Special Needs Children and Theology

BeaversI was at the Oregon State vs. Indiana game for the College World Series last night. It was a classic pitchers’ duel, both guys throwing complete games and the final score 1-0. OSU prevailed. Go Beavs!

I was sitting next to a man with a little boy, maybe four years old. I am not a trained diagnostician, but I would guess the boy was autistic at some level or had some other similar condition. He was very active and talkative, although he was not paying attention to the game in any way and was unable to sit still. After a time, the father apparently did something, and the boy began to scream. He screamed at the top of his lungs for about five minutes, barely pausing for breath. The father held him tight and tried to calm him, for which he received many blows to the face from the little boy. Finally the father picked him up and left, and I heard the screaming all the way to the top of the stadium steps.

I had mixed feelings about all of this. On one level, it was upsetting for me because I was unable to pay attention to the game I had come to watch during this episode, as were about 100 other fans. I did not know if this was a first “try” with the boy to see if he could manage such a setting, if it were a particularly bad day, or if this happened often. My selfish nature wished he had not brought the boy to the ballpark. On another level, this was upsetting in the sense that I felt entirely useless and helpless. I wanted to help. I felt badly for both the boy and his father. The boy seemed consumed with unquenchable, implacable anger. The father was being patient, but was obviously embarrassed and frustrated. When my son was that age, we enjoyed many trips to the Kingdome in Seattle to watch the Mariners. I thought, why shouldn’t this man be able to do this with his son?

This reminded me of a horrible news story from a couple of weeks ago about the mother and godmother of a 14-year old boy with severe autism. They had murdered the teenager and then taken pills to commit suicide themselves. They felt trapped with no other way out. I cannot condone murder, but I am also at a loss to give a good solution to this. There seem to be no good solutions.

The theological aspect of this does not escape me. Why would our loving God allow such suffering? Surely God takes no joy in these situations. All the answers that suggest these are testings that make us stronger seem to be inadequate in the case of the murdered teenager. Did his mother just fail the test?

Why would our loving God allow such suffering? I have an answer that does not satisfy me much, and will probably not satisfy you: I don’t know. I just don’t know. But, having said that, I do not doubt God’s loving nature and his love for me personally. Theologically, the willingness of God to sacrifice his only Son for our/my sins is unquestionable evidence of his mighty love. God loves the autistic boy. God loves the father of the autistic boy. And I must love them, too. Maybe I can’t help much in specific situations, but they deserve neither my anger nor my impatience. They deserve my love. I’m not God, but maybe I can act as God would, even when it is very hard. I’m working on it.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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5 thoughts on “Special Needs Children and Theology

  1. Theologically, I couldn’t agree with you more, Mark. I think “I don’t know” is the best answer to uncountable questions about God, His goodness, the nature of His love, and pretty much everything we as humans want to answer. But I’ve come to realize that, for me, the majority of the beauty of GOD is not in the minutiae of what He chooses to reveal to us about Himself, but rather in the mysteries and paradoxes and conundrums of His ways. Perhaps the experience of the young autistic boy and his father were a host of personal lessons for every person whom it affected; apparently it served as such for you. Or on a different level, maybe it was a Divinely placed metaphor about a Father and His inconsolable, overwhelmed, “spiritually autistic” children who lack the ability to even recognize—let alone communicate—our needs adequately and effectively, thus screaming and fighting against what we don’t understand.
    Very often, I believe, It is good for us to not know; otherwise, why would we need trust?

    • I couldn’t agree more, Jenn. It does remind of Jesus looking on the masses and not being disgusted, but having compassion. I wish I had his healing power sometimes.

  2. Being a parent that has an autistic child in full meltdown mode at times, it is nice to hear you be open an honest with “I don’t know”. Parents of special needs children need to hear honesty, NOT well-meaning advice wrapped in ignorance. It is a sense of mourning when you realize that your child will not be typical, and that many fond memories we had has children will not be shared with them because it is not within their capabilities. We build new memories within their structured world and celelbrate each little victory. I do praise God at what he teaches me each day about my son, and being a loving parent. It gives me hope that even when we have spiritual special needs, he is loving, gracious, and merciful. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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