A few years ago the Barna Research group conducted a study. In the study they asked a variety of people what one question they would ask God if they knew that God had to answer their question.
The top response was a question that related to the issue of human suffering. “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
While I am not attempting to equate disability with suffering, the vast majority of people hold a perspective of disability (or illness) as a life of suffering either for the individual with a disability or the family or caregivers of those persons.
Dr. Peter John Kreft makes an insightful observation about our often limited perspective of suffering. He writes “..most objections to the existence of God from the problem of suffering come from the outside observers who are quite comfortable, whereas those who actually suffer are, as often as not, made into stronger believers by their suffering.”
Here’s a question that I have been forced to wrestle with over the last few years. “If my understanding of a person’s, difference, or disability comes from a limited understanding of their experience how much more is my understanding of God’s view and role in human suffering is even more limited?
In the story of the four men who brought a lame man to Jesus, Jesus first response to the faith they placed in him was to offer the man entrance to the great community of faith through the forgiveness of his sins. It was only after those present questioned his authority to forgive sins did Jesus heal the man to “prove that he had the authority to forgive sins.” (Luke 5:17-26)
While Jesus definitely had the authority to heal this incident suggests that Jesus had a much different perspective.
Since being diagnosed with autism I have had a large number of people ask me questions about God’s role in the life of the disabled particularly as it relates to divine healing.
Perhaps what complicates our connection to the ministry of healing our human assumptions about suffering, God’s role in suffering, and our rights as it pertains to suffering. I believe that we have four basic assumptions that complicate our understanding of suffering.
Good people live and get good things.
Bad people live and get bad things.
Good and bad cannot co-exist.
If God exists and God is good, than bad should not exist if God exists in us.
I believe that God is capable of anything that the biblical text describes as an attribute of God. Yet, Jesus did not heal everyone.
One of my favorite expressions of the Christian faith is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
If our chief aim in life is to glorify God, then physical healing has to be evaluated as but only one tool that God uses to expose the world to his glory.
In fact, a study of the ministry of Jesus will show that the majority of his miracles, particularly the healing of the disabled, occurred in the early stages of his ministry. Often times the primary goal was to establish a means for those persons to re-enter the community that had isolated them because of their disability.
The Apostle Paul is one of the most well-known examples of God’s decision not to heal for the expressed purpose of allowing Paul’s “weakness” to serve as the platform for God’s strength.
Jesus once told a story about God’s kingdom and God’s view of the unrelenting role of struggle and suffering in the life of his creation.
Jesus shares that God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. An enemy sneaks in at night and plants weeds. When the farmer’s employees discovered the weeds among the wheat they panicked and rushed to the farmer asking if they should tear the weeds up.
The response of the field owner suggests something about God’s view of the when and the why of fixing something that frustrates us. He tells them to allow the wheat and weeds to grow together because to uproot the weeds would damage the harvest. (Matthew 13:24-30)
Jesus says that in his wisdom the field owner (God) knew that the wheat had a harvest within it even with the weeds entangled at the roots far beneath the surface.
Often times when I become frustrated with how my sensory processing issues, social anxiety, or executive functioning challenges I am reminded that much like the wheat and the weeds, my autism is a tangled-up system of roots that join together what makes me struggle and what makes me special.
What I am learning is that while God is capable of healing, my chief end is to glorify God and perhaps God knows that healing me will only hurt the harvest he intends to get out of me.
What if Jesus didn’t just come to bring healing to earth? What if He came to bring heaven to earth? What if we didn’t assume that disability disqualifies us from God’s glory being seen in us? What if some will never be healed but through his resurrection and we can always be his?
What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy HIM forever.
Whether we ever have the opportunity to enjoy healing, we always have the opportunity to enjoy Him.
*A version of this post also appears at autismpastor.com