but with an eternal springtime in which each of us awakens to be exactly whom God intended us to be.