BS2615-1 The Bible as seen through the eyes of those with disabilities

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3 NRSV).

Deborah Creamer’s interview brought to light that those with disabilities may read certain Biblical passages differently than those without disabilities. Many of you know that both of my boys have severe Hemophilia Factor VIII Deficiency. Basically, there is a clotting shortage in their blood. They must take medication in order to clot. Unfortunately, the only way to be cured of hemophilia is to have a liver transplant. It is a life time disorder and does not change severity. The recessive gene which carries the code is passed along the X chromosome and the mother is the one with the altered DNA. When a child is born with hemophilia, there is a tremendous amount of guilt that many women suffer because of the genetic circumstance.

I discovered the above verses from John and read them with new eyes. As Debbie mentioned in her interview, we tend to generically read many of the scriptural texts. This particular scripture (John 9:1-3) provided tremendous insight into my own life as to the reason behind my children having hemophilia. In some ways this was a source of comfort, but in other ways was a source of anger. Why did my children have to be born so that “God’s works might be revealed in them?” Wasn’t there another way that God’s works might have been shown?

Debbie’s interview reminded me that, like my children, I read the passages on healing with a different lens. My oldest son is 13 years old. I wonder how my son read the passages regarding healing. Does he struggle with some of the questions that Debbie brought up regarding healing? In the interview she addresses several different ways that someone with disabilities may respond to the Biblical text. There are some who dismiss any problems with the text in a generic sense. There are others who call their faith into question. If one is faced with the kind of faith that measures the amount of faith to the amount of healing, there is the potential for enormous damage when healing does not occur.

The interview made me realize that I need to be sensitive to my sons and how they interpret the Biblical passages of healing. I must be able to hear their struggles with the passages in which healing brings wholeness. The Biblical text from John 9:1-3 is a very good beginning to understanding how our fellow believers with disabilities interpret the texts of healing.

Our Unique God

11Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ 5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the LORD said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused* the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

I watched a video of Marcus Borg last week. The conversation centered on the nature of Biblical interpretation. Borg’s approach is to treat the ancient writings as being steeped in mythology. These qualities are expressed in the Biblical text of Genesis 11:1-9. While one might agree that the elements of mythology are fully present in the Biblical text, it is the interpretation of the passage that accentuates the inspired component of Biblical understanding. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God is depicted as not being omniscient, has at least one heavenly compatriot, and is the author of confusion.

James Kugel’s depiction of the ancient “model” of God as not being omniscient is fully realized in the story of the Tower of Babel (Kugel 108). In reading the narrative one clearly sees that God must move to view the city in Genesis 11:5. God had to move down to view the city of Babel which implies he was up somewhere and not present in the city. This ancient description of God as having to move, or not knowing what is fully going on, is in stark contrast to the descriptions of God that are present in the later Biblical texts (Psalm 139).

In Gen. 11:7 there is the implication that God is not alone. God enables the other spirits, or the other spirit with Him, to move down to witness what is happening in the city. This is not the first time in scripture that God implies that there is a dialogue occurring in the heavenly realm. In the creation story God says, “Let us make humankind in our own image” (Gen. 1:26). In the story of The Fall God says, “See, the man has become like one of us” (Gen. 3:22). Who or what else is with God in this story? The three verses that suggest a heavenly court offer no hint as to who else is with God. In following a Trinitarian model of God, the other figures present might include the Son and the Holy Spirit. The concept of the “other” is a part of the story that is left to interpretation. The other participants with God never speak. God does all of the talking. Utilizing reader-response criticism as found in the Post-modern Bible suggests that the interpretation of the “other” is dependent upon “the psychological cluster, interactive cluster, and social or structural models” (Postmodern 27).

Another component of the passage of Genesis 11:1-9 is that God is the author of confusion. Verse 7 indicates that God created confusion on purpose. God created different languages and scattered the people all over the world. There is an implied assumption about this story that humanity was part of one city. Earlier texts seemed to indicate that this was not the case reinforcing Borg’s interpretation of the passages as mythological in nature. There is also the open ended question of why would God create chaos?

While I agree with the idea of many Biblical stories being mythological, there are certain characteristics of God that are present in this text. God is the prime mover and is all powerful so as to create language and scatter the people all over the world. These primitive concepts of God will be developed as society matures.

Doubts in the Middle of Storms

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ 26And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’ (Matt. 8:23-27 NRSV).

Several issues surround this fantastic story of Jesus. One point I question is his ability to sleep in the middle of a storm that was so powerful that water washed over the boat. I think it is safe to say that Jesus was a very heavy sleeper. As this story unfolds, the disciples plead with Jesus to do something. Jesus’ response was one of amazement that the disciples still didn’t get it. They did not understand that Jesus was the Son of God. The disciples’ response to this miracle is evidence that they had no idea that they were in the presence of the Son of God.

The disciples had witnessed many other miracles before this miracle. Why did they still question Jesus? Why didn’t they simply believe? They met the living God face to face but still doubted. What amazes me is that, despite witnessing this miracle, there would be doubt and actual denial.

I am, sad to say that I am a lot like the disciples. I have experienced the presence of God in my life. I have witnessed his works as I move towards ordination. I have seen him heal my soul and me, who once was spiritually blind, now see. Why do I still continue to doubt?

Although Jesus questioned the faith of the disciples, there is a positive about what the disciples did. They acknowledged and went to the one who could calm the storm. The story does not say, though it implies, that the disciples had no idea how Jesus would help. The only thing they knew was that he was their source of comfort. They knew that he was the one to run to for answers. They, in their doubts, had no idea what Jesus would do or say to help get them out of a bad situation. They simply went to the right place.

This story reflects the fact that storms are racing all around us in our lives. We are flooded with financial issues, day to day worries, and crisis that occur. We only need to turn to that calm presence that is in the boat, so to speak, with us. The God who calms the sea restores and refreshes our souls. He is with us. We must turn to him and ask for His help.

Be Still My Soul
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

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