In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Disability, Service, and Stewardship,” I write, “Our service of others may or may not be recognized by the marketplace as something valuable or worth paying for. But each one of us has something to offer someone else. All of us have ministries of one kind or another. Our very existence itself must be seen as a blessing from God.”
During a sermon a couple weeks ago at my church, the preacher made an important point about common attitudes toward old people (to listen, click the “Launch Media Player” here and listen to Rev. David Kolls’s message, “Following God Through Transitions” from July 28, 2013). In the same way that we often view those with visible disabilities as passive objects of pity, we often think of those who have reached a certain age as having nothing to offer. This is simply wrong-headed.
We all are important to God. “God don’t make no junk,” as the saying on the T-shirt reads. This isn’t to deny the reality of brokenness and sin. But in the face of these evils, God still affirms and preserves his creation. Life itself is a blessing from God, and mere existence is proof enough that God values people and has purposes for us. Every one.
The preacher passed along his experiences of being witnessed to during visits to elderly congregants, how their testimonies of faith humbled and inspired him. No matter our age or infirmity, we can worship God. We have that to offer him, and that is enough to show the value of a life of discipleship.
Likewise, we have ministries of prayer that we can offer, interceding on one another’s behalf. Rather than devaluing prayer in relation to work, as we are wont to do, C.S. Lewis observes that “prayers are not always — in the crude, factual sense of the word — ‘granted’. This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality, but because it is a stronger kind.” We should, therefore, hold ministries of prayer in higher respect.
Yesterday Joe Sunde pointed to the example of Matthew Horst, who works at Costco. As Matthew’s brother Chris puts it, “For his entire life, Matthew has been classified and known by his ‘special needs’. Since the day he began at Costco, however, his coworkers and customers have valued him because of his unique strengths.” Read the whole thing.
If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that there is much in our personal attitudes that belies this reality of the inherent dignity and value of all people, regardless of ability or disability, health or infirmity. We see it in our public policy related to disability insurance, as I assert in today’s piece, but also in our practices, from something as mundane as hiring (and firing) and as significant as giving birth (and euthanasia). Consider, for instance, the implications for a society in which “a large proportion of unborn children diagnosed with disabilities are aborted before they ever have a chance to live out their lives.”
The “market value” of our contributions, even where they are undervalued and underappreciated, does not exhaust our individual significance. As a colleague reminded me recently, our very existence should be seen as a blessing to others, regardless of whether or not we can readily identify or commodify the productive value of our work. Disability itself witnesses to this basic truth, as evils or defects are dependent on more basic goods. As Augustine put it, “Good that is without any evil is wholly good, while good that has evil in it is a contaminated or corrupt good. Nor can there ever be any evil where there is no good.” There can be no disability, defect, or corruption without the more basic good of existence itself.