Sligo18: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Tuesday 10 July

Dr Ian Dickson from Tio (a network of professionals providing and promoting Christian perspectives on intellectual disability using theology, story and the arts), spoke at #Sligo18 about the importance of “being human” and understanding that each individual is “fearfully and wonderfully made”.  Here’s a summary of his seminar:

To see a human being made in the image of God is to change everything for everyone, everywhere! 

As human beings, we are made by the God who is unmade (Psalm 139:1 - 18)

  • The knowledge of God is complete
  • The presence of God is inescapable
  • The power of God is total

God it holy, immense and other but He is also near to us!  When we think about human beings, we need to have a wise eye as the Christian church on the developments of science and technology. I have a daughter who has Down Syndrome and she has taught me so much about humanity. I feel that I am becoming more human through her influence. 

The way we understand ourselves helps us to treat each other well.  This session is really about that continuing process of making you sense how wonderful you are as a human being.  Around usm the world is changing so rapidly that we need to be careful.  We must retain that sense of God-given humanity!

Made in His image

We made by a God who is unmade (this God did not create Himself, He is eternal) and He made us in His own image.  That is extremely important.  There are only three times when that phrase (made in His image) is used in Genesis 1:26 and 27 and in Genesis 5:1.  Although, there are only three references, there are entire libraries that have been developed by theologians to explain this concept.  Here is a summary of those various views

Rationality - Augustine’s view is what makes us different to animals, is rationality (the ability to reason and to think).  However, in my world, my daughter has a disability - there is something within her mind and being that affects her and the way she learns.   She would not be able to have complicated cognitive purposes.  The question comes, if rationality makes us people, then what about those who have a limited or extremely low cognitive process?  If they have low intelligence are they less than human?  Do they reach a point where they are sub-human?  As a Christian person, I don’t think this is the answer.

Creativity - God creates things out of nothing.  We reflect that creative process.

Dominion - we do have a certain control over the environment but nature also has a power.

Morality - that inner conscience that we don’t learn but is part of our humanness could be part of who we are and how we are made in God’s image.

Relationship - the Trinity is a relationship so we have the ability to relate to one another.  There are generations and we move from one to the next.  Is it in relationship that we best reflect the image of God? That may well be.

Whole person - some people say it is our whole person.

Us together - some say that it is in community together that we are made in the image of God.

As human beings, we are incredibly complex.  I would suggest one thing to take away. That every single person who has lived, now lives and will live, is made in the image of God. That powerful truth needs to be taught continuously. It changes everything for everyone everywhere.  If I see in you a person made in the image of God, the way I treat you, the way I think about you and the way I talk about you... will change.

It should shape our health care, our social policies, the way we look after the elderly... it changes everything we do.  It is not nationality that identifies us, it is our humanness.  If we allow this attitude to enter our faith communities, we will treat each other in a different way.  We are talking about personhood and dignity.  It is so central to the gospel.  Think about how Jesus treated people. 

The Accessible Bible

By creating the accessible Bible, Biblica are honouring those parts of the body that are “indispensible”. It means that we are taking their capacity for spiritual life seriously (not discounting them because of an intellectual disability).   

Don’t be telling me that God deals with my daughter as an infant because she is an innocent.  Everything we know about God is because God has revealed it to us. God surely reaches into the heart of my little girl or your loved one or adults with intellectual disabilities and reveals Himself to them.  You may never be able to explain their spiritual experience but that doesn’t make it less valid.  My daughter may not be able to sign up to a statement of faith and she doesn’t understand penal substitution but she knows and loves Jesus! 

The Accessible Bible is an act of confrontation.  It is really important that we treat everyone as a human being and as things change in society, especially with things like Down Syndrome testing, we must never allow ourselves to be drawn into this idea that it is my usefulness to society that makes me worth something.

We must not lose our sense of uniqueness. Society tends to esteem the successful, the celebrity, the useful and the productive.  We need to confront that with a sense of continuous vulnerability and continuous dependence.  But we began life as being completely dependent and towards the end of our life we might be totally dependent. We need a sense of how mortal and precious we are!  There is a vulnerability within our humanness.  Our relationship with God is dependent and the whole thing about sinfulness is that we declared our independence. When we come to Christ, we re-enter dependence. 

We need to rediscover who we are.  Embracing the totality of the person, the wholeness of a person, as valuable in God’s eyes. We must not be afraid of difference.  In the Christian church of all places, it has an importance.

The psalm says we are “fearfully” and “wonderfully.” The whole idea of fearfully is to “stand in awe” - you are literally awesome as a human being.  It is the same word used in the verse “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  You are outrageously amazing.  Wonderful means more along the lines of being distinct and unique.  God has formed you and you are His masterpiece (Eph 2).  That Ephesian word has the sense of poetry - you God’s beautiful composition.

Don’t get hung up.  Relax into your humanity and allow it to be!

The psalm ends with what people consider a difficult ending after the lofty words of the rest of the passage.  “You murders...  I hate those who hate you...”  It jars a bit but actually it is part of the psalm and part of the story of our humanness.  The movement of this psalm is towards being an open human being.  I am not closed!  The “default set “ is OPEN.

As I have grown older, my theological landscape has grown larger but sadly some people grow narrower.  We have been gifted with the capacity to experience God and so have people with disabilities.  Please bring honour to each person.  Regain a sense of your own importance and pass on to our children and grandchildren a wholesome sense of who they are.  The world will shape them if we don’t!

Find out more about Tio on their website