by Miriam Kauk
This article was first written as a letter to some parents of children with Down Syndrome. I would really rather sit down over a cup of coffee and just open my Bible and talk with someone in person, but obviously that might be very difficult to manage. My theologian husband could write this in a much more straightforward manner, but I’m afraid that I’ll just have to meander through various Bible passages, and attempt to explain how I understand them. I do not pretend that this article is exhaustive on what the Bible says about Down syndrome, but I hope it will provide a starting place for those who want to know what God says on the subject.
Our Mary was born with Down syndrome in November of 1992. I had not had any prenatal testing (intentionally), so we had no previous emotional preparation for our little baby’s condition. The day had been emotionally and physically exhausting. At the end of the day I was alone, finally, and finally had my Bible which my husband had brought from home. He had gone home to our older children. I needed to meet with God. I desperately needed to know what God had to say about Down syndrome. I started flipping around in the Bible. Where in the Bible would I find what I needed? Psalms? Psalms was usually so full of comfort, but it seemed so dry that night. I flipped around some more. I couldn’t recall anything ever in the Bible about this.
So in desperation I went back to where I had left off the day before in my regular daily reading. Exodus. Now, I was sure there would be nothing in Exodus that related to my need that evening. After all, Exodus is all about plagues, and golden calves, and the Ten Commandments. But I had to read somewhere. That evening I started in Exodus chapter four. I only read eleven verses, and I was stunned at what I was reading. There it was, the most definitive passage in the Bible on physical disabilities, and it was waiting for me in my daily reading!
Here’s the situation. Moses is at the burning bush. God wants him to go to Pharaoh, and Moses begins making excuses. “Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently, nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” And the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” Exodus 4:10-12
Here the Lord is taking responsibility for a “disability.” And He claimed to have made it that way on purpose! My Mary was not a genetic “accident.” She was designed that way by God. But the real exciting thing is that God doesn’t see dumbness, or blindness or deafness as a disability at all. He couldn’t see any reason that Moses’ speech impediment should stop him. God promised to not only be with him, but to teach his mouth what to say. Moses’ success in life did not depend on his own skills, but on the God who would be with him.
To apply this to Down syndrome, God made Mary just the way she is, with her Trisomy 21 and all. And He could be saying to her, “Now go, and I, even I will be with your brain and will teach you what you need to understand.” Mary’s success in life does not depend on her own skills, but on the God who will be with her.
Micah 6:8 says, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” There is nothing here that would prevent a person with Down syndrome from being fully a success in God’s eyes. So, my job with Mary, (and with all my children), is not to prepare her to become a “productive member of society”, but to teach her about justice, and kindness, and how to walk humbly with her God.
Does The Bible Say More About Sickness?
The Bible has more to say about sickness, including Down syndrome. I hope this will give you hope that the God of the universe cares about you, and really does want to have a personal relationship with you. If you don’t already know Him, I hope you will understand how to begin a relationship with Him. One of the major issues parents of a child with Down syndrome face was succinctly stated by one mom in a letter to me. She wrote:
“I have had so many people ask me how I can believe that God had his hand on my daughter when she has Down syndrome. If His hand was there, why does she have Down syndrome? Why wouldn’t He have taken it away or not let it be there in the first place? Why would God give a child a disability? Why would God make a child go through all of the turmoil and trials and ridicule they go through from being different?”.
There are two levels of answer to this. First I will discuss why any person has any sickness or disability, and then I will show some passages from the Bible that answer why one particular person had a particular sickness or disability.
Why Does Any Person Have Sickness?
So, why is there sickness in the world? Why does anybody ever get sick? Why would a loving God allow sickness? Why? Because of sin. When God created the world there was no sickness and there was no death. It was His loving plan that the man and woman He created would never be sick, and never die. He gave them just one tiny rule: don’t eat from the fruit of this one tree or you will die. (Genesis chapter 2 and 3) Our first ancestors, Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree, and death entered the world. That death was applied not just to them, but to all of their descendants, (us). “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12
Romans 8 says that this death applies not only to people but to also to all of creation. “Creation was subjected to futility. . .creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption. . . the whole creation groans and suffers. . .” Romans 8:18-22
We are all affected. The moment we are born into the world, we begin to die. The cumulative effects of damaged DNA, toxins in our fallen world, and a host of other things work away on our bodies and we all eventually die. Sickness is the beginning of the process of death. It is caused because we, people, are sinners.
It may not seem fair that I get sick and am going to die because of Adam’s sin, but it didn’t take me long in this life before I had my own sin as well. And that “death penalty” is just as sure for my own sin as it was for Adam’s sin.
The good news of course is that God has not just left us alone to die. In His love, He immediately inaugurated a plan to solve the problem of death that Adam and Eve started. That plan was completed, finally, when God himself became a man and died voluntarily on a cross, to pay the death penalty for us that we each deserved to pay. He then rose from the dead to demonstrate his power over death. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) I deserve death, but God offers me a free gift: eternal life.
When Jesus came, he paid the penalty that I deserved for my sin. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. And more than that, He took in His body the sickness of the world, so that we could eventually be healed forever from sickness. “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed…But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Isaiah 53:5-6
So, the reason that anyone has any sickness is because of the sin that besets us all and even all of creation. Sin has brought sickness and death on the whole world. Yet God has provided forgiveness for our sin, and made his own Son take in his body the penalty for all of our sin and provide eventually for healing of all sickness and an end to all death.
Why This Child With This Disease?
Ok, so we all share in sickness to some extent, and we all share death equally, but it does seem hard that some people have what seems to be more difficult sicknesses or disabilities. Why?
The disciples of Jesus asked this question in John 9:1-3. They pointed out a man born blind, and asked, “Who sinned, the man or his parents?” This is a common response to personal suffering, this thinking that I am somehow being punished by God. If someone is sick, surely they must have done something wrong! There is plenty of evidence of this in Scripture, after all the Bible says we reap what we sow. So did this man sow some sin and therefore reap this blindness?
I corresponded with a mother who had a newborn with Down syndrome. She felt guilty for his Down syndrome. She realized his condition had made her draw immensely closer to God and therefore felt responsible for it. Maybe God had afflicted her son, just to get her attention and get her to draw closer to Him. Maybe it was all her fault. If she had just been more spiritual in the first place, then her son wouldn’t have this sickness.
I pointed out this passage to that mom. Surely the blind man’s mother wasn’t as close as possible to God. Who is? But what did Jesus say was the reason for the blindness? He says that it had nothing to do with either the sin of the man or the sin of the parents. But the man was blind so that everyone could see Jesus heal him! God wanted to be glorified, and so he made the man blind so that the world would know that Jesus had the power to heal. As the now-healed man declared to the Pharisees, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing” (verse 33). What a role in life! To help the world identify the Savior! That’s even worth being blind over.
God wants to be glorified, and some sickness is used by God to glorify Himself by healing the sickness. But sometimes He gets His glory another way. Look at 2 Corinthians chapter 12. Paul tells of an unspecified “thorn in the flesh” that buffets him. He has prayed for healing. Three times he has prayed for healing. Surely God would be glorified by healing him. But this time God wants to show another kind of power. Sure, He can heal. But He can also work through a weak man. And that is His answer to Paul. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. So Paul decides to boast about his weaknesses, just so that folks will see Christ’s power working in him.
This was essentially the same as God’s response to Moses in Exodus 4. If God used a man who was “slow of speech and slow of tongue” to free the Hebrew people from slavery, then everyone would know that it was not Moses’ eloquence that did it, but God’s power!
With Down syndrome, I have never heard of God showing his glory by changing anyone’s chromosomes, though I’m sure He could if He chose to. But He sure is getting glory through recent research into the unique genetics of Trisomy 21. An awful lot of people are taking a close look at biochemistry, who would never have had an interest in it. And it is biochemistry, more than any other branch of science that declares that we are the result of intelligent design rather than chance evolution. The more people look at the incredible complexity of the cell, and the incredible complexity of the various biochemical pathways, the more they will be forced to conclude that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” and give praise to our Maker.
For years God has gotten glory through the simple faith and simple love of those with Down syndrome. And He will get glory as we parents trust Him in our weaknesses, and as we use the so called “tragedy” of Down syndrome to share with others His love and desire to have a relationship with them. One of my responses to Mary’s situation is to be looking for ways to glorify God through it.
The first thing to do is to evaluate your own relationship with God. Do you yet have a relationship with God? Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for sure that if you died today you would go to heaven? You can know for sure.
When Jesus died on the cross it was to bridge the gulf that separates us from God, the gulf caused by our sin, and make a way for us to come to God. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
By trusting in Him to take your sins, and receiving that free gift of eternal life, you come into a relationship with God. And God will begin to change your life in ways that will glorify himself. If you don’t know God, then that is His greatest desire for you, and probably the first result he wants from this child that he has given you.But then the next thing is for you to begin looking for ways to glorify God through the life of your child. This will make life exciting!