There are just a few issues that are so deeply rooted in individual identity that they are nearly impossible to talk and write about dispassionately. So much pain has been generated by turning human questions into theological minefields. And so we leave those fields to fend for themselves, becoming entangled and overgrown until something or someone steps onto that painful ground. BANG. Nothing can ever be the same again.
For me, the big question was disability. I grew up pretending I was not different. Fearful of looking in a mirror but determined to show everyone I could be the same as them. I came to faith in my teenage years, still trying to ignore my difference. It was a piece of prose read at an evangelistic service that was my BANG. A range of people were aiming their personal complaints at God. His answer was to point to the cross – a crucified Jesus was being presented as the answer to all their suffering. A Holocaust survivor was supposed to find solace, and answers. And so was I – because for the very first time I heard the phrase ‘thalidomide victim’ read aloud on a stage.
Tears flowed copiously. Anger arose from hidden depths. Followed by questions and confusion. And I hid it all. The friends I was with were silent. I guessed they were embarrassed on my behalf, but maybe they’d not even noticed. To them it was just a phrase that sat alongside far larger injustices. To me it was a sharp finger stabbing at my core identity as a human being.
It had been the warmth and acceptance of a group of Christians at school that led me into an arena where questions of God were being explored. It was good to have found a safe place from the bullying and I found the enigma that was Jesus interesting enough to capture my attention. I began to make solo trips to our local Christian bookshop, where Joni Eareckson’s autobiography became my entry point into the disability question.
I remember reading the book in secret, and then returning it to the back of my wardrobe. It’s attractiveness to me was the ‘brave overcomer’ card it played so strongly. I shared that identity so firmly that I accepted the simple link between disability and sin and it all being made right in heaven when we died without further question. The fact that a disabled Christian who had experienced far more profound limitations than me was willing to face the difficult questions brought me comfort. For now.