God’s Hope for the Disabled, continued (Post #2 of ?)

In the previous post, regarding God’s hope for the disabled, we said, “when we are resurrected to new life with new bodies, as Christ even now is resurrected, we will no longer know the pain or the impairment of disability. All of that will be gone. Over. Done with. … All in need of healing will be healed; all in need of curing will be cured.”

Though we did not put it in just this way, what we were speaking of was the discontinuity between our bodily life now (pre-resurrection) and our bodily life then (post-resurrection); in this discontinuity we found hope – hope of no more alzheimer’s, no more MS, no more quadriplegia. Hope of no more disabilities.

Recent theological work in the area of disability studies, however, would challenge us to reflect further; it would challenge us to recognize that not everyone would find such a word hopeful –  indeed, that some may even find it distressing. 

With this in mind, I offer the following vignette, or parable.

To God, our Redeemer and Lord, be the glory.

 

Karen began to squirm ever so slightly in the pew. Rick leaned forward, uncomfortably, and rested his chin in his hand.

Rev. Barney was a good man and a loving pastor whose faith was alive and sincere; and every once and a while, he could really preach. This particular Sunday Rev. Barney was in fine form as he brought his sermon home to a rapt congregation.

Rev. Barney had for years been an outspoken proponent of state-wide legislation to help close some of the loop holes in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, thereby further eliminating discrimination against individuals with disabilities. On the previous Thursday, this legislation had passed. .

Rev. Barney had begun his sermon with a celebration of the new state law, while continuing to urge the congregation to remain diligent in combatting the discrimination and unfair treatment of those with disabilities. Rev. Barney emphasized Jesus’s concern for the disabled and the infirm and said that as His followers we should demonstrate the same.

Though Jesus had not healed all illnesses or cured all disabilities while on earth, this, Rev. Barney said, is precisely what we should expect Him to do at the resurrection. “For, in the day of our resurrection” he said, drawing from Revelation 21, “He will wipe every tear from every eye. There will be no more death and no more mourning, no more crying and no more pain. The old order of things will have passed away, and on that day, He will make all things new!” Hearts swelled and eyes grew misty. Rev. Barney paused.

Then, he did something unusual – at least, unusual for him. He began speaking directly to various individuals in the congregation, each of whom was living with a disability themselves, or caring for someone who was. Calling each by name, Rev. Barney declared to them the promise of the resurrection (as he understood it, at least).

To Perry Adams, he said, “Perry! In God’s new heaven and new earth, in your newly resurrected body, you will no longer have ALS.”

Pivoting slightly, Rev. Barney’s gaze next landed on Carla Gerry. To her, he said, “Carla! In God’s new heaven and new earth, in your newly resurrected body, your sight will be restored.”

It was at this point that the waves of anxiety erupted inside Karen and Rick. “He’s not going to include us in this, is he?” they both wondered.

In their early 60’s, Karen and Rick had been married 38 years. During that time God had blessed them with three children, Sara, Kelly and Daniel, but it was Daniel who occupied their minds at present, as it was Daniel who had been born with trisomy-21, i.e., Down syndrome.

Rev. Barney was now looking right at Rick and Karen.

If so many other things hadn’t been running through her head, Karen would have surely been thinking, “This is why I don’t like to sit up front, Rick!”

“Rick and Karen,” Rev. Barney was saying. “In God’s new heaven and new earth, Daniel will receive a newly resurrected body and will no longer have Down syndrome.”

 

There it was.

 

Many left worship that morning wondering if Rev. Barney’s sermon had been his best ever. Karen and Rick left wondering if they would now be looking for a new church. For, the idea that their son would be resurrected by God without Down syndrome was something that both of them found abhorrent.

To Karen, Daniel without Down syndrome would not be Daniel. As far as she was concerned, were God to eliminate Daniel’s Down syndrome, God would eliminate Daniel.

What Rick found most upsetting was the implication that Daniel needed curing. “So God is gonna cure my son at the resurrection,” Rick was thinking. “That’s great. Awesome. But, could someone please tell me what it is exactly that my son needs to be cured of? His amazing spirit? His wonderful sense of humor? Or maybe his tremendous capacity to love? Honestly, it’s not Daniel who needs curing,” Rick thought as he pulled out of the church parking lot, “it’s the rest of the world. It’s all of us. We need to be cured of our oppressive presuppositions about what a person is supposed to be.”

I concluded my previous post with my belief that God’s hope for the disabled is more nuanced, more multi-dimensional, than simply, “God will fix it all in the resurrection.” It is not that this is untrue. Indeed, in the end, God will do just that – i.e., in the end, God will set right everything that has gone wrong. Thus, perhaps the nuance is not to be found in what God will do, but how God will do it, or, what it will look like, exactly, when God does it.

We have found a biblical basis to hope in the discontinuity between our bodily life now and the one we will receive in the resurrection. Is there a biblical basis for hoping in the continuity between our bodily life then and now?

This is essentially what Karen and Rick are looking for.

Does the Bible know of such a hope?

 

 

God’s hope for the disabled…

This post continues our Advent focus of God’s hope for the marginalized by further reflecting upon God’s hope for those with disabilities (i.e., the disabled), whom we will define, along with the American’s with Disabilities Act, as any person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church Bishop N.T. Wright says that we Christians – at least, we in the West – are confused when it comes to heaven and resurrection and what we believe. According to Bishop Wright, the future expectation of “much Western piety… bears far more resemblance to Plato’s vision of souls entering into disembodied bliss than to the biblical picture of new heavens and a new earth.” The New Testament itself is “crystal clear.” For example, when in Romans 8 Paul speaks of “the redemption of our bodies” he leaves “no room for doubt as to what he means: God’s people are promised a new type of bodily existence, the fulfillment and redemption of our present bodily life.” As we confess at the end of the Apostles’ Creed, “we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

Again, our hope in Christ is hope in bodily resurrection to new life in God’s new heaven and new earth. This, of course, includes both those with, and those without, disabilities.

But, when it comes to the resurrection, do those with disabilities have a more specific hope?

Think of it like this.

Sue and Jim are both living with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, a condition that, as I understand it, not only causes pain, but, over time, also impairs one’s physical capabilities. Imagine walking up to both Sue and Jim and saying, as if it were good news, that even after they’ve been resurrected they will MS. How do you see that going for you? Probably not well. I see you having your nose broken – if not by Jim, then certainly by Sue.

Or, imagine walking up to Nick Shargo and saying, “Good news. When Ruth is resurrected she will still have Alzheimer’s.” Nick wouldn’t have to break your nose; I would do it for him. With love, of course.

But you would never do either of these things, would you? No.

And why not? Because you’re not an awful human being; and only an awful human being would tell another human being that they, or the one they love, are going to live with their painful disability for all eternity, i.e., in the resurrection.

But there is also another reason you would never say something like this; it runs counter to the hope which God promises in Scripture – at least, as far as I understand it.

Consider Revelation 21:4-5.

There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Indeed, behold, I am making all things new.

Pain accompanies every disability – if not physical, then emotional. Those with disabilities know well the pain of being stigmatized. They experience it in how others look at them, how others treat them, as well as how others speak to them and about them.

Those with disabilities also know the pain of physical limitation. Those who are not born with their disability but acquire it later in life, as well as those who are born with a disability which worsens over time, both know the pain of losing the ability to do the things they love – activities, for example, like singing or painting or rock climbing. On the other hand, those who are born with a disability which prevents them from ever doing such things, obviously know the pain of physical limitation, also.

Again, not all disabilities result in physical pain, but they certainly seem to all result in some kind of pain, i.e., emotional. If not for the person with the disability, then for those who love and care for them.

Thus, if, as Revelation 21:4-5 proclaims, in God’s new heaven and new earth there will be no more pain, then it stands to reason that the disabilities of today will be no more.

This is God’s hope – or, part of it, at least – for those with disabilities. In the resurrection, their bodies will no longer suffer from things like Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimer’s.

But this hope is based on more than Revelation 21. In fact, the real source and foundation of such hope is not Revelation 21, but the gospels themselves, and the life and ministry of Jesus Christ therein. All four gospels are clear – Jesus was a healer of illnesses and a curer of disabilities. In fact, it was a significant part of his earthly ministry. He gave sight to the blind (John 9; Luke 18), He healed the sick (Matthew 8; Luke 8), and He made the lame to walk (Mark 2).

What’s more, he did this as the inaugurator – indeed, the one who is Himself the inauguration – of God’s kingdom come. These weren’t just nice things Jesus was doing, as though he encountered persons who were blind and, merely because it was within his power to do so, he cured their blindness and gave them sight. No. Jesus gave sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, and healed the sick as signs of the life to come in God’s Kingdom. When God is all in all and we, too, like Jesus, are resurrected, the once blind will see, the once lame will walk, and the once sick will be healed. On that future day, the previously disabled will be cured and they will no longer suffer the pain of their impairment; those with disabilities today will on that future day be restored to the fulness of life in God’s new heaven and new earth.

This is why, when Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, sent messengers to ask him “are you, or aren’t you, the Messiah,” Jesus replied, quite simply:

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. (Luke 7)

Jesus offered this as irrefutable evidence that He indeed was the one through whom God was establishing His eternal reign; and, this evidence was irrefutable because the things to which Jesus refers are precisely those things which will happen in God’s new heaven and new earth.

It is on this firm ground that we base our understanding of God’s hope for those with disabilities: God’s promise in and through Jesus Christ that on that future day, when He consummates for us and in us the work already begun in Jesus – i.e., when we are resurrected to new life with new bodies, as Christ even now is resurrected – we will no longer know the pain or the impairment of disability. All that will be gone. Over. Done with.

As those who hope with the disabled, we hope for just such a day; the day when all in need of healing will be healed and all in need of curing will be cured.

This hope in the resurrection of our bodies from the dead is where the hope of all, disabled and abled alike, both begins and ends.

Even still, God’s hope for the disabled is, I believe, a bit more nuanced than this. As such, perhaps further reflection, in the form of an additional post, is in order.

 

 

 

Note: This is the first of four posts which I will be making during Advent. During Advent we as a church will be focusing on God’s hope for the marginalized. Each Sunday, I will preach on God’s promise and hope for a specific group on the margins of society. Later in the week (hopefully prior to early a.m. the following Sunday), I will be posting some further reflections to keep us all engaged.

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Hope for the oppressed…

The needs and hopes of the oppressed are not a mystery. They need freedom; they need liberation. And this is precisely what God promises to give them.

“The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves you, [and He says] ‘I will deal with all who oppressed you.” (Zephaniah 3:17, 19)

“In that day,” declares the Lord Almighty, “I will break the yoke off their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners enslave them.” (Jeremiah 30:8)

As in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their opressor. (Isaiah 9:4)

Through prophets like Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, God again and again promises the oppressed that a day is coming when He Himself will serve as their emancipator. This is an amazing promise, which we should not gloss over. I mean, think about it.Instead of promising merely to provide the oppressed with a deliverer, which itself would be amazing, God promises to Himself be their deliverer! You may want to stop reading and give God thanks for this.

Unbelievably, though, the hope God offers the oppressed does not stop there. In fact, divine deliverance (promised in both Jeremiah 30:8 and Isaiah 9:4, above) is only one-half of God’s promise for the oppressed. Isaiah chapter 9 verses 6 and 7, quite naturally, follow Isaiah chapter 9 verse 4, just like Jeremiah 30, verse 9 follows Jeremiah 30, verse 8. With Isaiah 9:4 and Jeremiah 30:8 in mind, read Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jeremiah 30:9, below, and I think you’ll begin to see what I mean. First, Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (9:6)

 

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever. (9:7)

And, Jeremiah:

“Instead, they will serve the Lord their God

and David their king,

whom I will raise up for them.” (30:9)

These verses reveal a divine promise for the oppressed which is actually two-fold; that is, it consists of two different, though connected, promises, each of which is dependent on the other; the first makes the second possible, and the second gives the first true hope and meaning.

The second of these two promises is more unexpected, because less obvious, than the first – the first promise being, again, that the day is coming when God will shatter the yoke of the oppressed and destroy their oppressors.

In the second promise, God promises that after fulfilling the first half of his promise and liberating the oppressed, He will then establish a ruler – His ruler – to rule over them forever, and that this ruler will be deeply different from any ruler before; He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and He will rule with justice and righteousness, in perpetuity.

Why is this such a big deal?

Because if after God delivers, God does not rule, then either another tyrant will eventually take over, or, and this is perhaps even worse, the people will be left without a ruler or a form of rule altogether. In other words, it would be, every man and woman for themselves, a.k.a. self-rule.

In 1979, not long after he reportedly accepted Christ while at a friend’s Bible Study, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan recorded the song Gotta Serve Somebody. It was an openly Christian song, released on an openly Christian album, and by Bob Dylan no less! For whatever reason, this rubbed certain people the wrong way, including Beatles’ frontman, John Lennon.

Upon first hearing Dylan’s song, Gotta Serve Somebody, John Lennon called it “embarrassing”.  Lennon then wrote and recorded a song of his own, Serve Yourself, in response to Dylan and his new song.

Dylan sang:

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody,

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Lennon sang:

You got to serve yourself,

Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.

You got to serve yourself,

Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.

The truth is, just as Bob Dylan suggests, whether you serve “yourself,” “the Lord,” “the devil,” or the Michelin Man, you’ve gotta serve somebody. John Lennon’s self-rule might sound nice, especially to anyone currently under oppression – anything is better than where they find themselves now, right?! – but it is no solution, and really only leads right back to people oppressing people. Fortunately for us, God knows better.

And deep down so do we. As a matter of fact, self-rule, which stands in direct opposition to God’s rule,  is precisely what got us here in the first place, is it not?

What was it that the serpent offered to Eve which was so enticing that it led both Eve and Adam to reject God’s rule? Was it not the serpent’s promise that their eyes would be opened and that they would be like God, knowing good and evil? Which, when you think about it, amounts to nothing more than an offer of self-rule?

In the end, the Christ child comes – the Word takes on flesh and dwells among us – in order to liberate all humanity from the awful effects of this first choice of self-rule, and every choice like it since.

We know quite well what happens when we rule, whether it be our ruling over ourselves or over others, and this is exactly why the hope of the oppressed must be, absolutely has to be, for more than just divine deliverance, alone, as amazing as that is. For, it is not merely the absence of oppression that the oppressed need, but the active presence of God’s rule.

In this way, we share a common hope with the oppressed. For, the most fundamental and legitimate hope of the oppressed, is also our own most fundamental and legitimate hope; indeed, it is the true hope of all humanity.

Therefore, with the oppressed we look to Bethlehem and we watch.

We watch.

And we wait.

And we hope.

For the one from God who will not only deliver, but also rule.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (9:6)

 

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever. (9:7)