We can be filled with hope in the God who is with us in our weaknesses and disabilities.

I remember when my youngest daughter was a newborn. Holding her in my arms, I was flooded with a host of emotions, from joy to anguish. Joy at the beautiful life in my arms; anguish that she would live her life at a distinct disadvantage. She was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes developmental and cognitive disabilities. My wife and I went through a roller coaster of emotions. Even though we were warned of the possibility, and had read up on the disability, we were still uncertain and fearful. What will become of her? we asked ourselves. Will she have a happy life? Will she suffer? Can she go to school? How will she cope? How will her sisters cope? How will we cope?

Prior to her birth, we had decided to name her “Mathea,” a name derived from Hebrew for “gift of God.” I wanted to remind myself that her disability does not define her. She is, first and foremost, God’s gift to us. Her disability is part of that gift, even when it doesn’t feel that way to us. Partly thanks to her, I now look at Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in a new way.

Resurrected Scars

I used to imagine Christ’s resurrected body, and hence our own resurrected bodies, to be perfect and glorious, without any flaws. Yet Scripture clearly records that Jesus’ resurrected body carried the scars where the nails were driven and where the spear pierced (John 20:24-28; Luke 24:40). What does it mean for his resurrected body to still have those scars? True, those scars helped Jesus’ disciples to verify his identity. But could they not have recognized him through other means?

If Jesus’ glorious and imperishable resurrected body (1 Cor. 15:42-44) is a symbol of perfection, then what is God telling us in preserving what seems like marks of imperfection in the resurrected Christ? I don’t pretend to know fully, but here are some possible implications.

Redefining Perfect

First, perhaps God’s idea of perfection differs from ours. God may not place the same value as we do on athletic, slim, muscular, toned bodies. Our culture’s models of the perfect body, displayed in movies and popular media, are unrealistic and oppressive. People with disabilities are often made to feel that their impaired bodies are “not perfect,” if not downright cursed.

The resurrected Christ’s impaired hands and feet, therefore, suggest that disabled bodies are still vehicles of God’s glory and resurrection life. In God’s eyes, people with disabilities are as perfect as everyone else. If the resurrected Jesus is the ultimate image of God (Col. 1:15), and he bears the marks of impairment, then people with disabilities are also fully imagebearers. As theologian Nancy Eiesland points out in The Disabled God, the resurrected Jesus’ marks of impairment reveal “the reality that full personhood is fully compatible with the experience of disability” (p. 100).

So why do we continue to have typically-abled people as the spiritual norm in our minds and imaginations? When we plan or design worship, for instance, who do we have in mind? Should we still think that being non-disabled is inherently a blessing, implying that the reverse is inherently a curse?

Solidarity with Our Disability

Second, Jesus displayed solidarity with people with disabilities when he was resurrected with scars. In fact, this solidarity occurred even before the resurrection.

If we define disabilities as impairments that prevent us from doing what our peers can do, then Jesus’ incarnation as a human being can be seen as a disability. When Jesus, the Son of Almighty God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became a helpless baby, he was confined to a singular space and time. Unlike God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, Jesus could no longer be everywhere and anywhere (omnipresent) during his life on earth. His human body prevented him from doing that. During his earthly life, Jesus could not do what his divine peers—God the Father and the Holy Spirit—could do. Jesus was, temporarily, the “disabled” God.

Similarly, in his crucifixion, the Son of God suffered death, whereas the other two immortal persons of the Holy Trinity stayed immune to death. On the cross, Jesus suffered torture, flesh torn by whips, nailed hands and feet rendering him immobile, his side pierced. On the cross, Jesus was God-with-us even in our disabilities and disfigurements. And when we would most expect all marks of suffering, pain, torture, injustice, and death to disappear, the resurrected body of Christ retained the scars.

If God chose to be in solidarity with our vulnerability and our disabilities, why do we overly value independence, self-assertion, and power? Why do we so often view ministry and mission as coming from positions of power, authority, and strength? Could we instead see ourselves ministering from a posture of vulnerability, identifying with the sufferings of others?

Resurrection Hope

Third, even though the scars remain, they do not seem to impede the resurrected Jesus’ movements and functioning. The resurrected Christ still used his hands to break bread and his feet to walk miles (Luke 24:13-32), when those injuries would have impaired any other human being. (Archaeological evidence suggests the ancient Romans would have driven nails through the heels during crucifixion. And scholars debate whether the nails went through the anatomical wrists rather than the hand’s palms.) Somehow, through the miracle of God’s resurrection power, those impairments were transformed in some way. Even though they remained visible, as the apostle Thomas verified, they no longer prevented Jesus from living life to the fullest.

Who knows? Perhaps, our current disabilities will be similarly transformed when we inherit our resurrected bodies. Even if marks of our disabilities remain, with transformed resurrected bodies and within a redeemed community in a redeemed new creation, they would no longer prevent us from living life to the full (John 10:10). This gives us hope.

I have wondered what my daughter Mathea will be like in her resurrected body in the new heaven and earth. Will she still have Down syndrome? If not, will she still be the daughter I know and love? Because of Jesus’ resurrected scars, I have hope that even if there are still imprints of her disability, she will still be identifiably Mathea and living life to her fullest!

That is also the resurrection hope for all of us. As the Heidelberg Catechism teaches, “Christ’s resurrection is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection” (Q&A 45). As we meditate on our “disabled” Savior’s life, death, and resurrection, we can be filled with hope in the God who is with us in our weaknesses and disabilities, who dignifies our disabilities with God’s glory, and who delivers us from the sinful world’s barriers and discriminations.

More Resources

Disability Concerns resources website (crcna.org/disability/resources)

Erik W. Carter, Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities (Paul H. Brookes, 2007)

Thomas E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (Brazos, 2008)

Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Abingdon Press, 1994)

 

Web Discussion Questions

  1. What are your experiences with disabilities and people with disabilities? How did those experiences make you feel?
  2. Have you ever wondered about your resurrection body? How have you imagined it might be or look like?
  3. How can we better involve people with disabilities in the life of the church? How well does your church do?
  4. Why do we tend to avoid vulnerability and weakness?
  5. How do you derive hope from Christ’s resurrection? What else gives you hope?

About the Author

 Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

See comments (4)

Comments

Chong, well said. Thank you! I listened to a podcast recently in which the speaker talked about a family with a child who had Down syndrome being asked by a couple if they could pray for the child. The family consented, and the couple prayed, “God, it’s just one extra chromosome; you have the power to take that away.” It's amazing to me that people can be so well-meaning and so mean all at the same time. If I were the father of that child, I would have been tempted also to pray for the couple and ask that God would heal them of their prejudicial attitudes toward a fellow image-bearer of God. After recounting the experience, the mother of the child commented, "I feel like, friends, if the church, if Jesus-loving people are not understanding, that when God created my kid with Down syndrome, he put an extra chromosome in every single cell, that if we can’t see that as people who love Jesus—then what are we gonna do with the whole wide world?" Amen! I pray that God will help us Christians to see how God became one of us in every way, even in disability that is a natural part of the world in which we now live. 

Of course, I empathize with Mr. Chong’s anguish for his daughter’s disability. However, I strongly disagree with his view of the resurrected Christ.

The title “The Disabled Savior” I find offensive. He appeared as a wounded man for a purpose. To Moses He appeared as the angel of the Lord in a burning bush.

He can appear in different forms.

 

Mar 16:12  After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

 

Act 7:2  And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,

 

In Revelation John describes what he saw. He saw the resurrected Christ in His glory. 

 

Rev 1:13  And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

Rev 1:14  His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

Rev 1:15  And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

Rev 1:16  And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

Rev 1:17  And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

Rev 1:18  I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen;

 

 

He was resurrected with a spiritual body, awesome indeed, invisible to humans. And we will also be resurrected with spiritual bodies like unto Him. We will have no disabilities anymore. 

(For some reason my account won't let me show my name--John Korpan.)

Isn't the human frailty that brings us into many limited conditions a result of the fall into sin? “Perfection” (seen in the original creation) does not need to be redefined in order to preserve the “full personhood” of the differently abled. We can still strive to recognize the dignity we each retain as beings in God’s image.

Since we don’t know how much we will be like and unlike the Savior at the last day, I believe it is speculative to draw conclusions from his resurrection. Further, to say that a  resurrected person might appear disabled, but not be hampered, would seem to admit that disability is not “perfection.”

The idea that the incarnate Son of God could not do what his “peers” (the Father and the Holy Spirit) could do, is problematic, to say the least. If his human body prevented him from being omnipresent during his earthly ministry, what about now? He is still human. Our Chalcedonian heritage in the Belgic Confession affirms that in the incarnation, each nature of Christ “retains its own distinct properties.” This includes omnipresence. See also the Heidelberg Catechism: “Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere, it is evident that Christ’s divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity that has been taken on.” (HC Q/A 48) This was true before as well as after the ascension. It in no way threatens the precious, humble condescension of the Son. His example is more than enough to encourage solidarity with people living with impairments.

As a lifetime quadriplegic who  "lived life to the fullest", I found this article quite interesting and inspiring. I had never thought of Jesus as disabled, but as you point out, he did have shine limitations. Hopefully we will not have these limitations in heaven!  You ask what can the church do to involve disabled people? THEY CAN MAKE EVERY ASPECT OF THE BUILDING WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE! This includes the choir loft, the pulpit, the bathrooms, and different areas within the sanctuary to park a wheelchair next to the person they came with.