principle or a work ethic. To be fully alive, we think, you must be
having fun or you must be useful. Otherwise, what good are you?
Much, it turns out.
The Mephibosheth Challenge
A man with a disability figures prominently in the story of King
David. It’s Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, Saul’s grandson. When
Mephibosheth was a lad, his nursemaid, in panicked flight,
dropped him on his head. That inflicted a brain injury that rendered him lame in both feet. Whether he also suffered mental
diminishment – he seems shrewd enough and can hold his own
in conversation – is unclear. But the point in the story is that he’s
a young man without prospects. His injury makes him useless,
and his uselessness (plus his political lineage) puts him at risk.
Most of us, to some extent, tie human value to productivity. Most
of us have a deep pulse of utilitarianism and hedonism beneath our
skin. And so we avoid the man in the wheelchair. We resent having
to care for those who can’t give back or whose presence complicates
matters. We have no room at the table for Mephibosheth.
But not David.
His motives, to be sure, are not purely altruistic – he’s making
good on an old promise to Jonathan, and in some ways consolidating his authority over the northern kingdom. But the end
result is the same. He regally honours and lavishly provides for
Mephibosheth. Not because of what Mephibosheth can do for
him, but solely because of who Mephibosheth is – a prince’s son,
a king’s grandson, a loyal friend’s flesh and blood.
Mephibosheth is someone David loves for the sake of his
friend, a friend who protected and aided him at his most vulnerable. Loving Mephibosheth is David’s way of loving Jonathan,
of thanking him, of joining his heart with him.
This perspective is the beginning place of a Christian view of
personhood. We care for all people regardless of what they can
or can not do, simply because human worth is independent of
human usefulness or “quality of life” (a treacherous little turn of
phrase, that). Our true identity – our real glory – is unrelated to
our physical or mental capacity.
In God’s eyes our value transcends our ability. We are all, at
least potentially if not yet actually, sons and daughters of a great
Prince to whom we owe our very survival. These are grounds
enough for showering kindness on another, from the least of
these to the greatest, and even to the worst of these.
But that is just where a Christian view of personhood begins. A
fuller view embraces the gift the disabled are to us. Those who care
for the disabled all tell me the same thing. They receive far more
than they give. Having spent just 30 minutes among 15 disabled
people, I began to get that. The unrestrained joy, the unconditional
love, the unreserved welcome. I gave nothing, and came away rich.
Who has the deeper wholeness here?
We’re still, though, gauging human worth by some standard of
usefulness, measuring it by some system of exchange, by touchstones of give and take. But here’s the great secret. In God’s eyes
no one’s worth is tied to their usefulness. We matter because we
just do. We are the work of God’s hand, fashioned in His image,
quickened by His breath, redeemed or redeemable by His blood.
And if we are going to speak of disability, are you not somewhat disabled? Can you do all things well? Are you magnificent
in every aspect of your humanity? Brilliant, eloquent, radiant,
resilient? Are you virtuous and flawless in all things and all manner of things?
I thought not. Me neither.
We Are All in a Ditch
Herein lies the very reason for the cross. Christ found us naked,
hungry, thirsty, imprisoned. He found us in a ditch. He found
us dead already. Unless He acted on our behalf, out of sheer
compassion, our plight would be hopeless. “Take a good look,
friends, at who you were when you got called into this life,” the
Apostle Paul says to the boastful Corinthians. “I don’t see many
of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential,
not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and
exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow
pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” (1 Corinthians 1: 26-27, the Message). And even among those few who are “the brightest and the
best,” awestruck admiration is not likely one of God’s reactions.
Indeed, He pities them. He pities us all.
Which gets to the heart of a theological issue – the distinction
between worthiness and worth. We often confuse the two. They
couldn’t be more different. Worthiness is conditional. It is tied
to performance. It is earned. Worth, on the other hand, is unconditional. It is rooted in transcendence. It is inherent.
God loves each of us, not for our worthiness, but for our worth.
Christ died to reclaim something of great value. He did not seek
us to save us because we deserved it, because we were worthy of
it. He did it because He loves us, and we need it – we were that
disabled – and we are worth it.
That difference is all the difference in the world.
All people have inherent worth, no matter how damaged or
hidden. But here we meet another irony – striving for worthiness often hides true worth. Trying to prove our greatness often
eclipses our real glory.
Mostly, the disabled do not fall prey to this. Billy does not
posture. Roger does not try to dazzle or impress or manipulate.
Teddy does not fret over what you think of him or contort himself
to fit your expectations.
Each is just himself.
It is enough. It is whole.
Christopher de Vinck published a book, slim but potent, called
The Power of Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of Love (Zondervan,
2002). The book grew from an essay he wrote about growing up
with Oliver, his disabled brother. Because of a prenatal accident
Oliver could not speak, see or walk. He could not bathe or dress
himself. He was an infant in a 10-year-old’s body. He lived nearly
Yet his impact on the de Vinck family, and many others, was
profound and lasting. Oliver called out the best in them, their true
humanity in kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, generosity,