The disabled God? : a citical analysis of disability theologies

Stanley, John M. (2019-04)

Thesis (MTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The subject of discourse and in question in this thesis is “the disabled God”: What does the image of the disabled God consist of and portray? Issues surrounding disability within the Christian church have been intensely debated of late. Hence, a critical study of the image of the disabled God is needed. Understanding the image of the disabled God may allow people to experience liberation, since the issue of disability seems to subject many disabled persons to a critical levels of marginalisation, segregation, and oppression. Chapter 1 contains the general introduction to the thesis and provides a brief introduction to the subject of discourse. It introduces certain concepts concerning the creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God, and a challenge to the church to ask herself what the image of God is like. It asks whether the church is influenced and follows the dictates of cultural myths and the societal norms within which human beings live. In addition, it asks why those with disabilities are considered not fit for society. Charismatic preachers and motivational teachers often preach messages that are demeaning to vulnerable persons with disabilities, claiming that persons with disability are hindered from experiencing healing because they could either not activate their faith or probably have sin in their lives. These messages are not too far from cultural myths and the societal norms which have crept into the church with messages that portray God as omnipotent, omniscience and omnipresent only, thereby contaminating a sound biblical hermeneutic which also portrays God as vulnerable, weak and disabled, a God who became vulnerable and disabled through Jesus Christ. To portray God as only powerful and perfect, is a subjection and undermining of who God is. God is the creator of all human beings in His own image and likeness, and therefore this is a call to preachers to return to a responsible biblical hermeneutic of Scripture and accurately teach and preach what the image of God consists of and portrays. Chapter 2 is a critical analysis of the image of the disabled God. Nancy Eiesland points to Jesus Christ bearing the wounds of the crucifixion even after His resurrection in His glorified body. She claims that Christ appearing with the pierced hands, feet and side, is the creation of a new humanity, which provides access for those who have been side-lined through marginaliszation and segregation. According to her Christ identified with the vulnerable and disabled when He revealed Himself to His disciples and asked them to touch His hands with wounds. This signifies solidarity with those who have disabilities and the abolition of the physical avoidance of persons with disabilities. This is a call and a challenge to the church and to society to create access for persons with disabilities so that they can be integrated into the church and society at large. Chapter 3 contains a critical analysis of the vulnerable God by Thomas Reynolds, who portrays the disabled God as vulnerable. He emphasises that for Jesus Christ to come into our world, He needed to be vulnerable, portraying Jesus as the icon of God’s vulnerable love. Reynolds does not stop at physical disability; he also considers mental disability. He asserts that all human beings are disabled, claiming that as people get older, and everyone’s disability is revealed. Therefore, he challenges medical and societal models that want to fix persons with disabilities before they can be considered “fit for use”. In this regard, he refers to the “cult of normalcy”. Reynolds claims that every human is a gift in their capacity to the other. Therefore, there is the need to open up and welcome the other. Reynolds emphasises that the image of God characterises creativity, availability, and relationality, and this image surpasses what our culture, society and even church focus on. Chapter 4 provides a critical analysis of the narrative of Shane Clifton’s life experience of profound disability due to an accident, which resulted in spinal cord injury (SCI) and left him with (mostly) no sensation from his neck downward. He was frustrated with his new life of disability even though he did not wish for death as a better option, so he embarked on a search for happiness with his condition of SCI. He had to devise a means by which he could experience happiness with SCI. Clifton declares that whether a person flourishes does not depend on a state of perfect health and on having an able body. Therefore, he turned to virtue ethics, knowing that he is created in the image of God, and knowing that God can help him to live his life with a profound disability and yet flourish. Chapter 5 draws some conclusions, provides summaries of the preceding chapters and proposes two models regarding disability and human flourishing, namely (i) reconciliation of disability with human flourishing and (ii) reconstruction of disability and human flourishing. The image of the disabled God remains a challenge to the church, charismatic preachers and motivational speakers. Overcoming this challenge requires a deliberate return to a responsible biblical hermeneutic teaching of the Word of God, through which the elusive category of the image of the disabled God is made known and through which will be discovered that the image of God is inclusive of all human beings whether abled or disabled. God came not in power to vanquish, but in weakness to help human beings in their profound state of weakness and need.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die diskoersonderwerp en -oorweging van hierdie tesis is "die gestremde God": Waaruit bestaan die beeld van die gestremde God en wat word daardeur uitgebeeld? Daar word die afgelope tyd intens in die Christelike kerk gedebatteer oor kwessies rakende gestremdheid. Daarom is daar ‘n behoefte aan 'n kritiese studie oor die beeld van die gestremde God. Begrip van die beeld van die gestremde God mag vir mense bevrydend wees, want gestremdheid onderwerp gestremde mense klaarblyklik aan kritieke vlakke van marginalisering, segregasie en onderdrukking. Hoofstuk 1 bevat die algemene inleiding tot die tesis en gee 'n kort inleiding tot die onderwerp van diskoers. Dit stel sekere konsepte oor die skepping van mense na die beeld en gelykenis van God, bekend, en bevat 'n uitdaging aan die kerk om haarself af te vra hoe die beeld van God lyk. Dit vra of die kerk beïnvloed word deur en die diktee volg van kulturele mites en die samelewingsnorme waarbinne mense leef. Daarbenewens vra dit waarom diegene met gestremdhede as ongeskik vir die samelewing beskou word. Charismatiese predikers en motiveringsprekers preek dikwels boodskappe wat kwesbare persone met gestremdhede verkleineer; die predikers en sprekers beweer dat die rede waarom gestremde mense nie genesing ervaar nie, is omdat hulle óf nie hul geloof kon aktiveer nie óf waarskynlik sonde in hul lewens het. Hierdie boodskappe is nie te ver van die kulturele mites en die samelewingsnorme wat die kerk ingesluip het met boodskappe wat God slegs as almagtig, alwetend en alomteenwoordigend uitbeeld nie. Dit kontamineer 'n gesonde Bybelse hermeneutiek wat God as swak en gestremd uitbeeld – 'n God wat kwesbaar en gestremd geword het deur Jesus Christus. Om God as slegs magtig en perfek uit te beeld, is 'n onderwerping en ondermyning van wie God is. God is die Skepper van alle mense en Hy het alle mense geskape na sy eie beeld en gelykenis. Dit is daarom 'n oproep vir die prediker om terug te keer na 'n verantwoordelike Bybelse hermeneutiek van die Skrif en om akkuraat te wees wanneer daar gepreek en onderrig word oor die beeld van God, waaruit dit bestaan en wat dit uitbeeld. Hoofstuk 2 is 'n kritiese analise van die beeld van die gestremde God. Nancy Eiesland beklemtoon dat Jesus Christus die wonde van die kruisiging selfs ná sy opstanding in sy verheerlikte liggaam dra. Sy beweer dat Christus se verskyning met deurboorde hande, voete en sy, die skepping van die nuwe mensdom is, wat toegang verleen aan diegene wat opsy geskuif is deur marginalisering en segregasie. Volgens haar het Christus homself met die swakkes in swakheid en met gestremdhede geïdentifiseer toe Hy Homself aan Sy dissipels openbaar het en vir hulle gevra het om aan Sy gewonde hande te raak. Dit simboliseer solidariteit met diegene wat gestremdhede het en die afskaffing van fisiese vermyding van persone met gestremdhede. Dit is 'n oproep tot en 'n uitdaging aan die kerk en aan die samelewing om toegang vir persone met gestremdhede te skep sodat hulle in die kerk en in die groter samelewing geïntegreer kan word. Hoofstuk 3 bevat 'n kritiese analise van die kwesbare God deur Thomas Reynolds, wat die gestremde God as kwesbaar uitbeeld. Hy beklemtoon dat dit weens Jesus Christus se kwesbaarheid is, dat Hy ons wêreld kon betree, en beeld sodoende Jesus uit as die ikoon van God se kwesbare liefde. Reynolds verwys nie net na fisiese gestremdheid nie, maar sluit ook verstandelike gestremdheid in. Hy beweer dat alle mense gestremd is – dat wanneer mense ouer word, word hul gestremdheid. Daarom staan hy krities teenoor die mediese en samelewingsmodelle wat mense met gestremdhede wil regmaak voordat hulle as “geskik vir gebruik” beskou kan word. Hy verwys in hierdie verband na die "kultus van normaliteit". Reynolds beweer dat elke mens 'n geskenk in hul kapasiteit aan andere is. Daarom is dit nodig om oop vir die ander te wees, die ander te verwelkom. Reynolds beklemtoon dat die beeld van God kreatiwiteit, beskikbaarheid en relasionaliteit karakteriseer, en hierdie beeld verder strek as dit waarop ons kultuur, samelewing en selfs kerk fokus. Hoofstuk 4 bevat 'n kritiese analise van die vertelling van Shane Clifton se lewenservaring van uitermatige gestremdheid as gevolg van 'n ongeluk wat tot spinale kolom-besering (SKB) gelei het en hom met (meestal) geen gevoel van sy nek af onder toe gelaat het. Hy was gefrustreerd met sy nuwe lewe van gestremdheid, alhoewel hy nie die dood as 'n beter opsie beskou het nie, en daarom het hy ‘n soeke na geluk met sy toestand van SKB begin. Hy moes 'n manier bedink waarop hy blydskap kan ervaar selfs met SKB. Volgens Clifton is ‘n mens nie afhanklik van perfekte gesondheid of ‘n ongestremde liggaam om te floreer nie. Daarom het hy hom tot deugde-etiek gewend, wetende dat hy na die beeld van God geskape is en dat God hom kan help om sy lewe met uitermatige gestremdheid te lei en steeds te floreer. Hoofstuk 5 maak gevolgtrekkings oor en gee opsommings van die voorafgaande hoofstukke en stel twee modelle rakende gestremdheid en menslike florering voor, naamlik (i) versoening van gestremdheid met menslike florering en (ii) rekonstruksie van gestremdheid en menslike florering. Die beeld van die gestremde God bly 'n uitdaging vir die kerk, charismatiese predikers en motiveringsprekers. Om hierdie uitdaging te oorkom, vereis 'n doelbewuste terugkeer na 'n verantwoordelike Bybelse hermeneutiese onderrig van die Woord van God, waardeur die ontwykende kategorie van die beeld van die gestremde God bekend gemaak word en waardeur ontdek sal word dat die beeld van God alle mense insluitend, gestremd of nie. Want Hy het nie met mag gekom om te onderdruk nie, Hy het in swakheid gekom om mense te help in hul diepgaande swakheid en nood.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/105927
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