This week's question comes from a support group for parents with challenged children in Oceanside, California. They ask, "Why are our children challenged?"
The foundation of this question is really why do difficult or unpleasant things happen? It's a question people have been asking since the time of creation.
In the distant past, and probably not so distant past, there was a notion that if something went awry it was because someone had done something wrong -- that sinners were cursed by God. Yet, scripture doesn't particularly support that notion. When Jesus speaks of God's love for creation, even evil-doers, he says, "For God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5.45). Thus we see God's more interested in blessing, not in cursing. On another occasion, the disciples came upon a man who was born blind. The assumption of that day was this man had been cursed by God with blindness because of some sin committed by his parents or for some sin the man himself committed while he was still in the womb. But Jesus dispels their assumptions by assuring them, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned" (John 9.3a).
God is not in the cursing business, but in blessing.
Others have contended that when difficulty comes along it's because God is "testing" us. This comes from a single verse in 1st Corinthians that reads, "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10.13). The verse in question occurs within a passage dealing with idolatry and immorality. This passage has nothing to do with why a child is born challenged.
If these children haven't been blessed upon these parents because of some evil they've committed or because God is testing them in some way, why have they been chosen?
The problem is this line of thinking is simply bad theology. Life is tough. God never promised us anything different than that. Sometimes difficult, even horrendous things, just happen. God did not send the drunk driver out to kill the newly wed. Rather, someone was simply irresponsible, even evil, and they got into a car under the influence. Similarly, God did not send us challenged children. Somewhere, somehow, our genes didn't mix appropriately, or an umbilical cord got wrapped around the neck, or . . . or. . . . It just happened.
Jesus dealt with this when some of his followers asked him about Pilate's deed of killing some Jewish worshipers in the temple. Jesus said, "Do you think because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you" (Luke 13.2, 4-5a). His point being, the Galileans were killed because of the deeds of an evil man, and the tower fell because of the laws of gravity and perhaps from a design fault. Life is difficult. Period.
But when life was difficult for Paul, God reminded him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12.9a). And when life was difficult for the Israelites and the early Christians, they turned to the psalms. Psalm 88 is most appropriate when we're struggling, as is Psalm 77. In our most difficult times it is important simply to remember God is the God also of the weak and has promised, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13.5).
So, for those who care for these special children (and adults), remember the words of our Lord who said, "'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you. . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me'"(Matthew 25:34, 40). Truly, those who care for these whom society has deemed the least, they shall be, and already are, the greatest.