Don’t Fight the Spectrum

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

I mentioned yesterday that my mother’s 99th birthday had come and gone. On the day itself, we hosted a party for 46 people at our house. I think the fire marshal might have been circling the block and considering an intervention.

The oldest guest was, not shockingly, the birthday girl herself. The youngest was my four-month-old granddaughter. In between, however was a young man on whom I’d like to camp out for a while: “Lewis,” one of my nephews.

Lewis is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Now a teenager, he didn’t speak until just a few years ago. He’s generally good natured–as good natured as kids his age will normally be. If you ever wanted somebody to make sure all the doors in your house were closed, Lewis is your guy.

I’ve heard people wonder why this boy would have this condition, when his siblings show no autistic tendencies. Some wonder why God would make such a “mistake.” They won’t get an answer, but they’ll find the topic taken up in Ecclesiastes:

Consider the work of God,
for who can straighten out
what he has made crooked?
 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that no one can discover anything that will come after him.

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

Renovating God’s Blunders?

What did Koheleth have in mind when he spoke of the work of God that “he has made crooked”? I suppose that it could be referring to things like mountains and rivers. Although humans have shown great ingenuity in overcoming some of the challenges of topography, the great rivers still go where they want to go and the mountains show no sign of surrendering.

But I’m inclined to see in these crooked works the things like cancer and mental illness and deafness and, yes, autism. Despite the best efforts of various doctors, cancer still takes down many people. While medicines can help, the bipolar person remains distinct. Although the deaf might protest that they are different rather than deficient, they still cannot hear a bird sing or an orchestra play. People can diminish these bits of crookedness, but they cannot overcome them.

Are these works of God blunders? Is my cousin with cancer being afflicted by either God’s carelessness or His malice? Is Lewis a giant mess-up? What pretentiousness we have if we claim to understand matters better than God. Sometimes, like in the case of my cousin’s cancer, the problem may lie with people. In his case, Agent Orange from Vietnam might be the culprit. There might be a human actor behind Lewis’ situation as well. Or maybe these are just things that God has caused or allowed to happen for reasons we’ll never understand.

Getting in Tune

“If there’s a loving God, why is there so much evil in the world?” That question is an exceptionally tired refuge of skeptics. Think about it. If there is a God who could create and control the enormity of the universe, would you expect that all His ways would be comprehensible to you?

We cannot put straight what God has made or allowed to be made crooked. We cannot magically pluck Lewis off the spectrum, and that’s okay. Our calling is not to utterly fix this broken world. Our calling is to do what we can with what we have, to be joyful with the good and thoughtful about the bad.

That’s why, even though I have never had a meaningful conversation with him, I will always have a place in my heart and my home for Lewis. God made Lewis. That’s enough for me.

A Blessing for Most?–Mark 1:34

and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

As I write this, I’m watching students take a final exam. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of things duller than watching people take exams. Exam day, coming at the end of the semester, as the burden of studies is lifted from their backs, should be a day of great relief and happiness. For many of them it is, but for some–for example, the young man seated just to my right–it’s a day of excuses and worries. In the class testing right now, many of them have done brilliantly. Another significant group has performed solidly. They’re not literature types, which is fine, but they’ve studied hard, gritted their teeth, and written the papers. They hand in their exams fairly confident of a B. That’s not too bad.

I’d love to come in to an exam and say, “You’ve all done great. Just answer these questions and you’ll be happy with the outcome.” All I can say, though, is “Many of you have done great.” Hearing that “many,” the young man to my right would be thinking, “Yeah, many but not me.”

This student has made his own situation. To his credit, he owns that situation. But what about the people who came to the door in search of Jesus in Mark 1:34. Those “many” with sicknesses or possessed by demons. Do you notice that Jesus apparently didn’t heal all of them. Had he healed them all, my guess is that the text would say that he healed “all.” In fact, back in Mark 1:5, we read that “all the land went out to him.” Surely that doesn’t mean that absolutely every man, woman, and child in the land came out, leaving nobody back home. If Mark says “all” when he means “a whole lot,” wouldn’t he say “all” when he meant “all”?

Why did Jesus not heal “all” of the people who came to the door? What did those people think? We can’t really answer these questions, but they make good fodder for winter-night discussions. The best answer I can answer is essentially the one that Job received: “He’s God and he doesn’t have to answer to the likes of us.”

Blessings seem to come to people who don’t deserve them, while bad stuff falls on some marvelous homes. Why? I don’t know. Why is my family so healthy, while others seem to endure a parade of illness? Why does God seem to bless “many” of his most loyal followers but not “all”?

Mark offers no answers here, nor does he record any answer from Jesus. In fact, Jesus never seems to acknowledge the question. Apparently, this apparent “unfairness” is just the way that life goes. Perhaps there’s a divine logic that we cannot perceive, but perhaps it’s just life.

What I do know is that our call is not to decide who is saved and who is not, who is healed and who remains ill, who is blessed and who is not blessed. Our call is to respond to Jesus without question. I’ll trust him to work out the details properly.