A new friend asked a difficult question recently, and I thought I would invite others to respond, especially those who have thought more about this topic or have more experience than I have.
Here is the question:
Our oldest boy is unsure of the existence of God, as an autistic person. How do his daddy and I show him and teach the wonders of a perfect God that he can’t feel, see etc? His ability to think abstractly is remote to nonexistent. . . However, when looking for indications of Patch’s heart being affected by the Holy Spirit we know that it isn’t going to look the same as it will for his brother who is not autistic. Is this one of those moments of blind trust in God for us where we have to accept that there may be no external emotional evidence of God working in Patch’s life?
Any help would be so appreciated even if it is us that need redirecting?
So, under the flag that we fly of God’s sovereignty over all things, how would you respond to Sue? Are there resources you could recommend?
Here’s my attempt. And to steal from Mark Twain, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time to make it shorter.”
I am struck again by how different our lives are, even when we sometimes share a characteristic like autism in our children. My son is so significantly impacted by his combination of things, I simply don’t even think about his response or lack of response to things.
So, I don’t have an answer to the question of ‘how.’ But I know that God is faithful, always, to supply every need (Philippians 4:19). He has called you to parent in the strength he provides, no matter how your boy responds. I know that for all four of my children, only God can make them alive to him; I cannot do that work for them. Paul is exactly like my other three – entirely dependent on God for his future, though he doesn’t think at all about his future.
In one sense, then, it is a ‘blind trust’ that God will provide for me and for you as parents of these very different boys. But on the other hand, God has provided so much evidence of his power and mercy that even though I don’t know the specifics of his plan for me and my boy, I know he has one.
And his word is very helpful to me:
1) God is sovereign over all his creation, and always has been.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. John 1:1-3
This familiar passage is speaking of Jesus. I love that we are given this specific picture of a Jesus who knew and knows everything. With this perfect knowledge, Jesus would take the wrath that I deserve – amazing! He created my Paul and your Patch just as he intended, and both boys exist to bring him glory.
2) God revealed his sovereignty over his creation of our children.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:15-16
I take comfort that God wanted us to know he wasn’t just letting natural processes work themselves out as our children were being ‘knit together’ (Psalm 139:13); he is actively guiding everything toward the days that he has already authored.
3) God specifically staked his claim of authority over children he created with disabilities.
Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Exodus 4:11
Here God claims authority, without embarrassment or feeling like he’s opening himself up to judgment, over making some to be different because of disability. This goes well beyond God having foreknowledge and letting things happen; this is a demonstration of intentionality, power and authority.
4) God will judge his creation according to what can be known.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20
As Bethlehem has affirmed in its Elder Affirmation of Faith:
Therefore we do not believe that there is salvation through any other means than through receiving the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, except that infants and severely retarded persons with minds physically incapable of comprehending the gospel may be saved.
Though the specific statement here is on severe mental retardation, I believe it is possible there are other disabling conditions that could prevent the comprehension of the gospel. I offer that very hesitantly – I do not want the word ‘comprehending’ to lose all meaning.
Autism is a very strange thing. But God knows exactly what Patch can comprehend, and created him that way for his glory. We can be confident God will judge rightly those he has created.
5) A disabling condition is no hindrance to God.
And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. Luke 7:22
Patch may be physically unable to comprehend the gospel or demonstrate any sort of affection for the gospel. And God knows how to make Patch alive to him.
6) God always judges rightly.
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:14-16
7) God always works all things for our good, if we are in Christ.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
It may be, Sue, that you will live your entire life without any evidence of Patch comprehending God. But God has promised to help you, and he has called you to himself when you did not deserve it. He knew Patch’s days before anything was created and he loves your Patch and my Paul infinitely more than we do.
Someday, three of my four children will be launched into adulthood, Lord willing. My oldest will live with me as long as I am able to care for him – I hope that God gives me decades more with him. And someday we will, like the Apostle Paul, note these decades of care of our children with disabilities were very short when compared to eternity:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
I am also grateful that Paul wrote “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The sorrow is real. The rejoicing is real. And God is very good.
I pray something in here is helpful. And I hope others respond as well.