What does holiness look like?

Does the church really believe in the holiness of people with disabilities? Some people believe the church should do good things for the poor. but do we believe in their holiness?

These questions from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, challenge me.

In my ministerial formation class last year, I shared with my group that I’d been wrestling for some time with the question of who sets the norm for faith. Do people that our society calls “normal” — people whose bodies and minds function in ways we recognize as proper — serve as the standard when we ask questions about holiness and salvation?

If so, the we need to come up with adjustments and accommodations to deal with people whose bodies and minds do not work in “normal” ways. We say things like: “Well, to be saved, you have to repent and pray to Jesus for forgiveness, but Joey does not have the IQ to understand that, so God makes an exception.”

Is that the right way to understand it?

Or is it perhaps the case that the mentally disabled or impaired are the norm of spiritual life and relationship with God, and we “normal” people complicate and confuse things? Like the people of Israel who demanded a king, when they already had God, we demand a system of complex ideas to give our big brains something to do other than seek communion with God and neighbor. God obliges us, just as he obliged Israel by giving them king Saul.

I’m not sure these thoughts really get at the questions raised by Vanier. I do find the questions provocative. Do we believe in the holiness of people with disabilities? What do we mean by holiness when we ask this question?

Here is how Vanier’s quote at the beginning of this post ends:

I get upset when people tell me, “You’re doing a good job.” I’m not interested in doing a good job. I am interested in an ecclesial vision for community and in living in gospel-based community with people with disabilities. We are brothers and sisters together, and Jesus is calling us from a pyramidal society to become a body.

What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “What does holiness look like?

  1. The first way I approach the question of disabilities such as you have described as an issue of living in our fallen world….and the first and foremost requirement on the part of us “normal” Christians is to choose to walk by faith. That sounds very trite and over-simplified for parents or Churches who are desperately searching for answers, but for the believer, it truly is the only answer. In fact, for the believer the HOPE of God’s GRACE through FAITH is the one true and only foundation we can stand on.
    It requires the whole Church body to participate. The “one another” commands are a great resource in time of need (1 Corinthians 12:25….”that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” Galatians 6:22…. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:11…Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Peter 3:8….Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Beautiful to read and absorb these Scriptures.
    Tragically we live in a fallen world and the infirmity of the flesh can manifest itself in devastating ways. It is God’s amazing grace alone that overcomes the sad realities of a world tainted by sin. Indeed, one wonders how those who are not believers cope with these issues without the grace of God in their lives.
    So the believer responds with faith and puts that faith into action. We enlist family, the church family, and every other resource available to help. We ask others to pray for us and help us through this time, all the while understanding that NONE of this is out of God’s control.
    We can ask, “Why my child, Lord?” and “Why would a loving God allow this?” That is normal and natural and the answer is that God uses the details of this earthly life to demonstrate His provisions and grace and, ultimately, to glorify Himself. As believers, we are given a higher calling and a greater resource (1 Corinthians 1:26-30… For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; …}
    The Apostle Paul declares that God displays His might and power through men and there is no unrighteousness in His purpose (Romans 9:14-23….. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For …)
    What more may be said?……other than we are to stand in Faith….and leave the rest in God’s hands. Thank you Father…. .

  2. It has long seemed to me that with the thread all the way through the Scriptures of the last eventually being first, of the poor being lifted up, that we do indeed need to rethink the nature of the way we describe the process of salvation and the way many define who gets into the Kingdom and who gets left out. I agree: those without the mental capacity to engage in repentance and confession may actually be the one who set the bar for the rest of us: for they receive what is given without needing to analyze the hope of grace out of it.

  3. Oh the many ways we try to put God in a box that is comfortable for us! When I first came to Christ, I was an adult attending the church I grew up in, a church I walked a way from and came back in hopes that God may be able to transform my life from misery I felt every day after having been in a head-on that had me pinned in the car for an hour and a half and my mom dying just 6 weeks later from cancer. In that church, we had what was a nuisance to many and a joy to me and others. A long time member husband and wife faithful to Christ and this church had a young adult son who was profoundly mentally disabled and blind. David would go in to fits of groaning and grunts at what seemed to me to be very appropriate worship moments. I had the sense that he was praising God in ways us “normal” folks will never understand. The Bible says the grass of the field and the trees of the forest sing praises to God. Do we hear that? And yet it is indeed fact. How many times does the Lord say in the torah “I am the Lord, who makes you holy” The reason why Leviticus is my favorite book of the OT is specifically because it talks about what is holy in ways no other part of the Bible expresses. That’s my 2¢ anyhow.

    1. Thank you for sharing. You inspire me to go read Leviticus again more carefully.

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