What If: A reflection on Christian Anthropology

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A question popped up while watching my son from a distance.

“What if Theo doesn’t have ASD?”

Theo was with his big brother, sitting gleefully in one of the multiple units of the slow-moving kiddie train at a mall. He was flapping his hands while swaying his head left to right humming. I could see his lips moving, probably, belting a tune.

I have been in the ‘what if’ stage, following my boy’s Autism Spectrum Disorder prognosis in 2011. What if I did something when I was pregnant that caused him to acquire the disorder? What if I planned the pregnancy well? What if I did better? What if I have been more careful? What if I prayed harder?

My husband and I are past the denial and mourning stage. And while our current reality is neither ideal nor planned, we have learned to love it and celebrate the beauty of learning to be grateful in our little feats: Theo’s very much improved communication skills, his mastering of all his Individualized Education Program (IEP) objectives in mathematics and his superior and high average scores for the number, letter and word skills test in the Kaufman Survey of Early Academic and Language Skills (K-Skills).

I do not think I would find joy in any of this if my son Theo is a typical boy. And I do not think I would be writing this post and make special needs one of my blog themes. My son’s diagnosis has a lot to do with the changes in my life priorities.

The Imago Dei

I remember my firstborn asking me one day, “Mom, why do you think God gave Theo to us? I know kids are gift from God, but it feels like His gift to our family is not working right.”

My firstborn is a natural thinker. Even if he were just 13 months older than his little brother, he would always manage to pull off observations that would send me into careful analysis.

Why would an Imago Dei create a differently abled child? Is disability a part of His image? What does disability accomplish in all His creation? Or does he really have a concept of disability? What if His concept of typical and differently abled is totally different from humans? What if in His version of reality, there is no such concepts?

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I have never seen my son less as a person because of ASD. My grief over the disorder was more about how will other people treat him. I have always seen him created in the image of God and however varied and crazy all the images God created in this world, it is still His image. And I am okay with that. For the meantime, I just wanted to live in this current reality and do something to help other parents impacted by special needs, and as cliché as it sounds, be of help in making the world a better place for them to live.

I haven’t really asked God why. I chose to hold on to His word in Isaiah 61:3, which I've read to my firstborn:

“To console those who mourn in Zion,

To give them beauty for ashes,

The oil of joy for mourning,

The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

That they may be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

 

That’s really enough for me.

 

Humanity as Damaged Imago Dei

The tricky part of accepting humanity as a damaged Imago Dei is in realizing we do not have any other reference to understanding God except for our own experience. And if we are damaged, does that mean our experiences, which are the foundation of our references, damaged too? And if that is the case, is not our understanding of God damaged as well? There is no way I would be able to understand trigonometry and algebra without getting 1+1 = 2 correct first. And so, if humanity is damaged in the first place, is there any other way to understand the Imago Dei?

Something peculiar about my son is that he says it, how he sees it. One day, while I was in my computer table in the living room, I asked him how he was doing.  My son who was in the bedroom playing, replied in a yell-like manner, “making mess, Mom!” And he said it as a matter of fact. He was playing his Superman toys and lego blocks and they were all over the bedroom. If he was a typical boy, he might have said it differently. He might put all his toys in one corner, cover them up and gave me answer like “resting, Mom” or “reading, Mom.”

And somehow, his innocence makes me think about the lost innocence in the Garden of Eden. Would Adam and Eve be like my son if they did not eat the forbidden fruit? Or what if they could have just been honest to God when He was interrogating them rather than playing the blame game? Or what if we are supposed to be like my son in the pre-fall era? What if the damaged humanity are we, the typical ones, and those the damaged humanity regarded as broken are the whole? What it was really like to be in the Garden of Eden? And how it was to be Adam and Eve?

There are a lot of possibilities, but possibilities are not realities. So, for now, I am choosing to live where my family is at: with a firstborn who always asks question and a younger little boy who says it how he sees it and a husband and wife enjoying and learning the crazy, the messy and the high and low of this journey.

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Photo Credit: PostBarthian

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