That blog title caught your attention, didn’t it? A controversial topic to grapple with in this blog post, but one that is so important for us all to understand and to communicate effectively…
Some 2000 years ago, Jesus was asked that very question, as recorded here from John 9:1-3 “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned’, said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life…’” Back then, it was commonly thought that the sins of the parents caused disability in their children, hence the question that Jesus was asked.
In the 2000 years since, thankfully, our understanding of disability has increased enormously; however the belief that parents are to blame for their child’s disability or additional needs still clings on in some communities and even church denominations. Whether it is the belief that the sins of the parents are to blame for the disability itself, or their perceived lack of faith when it comes to unfulfilled prayer for healing, the finger of blame is firmly pointed at the parents, in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught.
Imagine what that must be like for these parents… Firstly, they have gone through all of the emotional turmoil of discovering that their child has a disability or additional needs, the confusion, shock, maybe even sense of grief, that they may have experienced through the process of diagnosis (if they’ve even got that far!). They may have already been poorly treated and unsupported by their community or church at that stage, resulting in an unwillingness to tell anyone about the needs of their child as they might be fearful of the reaction. If they did tell their church, they may have been offered prayer for healing of their child. Now I firmly believe that God heals, I’ve seen and heard examples of this, the Bible teaches us about healing, but I’m also very aware that often God doesn’t heal. Translate that into a church setting where a child isn’t healed after prayer, sometimes after repeated prayer, but instead of recognising that this is up to God, blaming the parents for a lack of faith; it is unspeakably cruel to both the parents and the child, and is totally wrong.
Now in the midst of all of this, it is fair to point out that some children are disabled as a direct result of their parents’ actions; children born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder for example, or children born with disabilities caused by violence inflicted on their mother during pregnancy by an abusive partner. Even in these situations, however, blame can be such a negative and harmful response for all involved. Each of these cases, and others like them, are really important, and are not trivialised at all by this blog, however they are a very small minority of the total number of children born with, or developing, a disability or additional needs. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this is nothing to do with the parents at all, unless you deem to hold them responsible for passed on hereditary conditions… I don’t.
But what about that final part of what Jesus said… We’ve almost lost sight of it in the discussion about who is or isn’t to blame… a sad indictment on our modern society that it always has to be someone’s fault, there always has to be someone to blame…
Jesus said ‘but this happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life…’. In this case, Jesus did choose to go on to heal the man, giving him his sight, so that the work of God was indeed displayed in his life in that way. The work of God can, however, be displayed in and through the life of a child, young person or indeed an adult with additional needs or a disability in many ways, whether they are healed or not.
I’ve written before about how I don’t pray for healing for my 15-year-old autistic son any more, and haven’t done for many years. His autism is a neurodiversity; it means he lives in and responds to the world differently to me, understands and communicates differently. Sometimes that can be really hard for him, and for me, but if his autism was taken away, he wouldn’t be James any more. I do pray that some of the things he finds hard might be easier and less stressful for him, such as that we could communicate more effectively, but not for his healing. I firmly believe that Jesus’ words, ‘but this happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life…’ are just as relevant for James as they were for the man he encountered 2000 years ago. James is the inspiration for the work God has called me to, thousands of children and young people are included and belong in their church because of this work, the work of God. I doubt I would have heeded God’s call to this work without James.
God can work though each of your children too, so that his work may be displayed in their lives. Instead of parents being wrongly blamed, or even worse parents blaming themselves, for the disability or additional needs of their child, let our children inspire us to what God has called us to, let us celebrate how God is working through our children and let us do away with fault, blame, guilt and all of the other negatives that are the work of the enemy. That same Jesus who spoke the words we’ve been looking at won the victory over the enemy too, and we share that victory with him! Let’s all pray that the work of God may be displayed in all of our lives…
23rd August 2017
Image rights: Header (Fawne Hansen), Bible text (annvoskamp.com)