And the Last Shall Be First: Is There Divine Purpose for Those with Disabilities?
All is not always as it seems.
The Titanic captain thought his ship was unsinkable.
The Germans thought Hitler would be their Savior.
Hollywood stars “have it all.” Yet Lucy Ball wished she could be the simple housewife she played on her show.
Thomas Edison was thrown out of school at the age of twelve because he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Albert Einstein didn’t learn to talk until he was four or read until he was seven. One of his teachers said he was “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift in foolish dreams.”
Jesus said that many of the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus loves to flip things on their heads and make us search His heart, doesn’t He?
Why do we cheer with joy when the underdog triumphs as an unlikely winner?
The Apostle Paul expounded on the different gifts God gives to the body of believers. We are uniquely created, each with a divine purpose and call. God has a plan for each of our lives.
Yet, over the years, I have wondered about the purpose of those who are disabled, some severely disabled.
As I sit with my brother at a picnic table outside of his small apartment, he waves at the bus drivers who pass. They smile and wave back. “Those bus drivers are good people,” Mark says. He laughs. “It is always good to see them.”
“Do you ride the bus often, Mark?” I ask.
“All the time,” he says.
“Where do you go?”
“All over town.”
“Do you know the bus drivers by name?”
“Yes, all of them. They are my friends.” He laughs again.
Wistfully, though, Mark dreams about driving a car of his own – perhaps a yellow convertible like our grandmother once owned when we were children. The car the three of us traveled in to the California, visiting National Parks all along the way.
Mark would also love to be a farmer. Models of John Deere tractors adorn his apartment. One tractor he bought for his nieces and nephews to ride. “Just make sure they are careful with it,” he cautions. But he is not a farmer; he vacuums for the courthouse.
He attends a church that cares for those with special needs. “The lessons are really childish,” he says. “But,” he sighs. “I think that is what I need. That is who I am. I am like a child. I don’t really understand the sermons in the service.” I whisper a prayer of thanks for my brother’s church and those called to minister to those with disabilities. “We sing ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.’ That is an old song, but it is a good song,” Mark says. He cups his hands together. “He has us all right here, doesn’t He, Julie?”
I nod, swallowing hard, blinking fast.
Yesterday, a friend walked passed my house pushing an adult sized stroller. A young woman rode in it, twisted with cerebral palsy. She smiled, waved awkwardly, and stuck out her foot for me to admire her purple and pink high top tennis shoes. “So pretty!” I said, meaning her more than the shoes. She is such a pretty soul trapped in a body for a lifetime.
C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald reminded, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
Their suffering seems cruel. So cruel that in a human attempt to show mercy, doctors will cry, “Abort!”
And in my weak attempt at mercy I cry, “Why God? Why do you allow such atrocities? These people who suffer, trapped in their bodies for a lifetime. A lifetime!”
And Jesus says life on earth is a vapor, a fading flower, withering grass. Yet Jesus wept when Lazarus died; He saw the heartache of the people and the ravages of a sin-scarred earth. He wept even though He knew the sorrow was temporary – earthbound, in light of eternity – fleeting.
Do I trust the heart of God? I must. I do.
Yet my heart, bound to earth’s timetable, cries, “Lord! An entire lifetime!”
The Apostle Paul reminds us that each of us has a role in the body of Christ. Each role is uniquely given with divine purpose. “In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” 1 Corinthians 12: 22-26
Each of these sweet souls has a purpose. They are not accidents or mistakes. My brother’s life has purpose and meaning. He is here as an instrument of God’s glory. Yes! God’s Glory!
God uses my brother’s life to mold those around him. We humans may see those who struggle with impairment as less important than the rest of us – less able to contribute to society. Yet the Apostle Paul declares, “Some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”
What if these people, these bodily-trapped souls, teach us compassion? What if they teach us how to be most like Jesus himself, who cared for the sick and healed the lame and blind? What if they teach us to trust God even with life’s most difficult puzzles?
The Apostle Paul says, “And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those . . .. God has put the body (the church) together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.”
And the result? The great apostle declares, “This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.”
Beautiful compassion, honor, and service. Perhaps one of the roles of those with disabilities is to mold the individuals of the church – the body of Christ – to become like Christ.
All of this leads to – love.
“But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all” (Romans 12:31).
All of the spiritual gifs we are given are worth nothing without love. Love is the goal, the outcome, and the prize. “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (Romans 13:1-3).
“Love will last forever” (Romans 13:8).
But what if that is just the beginning of the story?
What if God will flip it all on its head in eternity? What if “the first will be last and the last will be first” puts my brother and my friend in the wheelchair – those who have suffered all of life – who have endured – who have been used to mold their brothers’ and sisters’ character on earth. What if God puts them FIRST in the kingdom of heaven?
All is not always as it seems.