Speaker Panel

The Works of God Conference | Bethlehem Baptist Church North

Kempton Turner: I have the privilege of briefly introducing our panelists. Pastor John you have been introduced to previously, and next to him is Nancy Guthrie. She writes and speaks regularly on this issue of suffering and God’s goodness through her experiences as a mother who lost two children to a rare genetic disorder called Zellweger syndrome. Her book, Holding on to Hope: A Pathway Through Suffering to the Heart of God, has comforted and helped many who have experienced extraordinary suffering in their lives.

Next to her is Greg Lucas, who’s a police officer from West Virginia and the parent of Jake Lucas, who lives with multiple disabilities. He is the author of Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability, and Lessons of Grace, which has been endorsed by many from Bethlehem, including Noël Piper, John Knight, and my own sweet wife, Karen Alicia Turner, who has used it with Bethlehem’s HopeKeepers group, a group for women with children or spouses living with disabilities.

Then, finally, next to Greg is Dr. Mark Talbot. He has lived with chronic pain due to breaking his back at the age of 17 and has found God powerful in pain and weakness. He has spoken at Desiring God conferences before, including the 2005 conference on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, and the 2009 conference With Calvin in the Theater of God. His book on Christian suffering will be out, Lord willing, next year. So we want to welcome our panelists.

We want to start off with our first question from a Philippian prison guard from Acts chapter 16:30, who asked the apostles, “What must I do to be saved?” Because that poses for us the greatest question that everyone must ask before any of the questions that we’ll talk about make sense, and that is what can I do to be saved from the holy rage of a God who is holy and infinite in his glory? Because we have all sinned and fallen short.

God’s Word answers in Acts 16:30, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe that he died. Believe that he rose. Believe that he freely offers salvation.” So at the bottom of the questions and the answers that we’re about to dive into is the question, “What must I do to be saved?” I hope you ask that and the answer is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us move into our second question as we turn to Greg Lucas and ask, Greg, what advice do you have for families looking to adopt? Should a family ever not adopt a child if they suspect that child might have special needs?

Greg Lucas: I’m not sure how qualified I am to answer that question, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, I have adopted a disabled child, and we adopted three other typically developing children. We have four adopted children. As I look at adoption, I can see that adoption is more than just an illustration or a picture of the gospel. It is a shadow of the gospel. It’s a shadow of what God accomplished in our past when he chose us before the foundation of the earth, when he paid our ransom by the blood of his Son. It’s a shadow of what God accomplishes in our present as he brings us into his family and raises us, when he sanctifies us to be conformed to the image of his Son, which is his image. It’s a shadow of what God does in the future and will accomplish in the future when he takes us to what adoptive parents like to refer to as our forever home, where we will live with God as our Father there in our presence and be united and reunited with a myriad of other adopted brothers and sisters. So it’s a beautiful shadow of the gospel.

However, having said that, let me say this. We knew nothing of that shadow when we adopted Jake. We didn’t know the gospel when we adopted Jake. I was riding in the car with my wife just the other day. We were coming back from Fort Benning, Georgia, my second oldest son had just graduated from basic training. It was a long drive. I looked in the rear-view mirror, and I love looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing my kids asleep back there. I looked back there and I looked over at my wife and I said, “You realize we were adoptive parents before adoption was cool.”

We started this 20 years ago, and that was before Russ Moore wrote his book Adopted for Life. It was before Dan Cruver started Together for Adoption. We had no resources to go by. It was before you heard very many pastors standing up and projecting adoption within the gospel and referring that to a physical adoption in a family. We had none of that. I can be transparent enough with you to let you know that given my age when we adopted Jake, given my spiritual immaturity or lack of knowing the gospel, I can probably pretty well say that had I known what my son’s disabilities were going to entail and what a cost it was going to be to me, I probably would not have gone through with the adoption. It’s really heavy to say that. I would’ve come up with the excuse, “Let someone else who is more qualified handle this child.”

But the beauty of all that is this — and I’ll say this to parents that are considering adopting a child with disabilities, especially severe disabilities — you will never be equipped to do that. God has to equip you to do that. The beauty of it goes back to the gospel. He will use that child to equip you to do that. He will use that child to sanctify you and to conform you and make you more into the image of his Son. That’s the beauty of adopting a disabled child.

Like I said, I see that now looking back on that. But God has also used my son to conform me to the image of Christ in such a way that I’m a better man because of my son. I would’ve never chosen that for myself. But God in his wisdom saw that it was good and he designed it that way, and it is absolutely beautiful. The only reason that I’m here today is because God designed that to happen back before the foundation of the earth, that Jacob would be my son and he would make me more into the image of Jesus by using my son. So that’s my answer.

Kempton Turner: Amen. I see Nancy nodding her head. This is a question for Nancy, how do you keep from becoming weary and feeling alone as you battle real grief and disappointment concerning a disabled child?

Nancy Guthrie: Well, I appreciate Isaiah telling us about Jesus, when he introduces us to Jesus even before he’s born. He tells us about Jesus, that he’s a man of sorrows. Then Jesus himself says to us in the Garden of Gethsemane, “I am overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). And so, in the loneliness of grief, we’re looking for someone who’s safe. When we’re grieving or sorrowful because of what’s going on with our child, we’re looking past all the people who don’t get it. We’re looking for someone who’s been there, someone who understands, that seems like a safe person to draw close to. We find out right in the pages of Scripture that Jesus himself is a safe person to draw close to in sorrow. I’m so grateful to know that.

We can draw close to him as we open up his word and expect that he will speak to us. As we pray to him and depend on him and lean into him, we find out that he is a safe person to draw close to. But it is also, of course, wonderful to find someone with skin on who’s right here, who gets it. I am so grateful that God has provided in my life people to walk with me on that road of sorrow, who understood when I couldn’t get out of the car and go in the grocery store because of all the reminders on the shelves of what I didn’t need to buy anymore, and friends who understood how hard it was to head into the parents’ meeting, that facing a crowd in the midst of grief was so devastatingly difficult. He gave me people alongside who understood. I am forever grateful for that.

If we were able to put grief in a pot on the stove and boil it down to its essence, the essence of grief itself is loneliness. I think oftentimes we expect the people who are close enough will get it. We think if my husband was there for me enough, if my friends were there for me enough I wouldn’t feel this loneliness. But the reality is that loneliness is the essence of grief. Fortunately, Jesus himself meets us in that loneliness and draws alongside us.

Kempton Turner: Amen. You mentioned friends showing up with skin on. I want to open this up to everyone here. How should one respond to friends who show up and say, “God didn’t show up.” That’s how they interpret disability. They say, “God didn’t show up for you.” What do we say to those friends who don’t understand the sovereignty of God and who aren’t necessarily helpful?

Greg Lucas: I don’t know that you need to say anything. I think you live it in front of them and you give evidence of grace in your life in front of them at first, and then maybe you lead them verbally into a dialogue or a conversation using that evidence of grace as illustration.

There are friends we’ve had who come alongside us and understand that it is something supernatural for us to raise a son like this and go through sorrow and suffering like this, or in Nancy’s case, to lose children, and still praise God. They’re amazed at the supernaturalness of it just by observing us and seeing that. It allows them to come to a place where instead of having animosity towards it, they can come and ask questions about it. I think that’s more of the suitable time to do that.

Nancy Guthrie: I remember when we knew that we were going to have a second child who would have the same fatal syndrome that our daughter had had. We wrote out a card that we sent to everybody we knew, even the dry cleaners and the restaurants, because we knew I was about to begin showing that I was pregnant and that there would be lots of people who would be so excited having known that we lost a child, to see that I was pregnant again and would say, “Oh, this is wonderful.” We’re trying to head off a lot of awkward conversations about the reality that this child also was going to have that fatal syndrome.

I remember writing on that card that some people around us may think that we have incredibly bad luck facing these genetic odds that we did, but that we don’t see our lives that way. We believe that we are in God’s hands and that he is at work in this for our good and for this child’s good. It was a beautiful thing, Kempton, for us to see how God used that testimony amongst believers who struggle with the sovereignty of God, and amongst unbelievers who wondered at that in the sense of how can you see that? How can you believe it?

What a beautiful opportunity it is for us not to talk to people to death about it, to try to convince them, but as they see us rest in the sovereignty of God, that is itself such a testimony. As we look and anticipate that God is actually doing something good and that he’s not out to hurt us, it’s a beautiful opportunity to get to live out the truths of the gospel in a really dark world who can see only the dark side of it.

Kempton Turner: Mark?

Mark Talbot: I think part of what we need to do is actually to express the way that disability is a blessing. My wife and I both admit that if we had known each other before my accident or pretty much before she became a Christian, we couldn’t have stood each other. But short of those two things, the greatest blessing of my life has been my disability. That doesn’t mean that it’s fun. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great deal of anxiety in it. But it’s actually in the midst of the difficulty that God meets me day in and day out. When I get up in the morning and it is hard and painful and dangerous to walk, I just have to refocus myself on God.

So part of what I think we do in these situations is we just make clear that we are not for a moment saying that disability isn’t disability and that it isn’t hard, but that it is through the very hardness that the great blessings come. This is John’s point with regard to some of these great paradoxes. It’s through the very hardness that the great blessings come.

Kempton Turner: Speaking of John’s message, there is a question that I’ll pose to John, but open it up to everyone. Someone asks, “Having accepted my disability as permanent, after years of prayer for healing and believing that God has higher purposes in this, how do I contend with the real-life un-joyful emotions that living with disability often raises?

John Piper: Listening to that message that I gave earlier would be my main suggestion. The gist of it was you don’t live in denial of those. They come and you own them. Then you look beyond the causal circumstances of the pain and the negative emotions to everything that Krista quoted to us by heart. Krista said, “God has spoken to me. He has said beautiful things to me, true things to me, good things to me.”

So you go to those things. They’re in the Bible. If you don’t feel like going here, you pray, “Incline my heart to your testimonies.” When you go here and you don’t see anything, you pray, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things.” When you start to see objectively glorious things and you don’t feel them, you pray, “Satisfy me in the morning.” In other words, we’re all in this together. This is not unique to disability. Being unsatisfied with God is not unique. That’s human. Everybody has to find a pathway into resting and delighting in and treasuring and being satisfied with God in spite of whatever it is, is human. The pathway in is that he’s spoken to us. He’s spoken to us and he’s spoken good things to us.

I think the older I get, the more obvious it becomes how short this life is. It feels long, I’m sure, when you’re dealing night after night after night after night with something that is unbelievably hard. You’re not getting enough sleep and somebody tells you, “Oh, this is a short life.” Well, you say, “It doesn’t feel short. It feels very, very, very long.”

But in fact, compared to eternity, the Bible says it’s a vapor, and there’s not a broken person in this room who will not be magnificently whole just like that. I mean it will feel very fast. If we could maintain an eternal perspective, like Randy Alcorn’s ministry says we should, and we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen, then those emotions, real as they are, don’t have to crush and they don’t have to control. They’re just real and they’re right there, and then they’re supported by that profound peace and contentment in God. Then you just wait and he breaks in with these other shafts of burden-lifting light from time to time.

But let’s just face it. A good many people are going to have to live their life mainly burdened. Paul said, "I bear the daily anxiety of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). It was like a boulder on his back. He’s the one who told us not to be anxious for anything, and he carries the daily anxiety. So he had found a paradox. I didn’t use that, though it was an illustration I could have gone to. He says, “Don’t be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6), and he says, “I’m anxious every day” (2 Corinthians 11:28). There’s another one of those paradoxes where he’s carrying the weight of Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, and all these churches who are about to implode. He wondered what was going to become of the kingdom and he said, “Don’t be anxious for anything.” That’s real. But some of you will have to bear that and be that for the world. I don’t expect most Christians to be chipper. I expect them to be solid and unbreakable, standing for the truth, and God, for many will break in with sweet experiences, and they won’t let their burden become a party-pooping rain.

Nancy Guthrie: I love how Krista just demonstrated exactly what to do, because what Krista has done is she has determined not to listen only to her own voice. These negative emotions come in. We have so many voices inside us. We think, “I’ll never be happy again,” or, “I’ll never have the family that I wanted,” or, “I’m going to be alone.” I mean all of these voices inside and outside about what makes us beautiful and valuable. We cannot surrender to only those voices, we have to do just as John has said, which is to open up the word to hear God’s voice speak into that. We have to preach the truth to ourselves. When we begin to get in that cycle of those negative emotions, we just have to talk back to them and not let them win the day.

Kempton Turner: Amen. Mark?

Mark Talbot: It seems to me that Krista was getting at a tremendously important point with the way that these voices work, because, in fact, we’re all shaped by language, and we’re shaped by the various languages we hear. As Krista was saying, some of the language that comes at us tells us that we’re not worth anything. Our primary language as Christians is supposed to be Scripture. It is supposed to become so second nature to us that we naturally think in the terms and categories of Scripture. I was glad to hear John mention that quite often when you’re asked months ahead of time or years ahead of time what you’re going to speak on, that you need to change your topic. I would’ve changed mine after a summer in what are called the “Psalms of Lament.” There are 150 Psalms total. Depending on how you count it, there’s up to 60 Psalms of Lament.

All of the Psalms are meant to be the prayer book of the Bible. They’re supposed to become our natural language before God. After spending the summer trying to understand just the 60 or so that are in fact the Psalms of Lament, I found myself seeing that there were actually breathing lessons in those Psalms, that those Psalms tell us how to start from all the awfulness of life and address God quite directly and quite frankly. Then after we have exhaled all that is awful, then we inhale his promises. We inhale by remembering what he has done for us and what he’s done for others. I’m going to want to talk about that this afternoon because, in fact, we all need a way to get from the really, really hard stuff to the place that we can praise. Thank God he gave us the Psalms of Lament to show us exactly what that way is.

Greg Lucas: Could I add one more, Kempton?

Kempton Turner: Yes, sir.

Greg Lucas: About five years ago, I was at the absolute lowest point in my life in dealing with my son, dealing with the pressures of my son, and dealing with other pressures, dealing with depression. I had walked away from my church. I’d walked away from my faith. I’d walked away from my wife and my family. I’d walked away from everything and everyone that loved me because of this. During those times, what do you do when you don’t want to pray for that help? You don’t want to read the Scripture for that help. You don’t want God to come and intervene. You just want to be left alone. Many of you struggle with that occasionally.

One thing that helped me tremendously was this. I was in my office and I was finished. I was looking for something. I was looking for one little ray of hope. I was looking through my books on my bookshelf and I came across one of Pastor John’s books called When I Don’t Desire God. I thought, “That’s the title for me right now. That’s the only book that makes sense. It’s the only title that makes sense right now.” So I pulled that off there. The one thing that I hold on to today is that Pastor John says in that book that it is a battle. You’re in a battle, you’re in a fight, and you have to fight that every single day. The very fact that you are in that fight, the very fact that someone is asking that question is an evidence of grace that God is still dealing with you and he will never leave you. He will never forsake you and he hasn’t cast you off. He’s drawing you in through your circumstances.

I would add to that that it’s not just a one-time fight. It’s not just a war. It’s a daily battle. Daily you have to go back to the gospel. Daily you have to memorize the Scriptures, as Krista encouraged us to. Daily you have to fight that battle. Pretty soon the days will turn into weeks, and maybe you’ll get two weeks out of it before you’ll have to go back to the trenches. But it will continue to be a daily battle. Never give up. The fact that you’re not giving up is the evidence of grace that God is working within you.

Kempton Turner: Amen. We keep referring to Krista. Pretty soon, I’m going to just start saying, “Just ask Krista.” The Word is so powerful in her life.

To transition a little bit before we go a little deeper, there’s a practical question that brings parenting and local church ministry together. Someone asks, “How do parents try to respectfully speak with our pastors about the crucial importance of a disability ministry? How do we go about that?” They’re not maybe embracing that and their family feels uncared for. How can we broach that subject graciously?

John Piper: The fact that they asked the question that way is a really good thing, instead of saying, “How can we help this blockhead?” So they’re on the right track. They will want to pray. They will want to discern him. They can ask, “Is the absence of the ministry an oversight or an obstacle? Is he scared or is he blind?” So they should be discerning. That would be number two, try to read your pastor, know your pastor.

Third, don’t whisper about it first and create a sedition and a problem in the church, like, “Why are we so hardhearted around here?” Rather, go to the pastor and have a plan for what you’re going to say. Most pastors feel overwhelmed. Thirty people last week told him things he isn’t doing, and if he did half of them, he would get no sleep. So you need a way to say, “Look, we’re not asking you to do this. We’d like to do it and we just need your blessing. The kind of blessing we have in mind is maybe a paragraph in the church newsletter or an announcement on Sunday that we’re going to have a meeting for concerned parents. I mean it’d be wildly wonderful if you preach the sermon on it, but no pressure there. You have got your own schedule.”

Give the guy time to deal with the pressure, because I’ll tell you, the most discouraging times for me as a pastor are looking at Christianity Today, and not because of any theological thing, but because of how many ads there are for things I should be knowing and doing and reading and going to. I just want to say, “Good night. I just have time to read my devotions and make a few phone calls and prepare a sermon.” So you’re walking into a time bomb situation if you come pushy and demanding. But I can’t imagine that the pastor would not respond positively to you saying, “We have a vision for something we could do.” Then he feels like, “Boy, that would be wonderful if such a thing happened in our church.” If he were vain, he might say, “And I would get credit for it.” It’s the way I feel around here. I get credit for so many things I didn’t have anything to do with.

Mark Talbot: It seems to me that we need to remember that we are the body of Christ, and that the body of Christ is in fact supposed to be a real, organic unit where we help each other. And so, part of what fits with what John is saying is that the responsibility isn’t ultimately the pastors. The responsibility is when we see others who are struggling under any of the kinds of disability, whether or not they have their own disabilities, or whether or not they’re dealing with children with disabilities, we are meant to step in as the body of Christ. At least in my experience over the years, if the church does that effectively, it has a witness to the world that otherwise the world never sees, and that is that there is something supernaturally different about us in the way that we bear each other’s burdens.

So the business is basically for us as the members of the body to pick up slack and maybe see a mother who’s just right at the end of her tether in dealing with a disabled child and say, “As a body we need to find ways every week to give you time when you can catch your breath and we’ll take care of that child.”

Kempton Turner: That’s a good segue into this next question. It sounds like it could be a mother at the end of her tether, or a father. But the question is, “Maritally, how do you find the energy to give anything to your spouse when you are giving all day and night to your child?”

Greg Lucas: We talked about this last night over dinner. Our relationship oftentimes with our spouse is a lot like our relationship with Christ in a negative way. In other words, we get up in the morning and we have a thousand things to accomplish. So we say, “Jesus, I just don’t have time to meet with you this morning. I have to go off and do these things.” What we don’t understand is that meeting with Jesus is going to enable us to do these things. It’s going to give us the power to accomplish these things. It is the power to accomplish those things. It’s the same thing with our spouse, and it’s multiplied when you have a disabled child.

So many times we approach our relationship with our spouse, like, “I really don’t have time to sit down with you right now and talk because I’ve got to change his diaper. I’ve got to put in a feeding tube. I’ve got to do medication dosages. It’s taking up all my time, so I don’t have time to talk with you. We’ll get together next week. We’ll do something next week or next month.” What we don’t realize is that the very essence of strength that enables us to deal with our disabled child comes from the strength of the relationship within the marriage. My wife and I learned this late in the game, but by the grace of God we learned it. When we turned that around in our lives, we said, “Okay, from now on we are going to focus on our relationship. Number one is going to be Christ. Under Christ is going to be our relationship with each other, and then everything’s going to flow out of that.”

It was very difficult to let go of that and very difficult to do. What you’ll find is that at first you’ll have to fight for that time with your spouse. But after a while, it will become so sweet that you will fight anything that gets in the way of that time. For my wife and I, it started out with a date night once a week. Sometimes we could do it, sometimes we couldn’t. If we couldn’t do a date night with dinner and a movie, her favorite date is to put the kids to bed, whether it’s 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m., and go sit on the couch with me and spend an hour just talking. We ask, “How are you doing today? Is there anything I can help you with today? What are you frustrated with today? How are you dealing with this?” And we just open up.

Husbands, you’ve got to lead in this because it won’t come naturally. Open that avenue of conversation up and you will find that will be one of your sweetest times. It will energize you to parent that child in a very special way. I think it was Jay Adams who said that the best way to love your child is to love their mom or their dad. I think that is multiplied when you have a disabled child.

Mark Talbot: Learning to laugh is also, I think, absolutely central to it. Laughter is a way that we relieve tension and get rid of sorrow. I think people probably think that Cindy and I are completely crazy at the things we laugh at, but I think that spouses need to work at finding ways to encourage each other to laugh even in the hardest of circumstances. It’s amazing how many clouds that tends to blow away.

Kempton Turner: That’s good. We’re transitioning and moving towards deeper theological concerns. Here’s this unique topic of disability and missions. Here’s the question. It’s for you, John, but anyone can weigh in on this. A couple says, “We felt a strong call to become missionaries, but the birth of our disabled child forced us to change all of that. Why would God give us a desire to serve him in this way and then take it away?”

John Piper: A why question can always be answered biblically, but can never exhaustively be answered biblically, so what I say may not be satisfying. But whenever a why question is asked, God is always doing 10,000 things that you don’t know about. You may know three of them. One of the reasons he gave it to you is it was a beautiful thing to have. That was a wonderful act of submission in your heart that he prized in and of itself. You will always prize it that you were willing to go. That’s not nothing. That was written down in the book. In heaven, there will be stars in the crown for that readiness to obey. It’s a beautiful thing. If you died today, it would be a tribute to you. So that’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Second, your life is not over. You have no idea how that desire is going to be fulfilled. You don’t know if this child will live or die. You don’t know if you’ll live or die. You have no idea what the future holds. Therefore, that season of yieldedness and readiness to go is you should love that, nurture that, not regret that, but say, “Okay, God, we don’t know why you did that, but in 10 or 15 or 20 years, we may see how that piece in this puzzle fits together.”

The third thing I would say is this child is no accident. The condition of the child is no accident, and this call on your life is in some way going to fit with that. That would be the way to ask. You can think, “Okay. Yes, we had to change the plans. Now what is the new whole plan? The heart for the world and a broken child, what’s that look like?” And plead with God. You’re putting the pieces together. You say, “This doesn’t make any sense to us right now. There’s no arrow in this. I can’t tell.” But it’s there. He sees it perfectly. So you’re patiently praying, “Lord, make us yield enough in both these seasons now so that together they lead us into something very fruitful.”

I was talking to two or three people between the sessions who told me of the stories of the explosive effect of their disabled child on people around them and the ministries that they were having because of it. A mission was born, not aborted but born. And so, look for the ways God is going to take this new season. I think the big overarching thing is to believe that God has a why. You don’t have to know all the whys. You have to know that God has whys and that he’s able to fulfill the why and that you will walk in patient holiness while he gives you light on the next step until you see and say, “Oh, now it makes sense.” Maybe it will be 10 years from now or 20 years from now. But he’s caring right now not about this frustrated mission, but about your heart and how yielded you are and how trusting you are.

Nancy Guthrie: The Scriptures show us someone who had this experience. He had a desire to do something beautiful and wonderful for God, and God said no to him. We might wonder if he said, “Well, why did you even give me the desire, God?” That is King David. He had a desire to do a very good thing. He looked out and he saw that shabby tabernacle and his grand house. He said, “God, I want to build you a house.” It was a good thing he wanted to do, and yet God’s answer to him was, No, someone else is going to do this. You want to build me a house, but I’m going to make you into a house.” So he might have asked, “God, why would you say no to this desire?” But he trusted God’s word that he did have a grander purpose in mind, and I mean and what a grand purpose God had in mind for David, to establish his throne on whom a descendant would come who was going to be the king, who was going to rule forever.

David, in his mind, had this grand plan, this thing he wanted to do for God. He couldn’t fathom the grandness of the plan of what God really wanted to do in his life. Isn’t that true for us? Sometimes we think we have the grand plan, the big sacrifice, the big thing we’re going to do for God. Instead, he says no to that good desire and says, “I have another plan and it’s going to be good and more than you can imagine.”

Kempton Turner: Amen.

Greg Lucas: Let me just put a face to what I think Pastor John and Nancy are both saying. Some good friends of mine, Justin and Tamara Reimer, had a heart for the nations. They wanted to be missionaries, and God brought them their son, Eli, who had Down syndrome. So they backed off and they said, “What’s going on here?” The mission didn’t end there. The mission simply changed. Justin and Tamara now head up a foundation called the Elijah Foundation, which ministers to families of disabled children all over the nation. They have a reach aspect of that same ministry that ministers to orphanages in other nations of disabled children.

So now their heart is still for the nations. Eventually, I think they will be able to go to the nations. But for now, their mission wasn’t a no. It was not now, but this instead. And so, don’t look at God saying “not now” as being “no.” It might mean there’s something else that I want you to do right now. So look at that aspect.

Kempton Turner: I think of Solomon’s inspired wisdom, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but the purpose of the Lord will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). In the 15 or so minutes we have remaining, let’s go a little deeper and open this up for everyone. It seems like this person has really thought through this and put texts to this question. They ask, “What do we do with Bible passages that seem to be against people with disabilities, like Leviticus 21:16–23, where they are not allowed to serve in the temple? Or 2 Samuel 5:6–8, where David says he hates the lame and the blind? Or Acts 13:1–12, where Elymas is struck blind by God? What do we do with texts like these that seem to portray a hateful disposition of God towards the disabled?”

Nancy Guthrie: Well, I’m going to speak about that Leviticus passage actually in the message, but I would just give us a short version. When we look at the Bible and, to our view, God seems to not be good, either something is wrong with our definition of goodness or there’s something we’re not understanding, something that we’re not seeing there, because he’s the plumb line of good. He’s the very definition of it.

So I think all of these passages you’ve mentioned are actually invitations into the bigger story of God, the bigger purposes of what he is doing in the world and a larger understanding of those passages. Those are challenging on the surface, but when we dig deeper in them we see something bigger. I think every time I’ve dug deeper because the reality of my experience has met up with something in God’s word and I don’t get it — I think, “How could you be good and this still be true or this still be the reality of my life?” — what I have discovered has been a rich treasure. I think that’s the truth over and over again.

John Piper: Those three instances that you mentioned are very different, and there are different explanations for every one of them, I think. In the first, everybody probably should have the category of ceremonial things. You have menstrual cycle issues, you have emission issues, you have breaking out of certain kinds of discolored skin issues, you have age issues — the priest had to be done by 50. What’s with that? As you look at all those artificial issues, there’s nothing intrinsic about a sore. There’s nothing intrinsic about the age 50. There’s nothing intrinsic about a menstrual cycle that has any moral quality about it at all. But God gives them a ceremonial meaning in order to say something about holiness. He does it with food. You can’t eat catfish. You can’t eat a pig.

Kempton Turner: Catfish? Are you sure about that?

John Piper: Yeah. They have no scales. They’re bottom feeders, man.

John Piper: Then comes along Mark 7, and he declares all foods clean.

Kempton Turner: Ah. Fry it.

John Piper: That principle of something being wrong with these fish, and then him declaring all foods clean is another one. So there are other issues. I’m just creating a good category there. I’m not saying it’s a nice, easy solution for everyone, but we should have a category for that, so that if you go on a radio and they say, “What’s with all these stupid laws in the Old Testament?” you have a category to say, “They weren’t stupid. They were designed for a season in order to symbolically say something about in and out, and pure and unclean, and holy and unholy. Then now with the coming of the Messiah, things change dramatically.” That’s the answer to the first one.

The second one, David shouldn’t have hated them. I mean he just shouldn’t. He shouldn’t hate. So spank you, David. I mean there are recorded sins in the Bible.

Number two, it’s okay for God to strike somebody blind if they’re messing with the gospel. There’s no sin involved with that. The fact that he did it as a punishment doesn’t mean that everybody blind is being punished. Maybe that was the implication they were reading there. That’s just not the case. He can do what he wants to do. I’m sure there are a lot of other obstacles that are brought up along the way as well. But so I don’t think those should be all lumped into one pile.

Kempton Turner: Here’s another potential obstacle that is addressed to John here. Are people who are cognitively disabled able to be saved?

John Piper: Yeah, good question.

Kempton Turner: If so, what should parents do to train up their child in the Lord?

John Piper: I’d like to hear the others talk about that. I would come at it biblically and theologically. I have some principles to lay down. But practically it would be good. You’ve got the microphone next to your mouth. Go ahead, Greg.

Greg Lucas: I wrote a chapter on this. I wrote a blog on this that caused more controversy than any other blog post I’d ever written, and more comments. I was just trying to get something out from a father’s perspective on this. I know the theological perspective on it, and I think John would come at it from Romans 1, where they have to know something in order to not have an excuse. They knew God, but they did not give glory to God. Instead, they worshiped other things and, therefore, they are without excuse. So they have to know something in order to have an excuse.

Of course, the theological flip side of that is if they cannot know something, then they have an excuse. We call that grace, I guess. It’s not that they don’t know anything, because Romans also tells us that it’s obvious to those who are out there. We see the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything, and we know that there’s a God, and that leads us to greater revelation. But it’s that they cannot know these things. So I cling to that, but then as a father, I ask this question, “What is the cutoff there? Is it an IQ of 64 or 39, or what’s the line there for me to find comfort in Romans 1 that my son is going to be saved? Especially since my son is nonverbal. He can’t tell me what he knows.”

My comfort is found in Romans 1, but it’s also found in Ephesians 2. It’s found in other places as well, and it’s based on two things. Number one is God. We know the nature of God. We know the person of God. He is good. He is always right. He is always just. He’s always fair. He’s full of grace. He’s full of mercy. Those are his attributes. That’s his character that we trust in. He’s not going to do something that’s wrong.

The second is a grasp of the gospel. How were we saved? How was I saved? I was saved by grace, through faith. Faith was required of me, but the Bible goes on to say even that faith was a gift to me. And so, if my son does require a measure of faith to be saved, then God in his goodness is going to deliver that faith to my son to be saved.

I have two evidences of faith for my son. That’s all I’ve got. I’ll say, “Jacob, where’s Jesus?” and he will point to the sky. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father forever making intercession for us. That’s what I hear. And I’ll say, “Jacob, where else is Jesus?” and Jacob will point to his heart. That’s all I’ve got. But that’s not all I’ve got because I know God and I know the Scripture and I know the gospel of grace. So I cling to those things. I hear the theology and I stand on the rock of the theology, but I cling to God’s character in all of that.

Mark Talbot: I think we can push this back even a little further, once we ignore questions such as the fact that my wife considers me cognitively disabled. If we look at Psalm 51, after David has committed his most egregious, or at least was his most obnoxious sins before God in the nation, in the midst of Psalm 51, David, recognizing the depth of his sinfulness, says, “Surely I have been sinful from the moment my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). You can read the Hebrew more than one way, but I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be read.

What does that suggest? That suggests that God is speaking to us as human beings from the time we’re zygotes, and that even though we are not at the place where we have any language, where we are capable of articulating anything or understanding anything in terms of language, God is already dealing with us. And God is dealing with us, David says, in such a way that from that moment we were without excuse. But if we were without excuse from that moment, then God’s grace stands beside that. From that moment, God can tender and work his grace in ways that we cannot fully understand. So I think that as deep as the concern goes with regard to this child — “Can this person in any way understand the gospel as it’s articulated in actual words?” — God’s grace goes not merely that deep, but deeper. He will work his good purposes for those he has chosen no matter what, in fact, is true of them.

Nancy Guthrie: Well, I would ask, what is our comfort or confidence really regarding anyone in regard to their salvation? Is it based on the response they give, the words they say, or the way they live? My confidence can’t be based on those things. My confidence is in God alone as the author of salvation. Salvation is from the Lord. So I think quite often about Genesis 18:25, this rhetorical question where Abraham says, “Will not the judge of the earth do what is right?” It’s a rhetorical question, but I have to answer back to it and say, “Yes, he will. Yes, he will. He will do right by me and he will do right by my child.” That’s where my confidence and my comfort comes.

Kempton Turner: Here’s a final question: “Will believers who have disabilities on earth have them when they are in heaven?”

Mark Talbot: Maybe we could talk there about eschaton. It seems to me that the talk of heaven in our society is so flaccid that people think that everybody goes to heaven. And so, what I’ve done is I’ve picked up on the Greek term eschaton, and then I always explain to people what I mean. The question would be, at the end, will those who in fact have been saved by the earthly work of God in Christ, will they still have their disabilities?

I would suggest that I don’t think they’re going to, but I don’t think we can understand how they won’t have their disabilities. It seems so much a part of who I have been, that in some sense my identity is connected up with what I have dealt with. And yet, just as God says that we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye, we must not limit the ways in which God will work to make us whole, where there will be no more sorrow, no more sighing. There will be no more sense of any regrets.

We probably can’t spell out how that is for Krista, for instance. Who will Krista appear to us as? All we know is that she will appear to us as completely glorious and clothed in the glory of Christ for what she has dealt with in this life. In that sort of place, I just find myself saying, “I can’t get any further, but that’s not God’s fault. That’s the fault of my limited mind.”

Greg Lucas: Philippians 3:20–21 says:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Nancy Guthrie: The Bible actually just doesn’t tell us very much about this time in between now when we die and the resurrection. Here’s what it says: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). I think a lot of people write a lot of books about what happens in between, not necessarily based on the Scriptures. For some reason, God has not seen fit to give us a lot of detail about what that is. But we do know one thing, that we’re absent from the body during this intermediate time. But we know the day is coming when there will be a loud shout and a trumpet call, and bodies will rise from graves and those bodies will be like Christ’s glorious body.

How can we begin to know all that that’s going to mean? We do know that it’s better than just getting a body that’s like everybody else’s now, and just getting a body that would work here in this world now. It’s going to be like his glorious body. There’s a lot of things we try to make the Bible say or make the Bible answer, and I think sometimes we need to trust that God in his word has given us what we need to know and choose to rest in it.

John Piper: There are two other things we know about the intermediate state. It is that we are with Christ and it is holy. There are “spirits of just men made whole” (Hebrews 12:23). That’s the best of all. My biggest disability is the inability not to sin. Too many negatives in that for you? I want to be in a world where I cannot sin anymore, where I am so good that I cannot sin. That will happen, I believe, when I die. My body catches up later. It’s in the grave. I don’t think, therefore, I will be as happy as I can be in the presence of the Lord after death, because I think he made me to be an embodied soul. It’s incomplete. It’s naked, Paul said. But it’s better, it’s with Jesus, and it is holy.

That’s my biggest longing right now. I don’t like headaches. I don’t like any kind of sickness or pain, but I really hate sinning. I really hate failing the relationships around me. I will be very happy not to have guilt feelings anymore. I hate guilt. I know it’s covered by the blood, but to not have to have any more doings in my life that have to be covered by the blood would be very nice. So I’m very eager to be healed there. That’s, I think, instantaneous upon death, and then the completion of the body. I think what we’d say, wouldn’t we, Mark, at least is that there will be no dis in our ability. Abilities will differ probably in the age to come. You may be able to run faster than I can, jump higher than I can, sing more beautifully than I can, but I will not perceive any of my inabilities as disabilities. They will be so calculated as to make my gladness in God and in you perfect all things considered.

Kempton Turner: Amen. Praise the Lord.