I’m a little bit nervous writing this post (which follows from yesterday). Looking at some of the comments on Jay’s blog (see here), I’ve somehow managed to really upset people. And then my wife comes in last night, having read my response to Jay, and she has her angry face on.
Me (deciding to go where angels fear to tread): “okay, darling, what’s up.”
Elly: “I can’t believe you think there will still be disability in heaven! That’s a horrible and mean thought. When Sunny gets to heaven, she’ll be running around and talking non-stop, just like her sister.”
Me: “I agree completely, and I didn’t say otherwise.”
Elly: “you just always think you’re right – and you have to do make sure everyone knows it.”
Well, I am always right, but I can’t very well defend myself now, can I! (This is meant as a joke – but to all those people convinced I’m an arrogant sod, here’s your proof). With my silence an acceptance of defeat, we cuddled up and watched a movie that utterly depressed us (Never Let You Go – about the life story of children raised to be body part donors).
So, to proceed, I need to state the first that my intention is not to debate Jay (or Elly – especially not Elly). As far as I’m concerned, this is an exploratory conversation between two friends. We have a different perspective, and maybe it seems like we are utterly opposed, but I think we are looking at the same endpoint from a slightly different angles. And even if we end up disagreeing, I think that’s okay too. If friends can’t disagree then friendship is meaningless.
With that being said, I encourage you now to read Jay’s response to my blog yesterday – see here
Second, I also want to reiterate that any talk about heaven will be utterly speculative. The focus of the scriptures is not on heaven or hell – and generally when these topics are mentioned, the focus is for our life here and now, rather than any guess about what it might be like to be in heaven. The main point of the gospel is not for us to “get to heaven” but, rather, that we might work with God to confront evil here and now – “your kingdom come, you will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” So, let’s move away from talk of heaven for a moment and focus just on disability.
Third, we need to reiterate that disability is not one thing – that I can’t universalise my experience with SCI. J makes the observation that “disability is a bloody bugger” and I wholeheartedly agree. In this light, I have been surprised to discover in reading through the broad literature on disability, that much of the writing in disability studies (by disabled people) resists any suggestion that disability should be viewed (at least in any a priori sense) as a “less than,” as “a bugger”, as something that should be eliminated. One of the areas in which this topic is explored is among the deaf community, where there are many different opinions. Of course, any parent who gives birth to a child wants whatever technologies that are available to enable their child to hear. But (and I know this is going to seem strange to those of us that can here), many (not all) within the deaf community are resistant to such technologies and some (not all) deaf parents hope that their children might also be deaf. This is because they hope that the children might be able to share their culture, language, and unique experiences. Indeed, some deaf people argue that “deafness” is not a disability. For more on this see the article, “do deaf people have a disability.” The real issue is, what is a disability anyway? Is there a point when a certain IQ is deemed “normal” or a “disability” and if we could should we genetically adjust every person to have an IQ of 180? What about autism, which sometimes (but not always) brings unique abilities? Is being too short a disability (dwarfism), if that means you can’t access storage or sit comfortably on chairs – or is the problem in the way we set up our social space, as well as the stereotypical way we think about people who are short? Conversely, might being too tall be a disability, since you can’t fit through doors or sit comfortably in an aeroplane?
The point in making these observations is not to be an nitpicking pedant. The point is for society to realise how much of disability is not “natural” but created by our social structures – by the way we set up society to include or exclude the so-called “abnormal.” I do think, though, that this discussion needs to be balanced. Much of what we call “disability” is a result of the impairment itself – and this is more or less true depending upon the particular person – and it is a bugger. disability both is social and embodied (physical/intellectual).
So, the issue of disability is inordinately complex – and now we are going to add to that complexity by speculating about heaven! Perhaps the point is we shouldn’t speculate, and yet if we pray such things as “on earth as it is in heaven” then there is at least a value in reflecting upon what this might mean for people with a disability. At this point, it would be helpful if I quote directly from J:
likening the holes in Jesus’ hands and feet to the possibility of people carrying their disability into heaven is a big stretch. It seems, at least on the surface, an attempt to see a purpose in disability. I just don’t buy that. If you have a disability it is a bloody bugger. As I have written about extensively, beauty comes from disability but I would give Jesus the credit for that as he tries to turn the war around (bring the kingdom). I don’t think Jesus tries to make the war worse by giving someone a disability and then celebrates it by introducing it into heaven. I find it hard to believe that God strategically uses disability to do his work, rather, he responds to the evil of disability by turning it to good.
I think that Amos Yong would wholeheartedly agree with most of what you say. I’m sure he imagines a heaven where people with disabilities are “healed” so there is no more crying and pain and hardship. But (and again I’m feeling nervous), he would also speculate that there is both continuity and discontinuity – that some of what we label disability will continue in heaven – although it will not prove to be a disability. We could allow our imagination to run over all sorts of questions; will a person with a low IQ have perfect knowledge in heaven – so that there is no varieties of IQ? Will we all be the same height? Will a person with down syndrome look totally different because they won’t have the same facial features caused by their genetic difference?
in terms of the nail scarred heads as a symbol, I personally think Amos has some insight – even though I can see Js point that it might be reading too much into the text. these scars represent something so essential to the past experience of Jesus that they have become a part of his identity and thus carry through to the future. if we carry this logic further, it might be true of some elements of a persons (so-called) disability – such as the beautiful face of a person with down syndrome.
Now, I can see why the theologian might be accused of absurd speculation at this point. The reason, though, that Amos Yong takes this step (and he admits it’s controversial) is because he wants to recognise that his Down’s syndrome brother is a child of God. Amos would say that his brother’s down syndrome is not the result of evil. In fact, he would say that such a position justifies abortion of down syndrome children. In contrast, Amos would say that the Down’s syndrome child is made fully in the image of God – and is a gift of God to families and society as a whole. Since this is so, he speculates that something of that disability (but this is the wrong word) continues in heaven. Let me rephrase that. His brother won’t be disabled in heaven, and all of the things that a horrible about down syndrome will be eliminated and healed. But there will still be a continuity – and it may well be the case that some things we label as “disabled” will turn out not to be so in heaven.
n.b. – this is my interpretation of Yong’s work, but I could well be wrong. If you are interested in this topic, I would encourage you to investigate his work.
Blah, if this is too abstract and confusing, then tell me to get stuffed and let’s all go back to what we really can say. If heaven means anything, then we shall be made whole. Precisely what that looks like, will be up to God. My Canadian friend, Clare, commenting on yesterday’s post by talking about her husband Don, noted the that he was most looking forward to experiencing sexual fulfilment. If everything said in these blog posts turns out to be nonsense – that is at least one thing that I wholeheartedly endorse.