**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 5, No. 8 August/September 2003
Are there wheel chairs in heaven? Will blind people be able to see? Will persons with autism be able to think clearly?
Disabilities and mental illness have always challenged the faith of persons who believe in a loving God. Most of us can expect some suffering and some disabilities within our lifetime, particularly as we grow older. Yet, when babies, children, and even young adults in their prime are stricken with major disabilities or chronic mental illness, it is a challenge to the faith of all who are close to them. Why would a loving God allow these things to happen to those who are so innocent or who hold so much promise of life?
From a theological perspective, Christian faith tells us, first of all, that God’s creation is good. The corollary is that what is bad or flawed in this good creation is the result of sin, the disobedience of humanity to God’s will for creation.
The problem comes when we try to draw a one-to-one correspondence or a simple cause and effect relationship between sin and those conditions that cause suffering. We want to play the “blame game” and pin the fault on somebody specific.
Furthermore, even when we try to draw the distinction that particular disabilities or illness are not the result of the sin of that particular person, there is still a stigma felt by many persons with disabilities and their families. Many people go through stages of grieving prior to coming to a deep acceptance of who they are or who their loved one is, “disability” and all. In fact, they may experience a healing and wholeness far deeper than most persons who don’t suffer as much. Making the disability/sin connection in such situations can be insensitive at best and highly offensive at worst. This is particularly the case when folks with a particular theological agenda suggest that the person could be cured if he or she only had enough faith.
Jesus himself was confronted with this dilemma. When a man who was born blind was presented to him, he refused to call either the man himself or his parents “sinners.” At the same time, Jesus did not simply say, “Oh, he’s OK the way he is; let him accept the situation in life that God has given him.” Instead, Jesus healed him.
Yet, the healing that took place is not simply the physical cure. Rather, the physical cure made possible the restoration of that person to wholeness of life in the community! That wholeness was the healing. I can think of so many healing stories where this is the case that I suspect it is a key to understanding the healing ministry of Jesus. It’s also the key for understanding the healing ministry of those who would be followers of Jesus.
Most people, whether in Jesus’ day or our own, are willing or even eager to cast the label of “sinner” on persons who are different in order to deflect attention from their own sinful attitudes and actions. Could it be that the society of Jesus’ day was so entrenched in its negative attitudes toward persons with disabilities that Jesus had to work from the personal cure side? Is it possible that this was the only way they would begin to understand the power of God to work at restoring all persons to wholeness of life in community? Might they have needed that miraculous transformation of one person in order to examine their own attitudes toward all persons who were different?
Perhaps we live in a day when those of us who are temporarily able-bodied can work hard at the other side, the side of society accepting all persons as valued and worthy just the way they are. I believe that it is just as reflective of the saving power of God for temporarily able-bodied sinners to accept and welcome and embrace persons with disabilities as it is for persons with disabilities to either find a personal state of self-acceptance or to find a cure that makes them “acceptable.” In all cases, the end result that reflects healing is the drawing together of persons into community under God.
So what will heaven be like? We can speculate all we want about the relationship between the weakness and frailties of our earthly bodies and the glory of our heavenly bodies. Yet, the overarching picture of heaven is of a community, the congregation of saints gathered in worship before the throne of God.
It is that vision which informs our calling to build community here and now, a community that includes all persons, no matter what their abilities, giving glory to a loving, accepting, saving God. Such communities offer a glimpse of heaven and fulfill the part of the prayer Jesus taught when he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Blessings as you live out that calling!
Paul D. Leichty
“People using Technology building Community”