What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. Ecclesiastes 1:9-10
I sometimes live with the romantic notion that things were better before. Surely the horror of millions of babies being aborted is a new thing. Surely people before our time were different.
The Bible, of course, dispels that notion. The horrors committed against children go back thousands of years:
Because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind. . . Jeremiah 19:4b-5
Bright Valley of Love reminded me that specific kinds of evil thoughts about and actions against people with disabilities are also not new. And sometimes those thoughts come from the closest of relatives:
But this grandchild of hers who ought to be gathering the deadwood, emptying the slop pail in the gutter below, and carrying out the ashes for her – this brat was not worth one dry twig or a bucket of potato peelings and rotten cabbage leaves! He was human junk, that’s what he was, that’s all he was. (Hong, p.14)
Is that statement so different from this one, from Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics published in 1993?
At present parents can choose to keep or destroy their disabled offspring only if the disability happens to be detected during pregnancy. There is no logical basis for restricting parents’ choice to these particular disabilities. If disabled newborn infants were not regarded as having a right to life until, say, a week or a month after birth it would allow parents, in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greater knowledge of the infant’s condition than is possible before birth.
That’s a polite way of saying, ‘this baby born with a disability was human junk, that’s what he was, that’s all he was.’ But obviously there is more for Dr. Singer – we should just get rid of children like that.
Yet, as cruel as that statement was by the grandmother, her behavior at least acknowledged something about her responsibilities to another human being, in this case her disabled grandchild:
To the grandmother’s credit, it must be said that she dutifully spoon-fed the little cripple in the back room, dutifully lifted him on the potty-chair every morning and evening. (Hong, p. 16)
And because his minimal needs were being met, eventually this boy would be part of a community of believers who behaved very differently toward him, recognizing his inherent, God-given, image-bearing dignity.
Bright Valley of Love is a wonderful, hope-filled story, but it does not begin that way. The opening chapter, “Nothing but a nothing,” is hard and bitter and biting. The jarring, offensive language sprinkled throughout – like ‘the little cripple’ – contrasts significantly with the God-honoring behavior of the leaders at Bethel he would eventually meet.
The contrast is a good one. The beauty he experiences is so much more obvious and glorious, and certainly not taken for granted, when compared to the darkness of Gunther’s early years.
And that is why we should talk openly about all that our children with disabilities mean to us, the things that are difficult and those that bring joy. Yes, disability is hard. I am doing things I never dreamed I would be doing, and I will be doing those things for him for as long as God gives me strength and breath.
And in those moments I see God is extraordinary in his beauty and provision and sovereignty – in ways I would have never seen or experienced but for my boy’s disabilities and my wife’s cancer. I understand what Paul meant when he wrote, ‘as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’
Tomorrow, an even darker reality then and today.