I’m reading a wonderful biography by Eric Metaxas of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and pastor who stood against so much evil in Nazi Germany. God gave him the ability to see things that others simply could not, and it frequently put him in the middle of danger.
Metaxas points out that, though well educated and part of an influential, wealthy family, Bonhoeffer could see the needs of the poor, the powerless, and those with disabilities.
When he went to Bethel with his friend, Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, he was introduced to the Bethel community in Biesenthal. This community, started by Bodelschwingh’s father, served hundreds of people with disabilities. Metaxas describes it as ‘the antithesis of the Nietzchean worldview that exalted power and strength. It was the gospel made visible, a fairy-tale landscape of grace, where the weak and helpless were cared for in a palpably Christian atmosphere’ (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 184).
It moved Bonhoeffer to a deeper understanding of God’s purposes through and God’s care for people with disabilities (emphases in bold are mine):
Bonhoeffer attended services and wrote his grandmother about the people with epilepsy: their “condition of being actually defenseless may perhaps reveal to these people certain actualities of our human existence, in which we are in fact basically defenseless, more clearly than can ever be possible for us who are healthy.” But even in 1933, the anti-gospel of Hitler was moving toward the legal murder of these people who, like the Jews, were categorized as unfit, as a drain on Germany. The terms increasingly used to describe these people with disabilities were useless eaters and life unworthy of life. When the war came in 1939, their extermination would begin in earnest. From Bethel, Bonhoeffer wrote his grandmother: “It is sheer madness, as some believe today, that the sick can or ought to be legally eliminated. It is virtually the same as building a tower of Babel, and is bound to avenge itself.” (Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 184)
We live in that sheer madness again today. May God be pleased to raise up more leaders, preachers and theologians who see it, name it and act against it.