A few days ago, I came across this post on another autism parent’s blog, and it got me thinking, again, about the question of God and his role in stuff like this. The author is an associate pastor in a nondenominational church in Oregon. He has five kids, one of whom is on the severe end of the autism spectrum. In the post, he talks about how the Christian faith is a “lousy force field.” He says that being a Christian and belonging to a church really doesn’t insulate you from all the bad stuff that happens out in the real world. “It’s a lie,” he says. “We are living neck deep in the stink of life just like everyone else.”
Exactly. That’s our experience as well. Believing in God, going to church, having a regular prayer time, etc. None of it guarantees you a problem-free life. It may help you face the challenges when they come. It may help make you more peaceful, more patient, and more trusting. But it won’t shield you from the bad stuff. It should help protect you from sin and all the bad stuff that is the direct result of your own personal sins. But it won’t shield you from the bad-things-happen-to-good-people stuff.
I’ve got to hand it to this fellow for being honest about how broken he feels by his son’s situation. He doesn’t try to put a brave face on everything because he doesn’t want to give Christianity a bad name. He’s clearly been through the wringer, and he’s not going to deny it.
I also want to commend him for his determination. He hasn’t given up on God. He’s still out there helping people. He’s still pouring himself out for his church and leading a congregation in prayer—all with the goal of bringing them in touch with God. Really inspiring!
When Bad Stuff Hits.
But what this post got me to thinking about, again, was something I hinted at in a more recent post of mine: My kids on the spectrum have a prophetic role to play in this world. And for that reason, I am beginning to think that their ASD is part of God’s plan—for them and for the people whose lives will intersect theirs.
Here’s the thing: We want our children to be perfect. We want them to have good health, a good education, a bright future, no real problems or major roadblocks on the way to happiness.
But then autism happens. Or cerebral palsy. Or mental retardation. Or childhood diabetes. Or a host of other genetic, uncontrollable diseases and disorders. Suddenly the dream of a near-perfect life is gone. Our hopes are shattered. We worry constantly about our children’s futures. Their present is a long list of treatments, medical bills, and huge adjustments to everyday life. What happened? We had such beautiful plans, and now they seem smashed to pieces.
Quite often, too, we begin to wonder where God is in all of this. How could he let this happen to our innocent little child? What kind of Father is he anyway? I know a thing or two about fatherhood, and in no way does this fit into my definition. Many people, hurt and disenchanted, turn away from God. Others try to comfort themselves with analgesic statements drawn from inspirational posters and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Anything to help reconcile our plans and dreams with the far more difficult reality thrust upon us and our children.
Frying Other Fish.
But what if this was part of God’s plan all along? What if this was part of the way he dreamed our children into existence from the start? After all, the Bible tells us that every hair on our heads is counted (Matthew 10:30). It tells us that God knit us together in our mother’s womb, and that every day of our lives is already written in his book (Psalm 139:13, 16). Drawing on a particularly memorable description of the act of conception, it tells us that God poured us out like milk and curdled us like cheese (Job 10:10). If he was so intimately involved in our children’s creation, how could something like this slip in unintended?
Actually, it’s not too hard to imagine that God had a hand in this. His ways aren’t our ways, are they? We may want a comfortable home in the suburbs, good schools, and a promising career for our kids, but I suspect that God has other fish to fry. Not that he has anything against the middle-class American dream, but I think his sights are set a good deal higher. He seems to be much more interested in a world marked by love, compassion, justice, and mercy. He seems to care more whether the people he created look and act like his Son—a poor carpenter who didn’t have a place to lay his head.
So how is he going to get this to happen? Certainly not by giving everyone the same homogenized, perfect, problem-free lot in life. If there were no poor, there would be no generosity. If there were no sickness, there would be no compassion. If there were no hardship, there would be no growth in character. There would only be one big, bland, barrel of blah. Yes, God wants to give us good gifts. But the gifts and the goodness he has in mind far outweigh the trinkets and gewgaws we often ask for.
No, there has to be sickness. There have to be disorders. There have to be natural injustices like autism, down syndrome, and MS. It’s all part of the “happy fault” and the “necessary sin of Adam” that we Catholics exult in at the Easter Vigil.
So no, life isn’t fair. It isn’t supposed to be fair—at least not according to our standards. It’s about how we take what God gives us and use it to build his kingdom.
A Royal Calling.
That’s why I think kids with special needs have a valuable, prophetic role to play in this world. In a way, they are God’s word to us. They call us to a deeper, more meaningful life. With their innocence and vulnerability, they invite us to become more than the collection of our possessions, our education, and our ambitions. They call us to become Christ for them, even as we see Christ in their eyes.
The pastor I mentioned above ended his post with these words:
I don’t know whether Jackson will be fully restored in this life or the next, but he will be restored. It will happen. That means my son and others like him—the ones who for centuries have been forgotten, bullied, mocked, and thrown away—they will be heralded like Kings and Queens, and celebrated like rock stars.
While I pray every day for my kids’ healing (and I’m not always sure what that means), I get the sense that their full restoration won’t happen this side of eternity. They have too important a part to play. But I do believe that in this life they will be “heralded” like the royalty they are—if by only a few people. In my heart I try to do that every day, and I firmly believe that they’ll find other people who will treat them with just as much honor and reverence. People who will love and accept them for everything about who they are—not in spite of it.
I know that’s how God looks at them.