Is all human life sacred? What does it mean that we have been created in the ‘Image of God’? Are all people created in the image of God? What about the severely disabled? What about the unborn? As the church faces a world that increasingly accepts abortion and euthanasia as the norm, these questions need to be addressed and answered scripturally. As I read this book, I was struck by two things:
1. I never would have picked this book up had a friend with a disabled child not lent it to me.
2. This is a book that needs to be read by both leaders and laypeople in the church.
Like most people, Michael Beates was a man who didn’t spend much time thinking about the disabled until his daughter was diagnosed with a debilitating “chromosomal anomaly.” This unfortunate diagnosis left Beates and his wife with a daughter who would require lifelong care. Suddenly, the disabled weren’t just ‘out there.’ Disability had entered his life and given him with a wholly different perspective on a number of different issues.
This book opens up with an observation that I’d never even considered before. He quotes Joni Eareckson Tada, “Ten percent of our population is severely disabled. (That’s a flat figure, including impairments of all sorts.) So theoretically, on any given Sunday, a pastor ought to look out over his people and see ten percent who are limited – the deaf, the blind, people in wheelchairs – whatever.” This struck me as I began reflecting on my own experience in church. Were ten percent of the people in my church disabled? If they were, they weren’t obviously so. Although Beates recognizes this as a problem, he doesn’t condemn the church as unloving. Instead, he makes the argument that many within the church simply “lack the initiative or the insight to provide simple measures that would make the church community more complete, satisfying, and welcoming for those who live with brokenness. People don’t know the needs because they don’t ask or take initiative to find out.”
Throughout the rest of the book, Beates makes the argument that the church needs to take greater initiative. He reminds us that when John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was the messiah, Jesus responded, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (Luke 7:22). Beates pulls passages from both the Old and New Testaments that point us to a more faithful view of the ‘disabled.’ He reminds us that we’re all disabled. Sin is the ultimate disease and it has infected all of humanity. Its effects can be seen in the blind eye, the deaf ear, the crippled limb, the broken bone, the physical deformity; however, it can also be seen in the addictions that we feed, the forgiveness we withhold, and the psychological problems we deal with. We are all broken people in need of a wholeness that only Christ can provide.
Having the physically disabled among us should remind us of our own brokenness. As we notice the wheelchair-bound, we’re reminded that we are spiritually lame without Christ to give us strength. My feet, my legs, make me no better. They make me no more whole. They only fool me into believing that I’m independent when I’m not. I must rely on God just as much. Those who are physically blind remind us that we once “were blind, but now we see.” The physically deaf and dumb call us back to a proper humility before Almighty God. Our tongues make us no more pleasing to God. Neither do our ears. Without Christ to make us complete, without being made a “new creation,” we’re all incomplete, shattered vessels. But through Christ, even the most disabling physical impairment will not hold us back. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, (I might add, nor disability) shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Finally, one of the things that disturbed me most about this book, (aside from the Martin Luther quote about murdering a disabled child) was the viewpoint that so many in the secular world have taken regarding the disabled. Because their starting point is one of evolutionary atheism, they see humanity as being merely another species, albeit a highly evolved one. There is no image of God to be seen. There is nothing inherently sacred about human life. This view is best seen in the following quote from well-known ethicist Dr. Peter Singer:
“If we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or a pig, for example, we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and anything else that can plausibly be considered morally significant. Only the fact that the defective infant is a member of the species homo sapiens leads it to be treated any different from the dog or pig.”
As a Christian, I find the above sentiment deplorable. The image of God that rests on each human being makes a human life of infinitely more value than that of a dog or pig. Unfortunately, once we reduce the life down to DNA and chemical reactions, we also remove any basis for ethics or morality. What ethics does a pig have? What moral framework does a dog adhere to? What happens in a world where human beings are seen as nothing more than highly-evolved animals? Nazi Germany comes to mind.
As I was looking at the news this morning, I saw an article about the Pope embracing a severely deformed man. As I looked at this image, I was nearly brought to tears. That is what we, as Christians, should be known for: our love. As Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Do the people around us, physically or spiritually disabled, know that we are Christians by the love we show them? If they know it by any other standard, we aren’t doing it right. “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
I truly hope that Christians will pick this book up and reflect on the issues that it raises. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I never would’ve picked it up had a friend not given it to me. Consider this post a recommendation from a friend.