Cherish the Quality of Life
Rev. Paul Prange, President of Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, MI
When I was a boy, my parents took me more than once to visit Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown, Wisconsin. We called it a home for the mentally retarded back then. I imagine that now the residents are referred to as developmentally disabled.
I recall being especially impressed with the “waterhead kids.” Today they are commonly referred to as hydrocephalic. They had oversized heads and underdeveloped motor skills. But those traits weren’t the most impressive thing about them. I noticed that they always seemed happy. I wondered aloud how you could be happy when you had such physical difficulties. I remember having it explained to me that they knew Jesus, so they were happy.
That was a powerful lesson for me. It changed my perspective. Your life didn’t have to be perfect in order for you to be happy. Knowing Jesus was the key to happiness.
I recall literature from Bethesda clearly promoting the idea that knowing Jesus brought happiness to its residents. I don’t know whether the organization still promotes that. I’ve come to know developmentally disabled people since then, and I know that they’re not always happy. But I am happy when they come to know Jesus, and I’ve noted that they are too.
I have also known a couple more recently that had a hydrocephalic child, and I rejoiced with them when the doctors were able to put a shunt in the correct place and allow the child to grow with fewer disabilities. I was happier still that their child was baptized and came to know Jesus.
When I became a pastor I had the privilege of serving some of the members of the deaf community in Austin, Texas. I began to learn American Sign Language and to become acquainted with deaf culture. I learned that deafness is often not considered a disability, just a different way of life with a rich heritage. I learned again that my perspective on what makes for a healthy or happy life might not be correct.
I offer these examples to show the danger of eugenics, when the majority view of a society or the ideas of powerful individuals declare that some lives are less valuable. Without denying the advantages of being able to treat hydrocephaly, who says that the life of a “waterhead kid” is less valuable than my own?
When it comes to deafness, I agree that it is difficult for a deaf person to get along in a hearing world. But it is also difficult, I have learned, for a hearing person to get along in the deaf world. I consider my sense of hearing valuable, but I do not consider myself more valuable than a deaf person.
As a Christian, I want to see the world from God’s perspective. According to Matthew 11, when Jesus was teaching and preaching in the towns of Galilee, He told John’s disciples to report back to John: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear.” Clearly those maladies are things that God wants to heal.
But Jesus continues, “The dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” The important thing is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus is our Savior from sin, and that we too will rise on the Last Day.
The fact that any human being is of equally great value to God from the hydrocephalic to the deaf, from the blind to those afflicted with leprosy is guidance for me. As I support research and treatment of disease, I do not do it at the expense of the afflicted. I do it on their behalf.
In many of these cases it seems to boil down to the issue of contentment. Is an afflicted person content with life? Does it almost seem as if the person is not even afflicted? Perhaps these cases give us greater insight into Paul’s comment in Philippians: I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (4:12b,13).
When I am content in Christ, I can begin to see how God might use some malady for my good and for the good of others. At one point, Jesus’ disciples saw a blind man and asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus gave a clear answer: Neither this man or his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:2,3).
When I am content in Christ, I can take some comfort when I do not have the ability to fix some malady. There will be a Day when the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5,6).
Jesus alone led a perfect life. He did it so that He could declare my imperfect life and the life of every other imperfect person valuable in His sight. That’s God’s perspective.
April 15, 2018