Two weeks ago I took an oath, “so help me God,” in a courtroom where two lawyers asked me questions about my son with multiple disabilities. At the conclusion of their questions, the judge determined that my son did not have the capacity to take care of himself as an adult and that my wife and I would be named his legal guardians, making all decisions about his life and finances for him.
It took about ten minutes. The severity of his life-long disabilities made the decision easy for everyone.
It is also a sign of how weak and vulnerable he is.
To those who identify a person’s value in terms of strength, independence, productivity and creativity, my son has no reason to exist. There are some who would even deny he is a person. That worldview is dangerous for young men like my son, and for all of us.
Trusting God’s Assessment
And while that is dangerous, it is an equally unhelpful response when we are overly sentimental about those God has created with disabilities, especially those with limited cognitive abilities. Sweet, loving, gentle, funny, innocent, precious, dear — all are descriptors I have heard for my almost-adult son. Yes, my son is sweet (most of the time) and loving (except when he isn’t) and innocent.
But if that becomes the entire measure of his value, we risk denying that there is more that God may have for him, and for children and adults like him, to bring glory to God and help to Christ’s church.
We also lose an opportunity to show the world that we trust God’s word more than we trust our own assessment of who can do the good works described in Ephesians 2:10.
In fact, God describes the so-called weaker member as being his choice in bringing him glory:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29)
Three times Paul tells us that God chooses those we would not naturally choose. Let us pay attention as it has profound implications for how we think about cognitive disabilities.
Out of the Mouth of My Son
For example, my son operates at the intellectual level of about an 18-month-old child, depending on the tests. He is also very short in stature.
He has been known to sing praises to God at the oddest of moments — during school therapy sessions, in the grocery store, or at a restaurant. People, thinking he is much younger than he is, will sometimes say, “out of the mouth of babes you have prepared praise.” They are quoting Jesus from Matthew 21.
But what many people don’t realize is that Jesus is referencing Psalm 8:2:
Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2)
So if this is the case, and I believe it is, my weak and disabled son — with all his limitations — is part of God’s plan to still the enemy and the avenger. And that makes him an effective warrior against a vile and spiritually violent enemy, equipped by God to do what those who are strong and proud cannot do, no matter their physical or intellectual giftings.
Matthew Henry helpfully shows why God would use the weaker members to bring him glory:
The devil is the great enemy and avenger, and by the preaching of the gospel he was in a great measure stilled, his oracles were silenced, the advocates of his cause were confounded, and unclean spirits themselves were not suffered to speak.
In singing this let us give God the glory of his great name, and of the great things he has done by the power of his gospel, in the chariot of which the exalted Redeemer rides forth conquering and to conquer, and ought to be attended, not only with our praises, but with our best wishes. Praise is perfected (that is, God is in the highest degree glorified) when strength is ordained out of the mouth of babes and sucklings. (emphasis added)
When He Sings
My son will be an adult in a few weeks, and he will never develop adult-like capacities. But he has been graced with both innocence and confidence. When he sings, he sings without fear or any thought of what others might think. He proclaims, frequently, who God is.
Can you imagine what that does to the evil one when my boy, and all the others like my son, sing? How many unclean spirits have our brothers and sisters with significant cognitive disabilities silenced by their praises? How often have we been spiritually protected through those in our care?
Parents of children like mine, I know it seems easier to stay home than to go to church. The social and cultural and even spiritual barriers to anything good happening for your child can seem so high and the benefit can feel so small. But our churches need these God-equipped soldiers, especially in these days of such rapid cultural change away from our historic Christian understanding on so many issues.
Church, I know families like ours are complicated and you don’t know what to do. The investment can feel so large and the return can seem so small. Do not look simply with your physical eyes to what they can and cannot do. Ask God to give you spiritual eyes to see the potential in and the worth of those he has called indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:22).
Two weeks ago a court rightfully determined my son cannot live independently. Unfortunately, that is all that the world sees. He is so much more than that. Let us see accurately and stand in awe of a God who, because he is both good and strong, graces the world with boys and girls like mine, for his glory and for our everlasting joy.