Perfect in Weakness: Disability and Human Flourishing in the New Creation

The resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples with his wounds intact, showing them as evidence of his identity. On this basis it has been suggested that persons with disabilities in this life may retain their diverse embodiment in their resurrection bodies in the new creation (Eiesland, 1994; Koks, 2015). The notion of a perfected, yet still disabled, resurrection body is a challenge to the eschatological imagination, especially for those of us accustomed to an ableist perspective. In this paper I argue that, while this is might not be the case for all persons with disabilities, for those persons for whom their diverse embodiment is identity-forming retention of those features safeguards the continuity of identity through the transformation of resurrection. In these cases, the physical transformation of the old creation and the redeemed sociality of resurrected persons will ameliorate the impairment and disability that diverse embodiment often entails in pre-resurrection life. Thus, the retention of diverse embodiment presents no threat to God’s goodness nor to the eschatological flourishing of the person in question and the full realisation of her humanity.

While we must admit a modest agnosticism regarding the end result come resurrection, the possibility of disabilities being retained in the new creation challenges our underlying assumptions about what it means to be human and what human flourishing entails. If our understanding of human flourishing is informed only by Western modernity’s striving for autonomy and self-realisation as the highest goods, then our measure of what makes a life worth living will be distorted away from the biblical vision of humanity. Reflections on an eschatology informed by disability theology can help us to engage with deeper questions about what it means to flourish as a human person, and about how limitation and dependency might be a part of our telos as human persons, rather than opposed to it. This interpretation in turn fosters an ethic of hospitality in which the person with a disability is both hosted and hosts, and in which she belongs to the community, rather than being merely included as a charitable act toward the marginalised. A vision of the new creation that includes persons with disabilities is a powerful proclamation to those persons, and their families, that they belong in the kingdom of God as they are; they are enfolded in the life of God with those limitations that mark them as uniquely themselves. All people, disabled and nondisabled, benefit from a shift away from the values of individualism, competitiveness, dominance, and success towards the virtues of community, mutuality, and dependence.

Eiesland, N. (1994). The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Abingdon.

Koks, S. J. I. (2015). On the Journey to New Creation: Mission With People With Disabilities. In R. Dewerse & D. Cronshaw (Eds.), We Are Pilgrims: Mission from, in and with the Margins of Our Diverse World (pp. 165-176). UNOH Pub.

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