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Will Salvation Heal Brain Damage?

September 27, 2011

This was post was prompted by a conversation Dorothy started here, answering a great question posed by one of her readers.

What can we expect upon the effectual salvation of kids with brain damage? God has no limits. Because he is God we can expect nothing less than the complete transformation of a child’s soul. But before heaven we cannot expect the complete transformation of the child’s body.

Let me make this concrete. Joy has brain damage that causes the physical, developmental and behavioral symptoms known as cerebral palsy. Joy, like all of us, was born a sinner in desperate need of Jesus. Someday, we pray, God will call her soul to himself. Spiritually, at salvation, Joy will become a new person and for the rest of her life on earth, we pray, she will grow to know and love God more and more.

But unless God also chooses to heal her brain damage –which is a temporal issue completely separate from her eternal salvation –she will have the symptoms of cerebral palsy until she dies. Her physical body will not be transformed until heaven.

FASD is the name for the physical, developmental and behavioral symptoms which arise from brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. Kids with FASD are “ruled” by both sin and FASD. Salvation transforms the soul. But it does not transform the brain –until heaven.

This does not mean that children who have brain damage –if God has given them the cognitive capacity to reason, which is a completely different subject –are not accountable for their actions.

Joy, for example, has the capacity to walk. I could hold her accountable for walking. But Joy cannot walk –she cannot exercise that capacity –without supports. Lots of supports.

Joy needs to wear braces on her legs to hold her feet in stepping position. For the braces to not chafe, she needs special socks under the braces. For the braces to not slip, she needs special shoes over the braces.

Even wearing her braces, Joy cannot walk without weight-bearing support. There are a number of ways to do this and all of them work, more or less. But without something outside of herself helping bear her weight, she cannot move her legs.

Even with weight-bearing support, she cannot walk without physical help. At the beginning of every walking session, we have to physically move her legs. After a few minutes of warming up, we can reduce our prompts to physical cues (a touch). On good days, after a few more minutes we can drop the physical cues and she can alternate legs in a stepping pattern with verbal cues alone.

An alien from outer space (someone who had no idea that most people can walk without the paraphernalia) might behold her 20 minutes into a walking session and see her independently moving her legs to cross twelve inches of floor and observe,”This child can walk!”

Joy can walk, after a fashion. But take away her braces, the harness and frame, the hands that help her brain warm up, and the only way she can move her body through space is by army crawling. Compared to walking, army-crawling behavior falls pretty short.

Kids who have FASD, if we support their specific needs the same way we support Joy’s, have the capacity to “walk” after a fashion. But if and when they do walk –display behaviors and actions we’ve culturally determined are acceptable (as opposed to sinful) –it is because they are being supported, not because they no longer sin.

Joy with a heart transformed by Jesus, on her own, is still only going to be able to crawl. But it is not because she is “ruled by sin.” To the contrary, her eternity is secure because it is dependent on God, not Joy. But she will crawl or use a wheel chair, or be dependent upon someone to carry her until she gets to heaven because on earth she lives in a body that we might say is “ruled by brain damage.”

In the same way, kids with FASD will not emotionally mature at salvation, gain impulse control at salvation, become sensory- and auditory-integrated at salvation, or have short-term memory deficits healed by salvation. Not any more than Joy will be able to walk or I was (not) made to see in 3-D.

Why does that matter? Because if Christian parents do not make any distinctions between the temporal and  temporary (a brain-damaged body) and the eternal soul, we will be quick to judge and slow to offer supports, expecting Jesus will make it all better.

He will. Just not all this side of heaven.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Debbie permalink
    September 27, 2011 2:49 pm

    Thank you for this explanation. I’m actually the one who asked Dorthy the (now infamous) original question. I think this is what I’m struggling with most–how do I know in each instance whether or not something my PTSD child is doing is a result of sin and therefore may need discipline, or a result of her trauma and PTSD. I know this is different than FASD, but hopefully similar enough that I can glean from your wisdom. One downside is that my kids are older(only came to us as older kids) and I haven’t had years and years to build a relationship and understanding of their issues on. When I know she can do better, is it wrong to insist that she does? I’m kinda new to all of the special needs parenting so forgive me for asking seemingly naive and otherwise obvious questions!

  2. September 27, 2011 3:13 pm

    Amen and thank you…tears as I are right and thanks for explaining it so well so that we can explain it better to others who watch our kid w/ FASD and wonder.

    Mom to little Fruit Loop (what he prefers to be called LOL)

  3. marian permalink
    September 27, 2011 9:56 pm

    Here via Dorothy. Thanks for this analogy. As ridiculous as it would seem to judge Joy for not walking or not walking “correctly”, it’s just as ridiculous to judge a brain-damaged kid for much of his unacceptable behavior… and yet we never know where the lines are with behavioral, attitudinal and other, less,concrete issues. We want our kids to do and be the best they possibly can be, and want to provide the right boundaries and stimulus along the way, which can lead to errors in judgment, some we’ll never realize. What I’ve learned is that it’s better to err on the side of grace. Let me give a humbling example:
    My son has a complex package of autism and other issues, including OCD. Serious compulsions feel quite literally like life or death to someone suffering with serious OCD; hard as it is to understand for someone on the outside, it’s not just a preference or a simple willful choice. Well, one day, my son was outside in the back of the house, where it was muddy. The back door opens directly into the middle of the kitchen, so I’d been directing kids to go around and come in the front door, where at least there is a mat and space to take off shoes. He approached the back door to come in. I headed him off, and cheerfully asked that he please just walk around to the front. Even though he’s a low muscle tone kid who doesn’t prefer to take extra steps, it was a simple request, I thought, to which he responded very, very insistently that no, he was coming in the back, and started to open the door. I said, still in a pleasant voice, nope, please come around to the front because of the mud, and I actually locked the back door because he was continuing his barge into the back. I repeated firmly, just go to the front, it’s no big deal. I’ll see you there. He flew into a rage. I thought, good grief, my request is simple and for a good reason, there’s no reason he can’t just obey me; this is clearly just disrespect and defiance. This tantrum behavior is over the top, and obviously this is a case where I just need to be a good parent and hold my ground. And I did. While he screamed and cried and raged on the back porch. While he took a snow shovel from the porch and smashed it against the siding of the house by the door, making several small gashes. While he nearly smashed the glass door. After at least 20 minutes of desperate raging, he eventually came in the front door, in tears, beside himself. and fully spent in every way possible. I congratulated myself on holding my ground and winning the battle of wills for the good of my son.
    Then my husband called, and I mentioned what had just happened. And that ‘s when my husband mentioned that he had just started to notice a new, but extremely strong compulsion with my son: He had to use the same door to re-enter the house as he had used to leave the house. And I felt about 1 inch tall. I hadn’t been holding my ground for the sake of authority, respect and the good of my son, I had been quite literally torturing him. There is so much influencing the actions of those with mental illness, ASD, FASD, etc that we cannot even see or imagine! So many times they need humbly extended grace so much more than anything else…

  4. March 25, 2012 1:42 pm

    I am so happy to have read this article. I am almost in tears! I put the link on my facebook and plan to write a blog post about it soon. (I am here via Thankful Mom) If you only knew how many times I, mom of two with FASD, have questioned why they have not received complete healing. I see their souls, especially one of them, attaching to us and learning to lean on Jesus. “Why don’t their behaviours go away?” I have asked God too many times. “Why do we fight the same things over and over and over?” I have learned to focus on Jesus in them and to allow him to do his work in me. I have grown and have been transformed. I have seem change in them, but I have questioned when and if “real” transformation will come to them. You flipped the switch today and the light came on. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • March 25, 2012 8:07 pm


      Thanks for taking time to comment. It is complicated, isn’t it? Some days I wonder about the grace I now try to extend where I’d otherwise be inclined to judge and correct –is there such a thing as too much grace?? But parenting a child with FASD has humbled me. I realize that even with my neuro-typical two I cannot be the Holy Spirit, knowing perfectly what is going on in their hearts. So these days I’m erring on the side of grace. That has been wonderful for our relationship! And it has taught me a lot about Jesus’s love for me.

      • March 26, 2012 8:05 am

        Thanks for the response. I agree that erring on the side of grace is probably best. I typed up a pretty lengthy response to your post and intend to publish it tomorrow after some editing.


  1. Sunday Visit: Will Salvation Heal Brain Damage? | One Thankful Mom | Lisa Qualls
  2. Will They Be Saved From Difficult Behaviour? | His Pen On My Heart
  3. “Will They Be Saved from Difficult Behavior?” « daysofwonderandgrace
  4. Do the Children Neeed to Change? | His Pen On My Heart

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