What if the best possible outcome for our world is to have individuals born imperfect, weak, dependant, with minds which are uncluttered by pretentious intellect?
3 – 21
The twenty-first day of the third month is the day that has been set aside to celebrate Down syndrome worldwide. Down syndrome, also called Trisomy 21, is the diagnosis individuals receive when they are born with extra genetic material on the 21st chromosome.1 The presence of three copies of genetic material on the 21st chromosome, results in particular developmental, physical and sometimes health-related differences (from those in the “typical” population). I know these differences well: God created our daughter Elle with Down syndrome. As I think of her life and look forward to celebrating her 16th birthday on March 24th, the ways in which she is different are easy to call to mind. Elle has low muscle tone, which means that she has had to work harder to learn how to sit, crawl, walk, run, talk, write and tie her shoes (something we are still working on!). Learning is a challenge at times, because God has created her brain to need clear, slow, loving, repetitive instruction. In a culture which likens waiting and languidness to sin, learning for someone like Elle, is often difficult and frustrating. Sickness has also been a familiar visitor – asthma, recurrent colds, sleep apnea and seizures. It is clear that her body is not always strong enough to fight what is going around – she often needs help from others.
MORE SIMILAR THAN IMAGINED
And even as I list these differences I have come to know well, I am reminded of how there are in fact many who can identify with her – it’s not just individuals with Down syndrome who struggle in these ways, is it? Elle is actually more similar to you and I than we might first imagine. From the time she was very little Elle has loved sports: soccer, baseball, basketball, and most of all hockey (she is one Canucks fan who does not falter!). Snuggles with Daddy, family movie nights, funny jokes and being tickled evoke contagious laughter and great joy. Some of Elle’s favourite foods are spaghetti, pizza, homemade cookies and blueberries. She also battles moments of fear and sadness, and like you and I, finds comfort in the truth that God is in control and loves her – truths she is reminded of on the worn pages of her Action Bible.
It is children like Elle, however, who are labelled a genetic mistake, a defect or sub-human, and subsequently deemed unworthy of life. In August of 2017 CBC news aired a story investigating Iceland’s near eradication of Down syndrome. The report reveals that, “since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women—close to 100 percent—who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy”.2 European countries boast similar statistics with 77% of pregnancies indicating Down syndrome being aborted in France, and 98% in Denmark.3 While statistics are not up to date for North America, a study from 2012 reveals that, depending on the particular demographic responding, 61-93% of pregnant women aborted their babies when receiving the diagnosis of Down syndrome from a prenatal screening.4 These statistics, while devastating on their own, merely point to a more prolific darkness which threatens to consume our continent, manifesting itself most recently in the allowance of fourth term abortion.5
GOD’S PURPOSE IN WEAKNESS
As I have sought to understand how my daughter, with all her weaknesses and differences was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), known by Him from the beginning of time (Jer 1:5) and fashioned in my womb precisely the way God intended (Psalm 139), I have been faced with the reality that God’s purpose is to use all forms of weakness for His glory (1 Cor 1:19-31, 2 Cor 12:9-10). Is it possible that the world has gotten it wrong? That the healthy, independent, intelligent, physically and emotionally strong of the world are not more valuable or more human than those who lack these qualities? We must consider the significance of Jesus’s words:
‘So the last will be first, and the first last’… But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:16, 25-28).
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (John 9:1-5).
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; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ (1 Cor 1:27-31).
But even the hairs of your head are all numbered [and the chromosomes in your body]. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt 10:30-31).
How vexingly hard is it for us “typical” individuals to live with hearts which earnestly seek humility! How natural and beautiful it is to see humility effortlessly lived out in my daughter with Down syndrome. Is it possible that God is revealing some aspect of growth in Christ-likeness through individuals who have special needs? Elle must diligently work to develop physically, she needs time, love and repetition to learn, and she needs help in the midst of her weaknesses. Consider how God instructs those who are in the process of being sanctified: work hard (Prov 13:4, 14:23, Phil 2:12), rely on His strength (Phil 4:13), be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19), love others (John 15:12-13, Matt 22:39), be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient (Col 3:12), seeking help from others in the body of Christ (Heb 3:12-14), depending solely on the One who is our Saviour (John 15:4-5, Matt 6:25-34, Prov 3:5-6).
Therefore, I ask again, what if the best possible outcome for our world is to have individuals born imperfect, weak, dependant, with minds which are uncluttered by pretentious intellect? What if, children like Elle are God’s perfect gift to a world that is lost…
1There are also rare forms of Down syndrome called mosaicism and translocation.
2Julia Quinones, Arijeta Lajka, “’What kind of society do you want to live in?’: Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing”, CBSN@ONASSIGNMENT, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/down-syndrome-iceland/ (accessed March 2019).
3Julia Quinones, Arijeta Lajka, “’What kind of society do you want to live in?’: Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing”, CBSN@ONASSIGNMENT, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/down-syndrome-iceland/ (accessed March 2019).
4Jamie L. Natoli, Deborah L. Ackerman, Suzanne McDermott, Janice G. Edwards, “Prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome”, Obstetrics & Gynecology, https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/pd.2910 (accessed March 2019).
5Greg Morse, “Murder by Any Other Name”, desiringGod, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/murder-by-any-other-name (accessed March 2019).
Jodi Adrian currently spends her days counselling with the Biblical Counselling Group, caring for her family, co-leading CG with her husband Pastor Jer, and getting outside any chance she gets!