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>Things That Are Seen

June 14, 2011

>I have been blessed by a series of three interviews a father in our church, John Knight, did recently with our pastor, John Piper, after a sermon series on John Chapter 9, the story of Jesus and the man born blind. The first three verses in that chapter read:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

The Bible says Jesus healed the man, restoring his sight, displaying the power and glory of God.

The interview series is especially powerful because the Knight’s son was born blind. God has chosen not to heal their son yet; in fact he lives with autism and other things more disabling than lack of eyesight. The Knights will be the first to contend that God can be glorified through significant disablity, that God’s power is not displayed merely in acts of healing but in the moment by moment dependence upon God evidenced in dealing with a disability.

Yet, Kari’s thoughts this morning reminded me that the two paths to disability parenting, birth and adoption, may be perceived and received differently in the Christian church.

Obviously, when a child with a disability is born into a family, God’s sovereign choice is evident for those who will see it. Jesus made that explicit in John 9. Cross out the idea that perhaps blindness was Divine Judgment for his own or his parents’ sin. The only option left on the page is Divine Choice. For those of us who love the sovereignty of God, the right response seems obvious: Love this family. Support them as they raise their God-given disabled child and be privileged with them to a ringside seat to God’s glory on display.

But what role does the sovereignty of God play in the adoption of a child with unusual needs?

The parents I know at our church who either have been called to seek special-needs adoption, or after the fact have realized God chose that path for their family would say, “The sovereignty of God has everything to do with this. God’s fingerprints were all over this adoption from the beginning. He led us to adopt this child and without Him we could not do this.”

But I wonder if the church (in general) may be less able to support families who adopt children with disabilities because several layers of human choice seem to stand between the sovereignty of God and the family’s reality?

It is  not PC to observe this next point, but it is important to consider whether it infects our thinking. Looking only at outward circumstances, most adoptions –and virtually every special-needs adoption –seem to be driven by what we might reflexively judge as “sin.” Certainly, we would agree with Jesus that the child did not sin; the child had no choice about being born. But it may seem like the child’s disabling condition was inflicted by parental sin. In fact the social history often names it: abuse, neglect, abandonment, substance abuse –perhaps generations of these things.

The decision of a family to adopt a particular child seems to add another layer of human choice-making. With our lips, most Christians acknowledge that God places orphans in families. But often, even within the church (broadly defined) our actions may betray the belief, “Adoptive family: You made this bed. So you lie in it. You should have known the risk and you chose to accept it. Get your act together and own up to the consequences of your decision to adopt somebody else’s child. The Bible cautions about ‘the sins of the fathers’ you know.”

But that idea, even if it is only implied in our demeanor toward adoptive families coping with heavy disability, betrays faulty theology. Notice how Jesus actually answered the disciples’ question, “Who sinned here?”

Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents…” Jesus was not saying that the man and his parents were without sin. Presumably they were human; therefore they were sinners. But the matter of sin was completely beside the point. The God-ordained point of this man’s otherwise life-long disability was “that the works of God may be displayed in him.”

The letter to the church at Rome had not yet been written when Jesus spoke those words. But the apostle Paul echoed Jesus when he later wrote, “What can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)

All “things that have been made” –created by God –display “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature.” That includes children created with disabilities and those who acquire them later whether they are born into or are adopted by a family. In fact, Paul extrapolated in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed…. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 15-18)

So why was this man born (or adopted) blind?

  • “That the works of God may be displayed in him” (John 9:3)
  • “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Romans 1:19)
  • “…so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)

In fact, the invisible attributes of God may be more clearly manifest in the lives of people with disabilities and those who surround them because it is so patently obvious that grace emanates from God, not people.

I’m not talking about warm-fuzzy grace, but grace that may bite you or slap you upside the head. God does that sometimes.

That’s why it breaks my heart that, as Kari observed, parents of children with disabilities may feel alienated from the church. Surely the Family of God should know and speak and show His heart better than the social service system.  We should be the first to offer a hug and a hand and a word of hope: These things that we see are passing away. The surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2012 9:44 am

    Another beautiful post. I have felt what you are talking about. I have also had similar thoughts when the abortion issue comes up. Some people sit on the fence of the issue. They think that abortion might be best in some situations. They question if it would be better for children like ours to never live outside the womb. I have also sat through conversations in which people wonder why “these women” are allowed to continue having children. They call the children a burden to society. It’s so sad that people think society would be better off without these burdens *we* call blessings. They are blessings revealing the grace and glory of God.

    • April 8, 2012 11:26 am

      Amen, Tereasa! Anything that reveals God’s grace and glory more clearly IS grace extended to us and brings glory to Him. But we’re humanly far too quick to judge the measure of “blessing” by how something feels or appears. When we do, we close our eyes to the grace and glory God is revealing.

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