What Isaiah 35 taught me about my children with special needs

October 10, 2019

It was still dark and somewhat cool outside when my oldest son and I stepped onto the front porch. We set down our coffee cups (mine a double espresso and his a decaf with plenty of milk) and opened up our Bibles. I was distracted, as I often had been as of late, by thoughts of my children, the developmental struggles two of them are facing, and the child with Down syndrome we are currently pursuing through adoption.

Isaiah 35 was the daily reading our church had recommended. As I read the promises of future restoration for the world, I was struck by the language that was used. "Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. . . .Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isa. 35: 3, 5-6).

These verses leapt off the page and seemed to highlight something I had recently been wrestling with regarding what we refer to as "special needs," or "differing abilities," depending upon your preference of terminology. 

This label applies to two of my children. My 9-year-old son has what is called enlarged vestibular aqueducts as well as global hypotonia. In layman's terms, it means he struggles with low muscle tone throughout his body and progressive hearing loss. These are aided by orthotics, years of physical therapy, hearing aids, and potentially a cochlear implant in the future. 

My 3-year-old daughter was born addicted to multiple harmful substances before she joined our family. As a result, she faces auditory processing problems, overstimulation to a sometimes alarming degree, and a various assortment of other -isms and -ations that bring a continually changing set of challenges to her young life. 

This label also applies to the son with Down syndrome whom we are pursuing through international adoption.

Two extremes

What I’ve wrestled with comes from how we define these differing abilities. Unfortunately, there is still a too-large percentage of the population that views people in this "category" as damaged or less-than. This is, of course, a lie from the depths of hell and must be answered with the truth whenever it is encountered.

Yet, there is also another extreme that I have seen more and more in our modern culture. It states that those with special needs are perfect, and there is nothing at all negative or less than ideal about their physical or developmental abilities. What’s more, it’s the idea that we are all perfect as we are. While I see the right-hearted nature of this avenue, it seems that this extreme also misses the mark of truth. 

Though hopelessly imperfect on our own, we are invited to "put on" his imputed perfection through Jesus Christ.

This is why Isaiah's words in chapter 35 hit me so hard. He recognizes that there are blind, deaf, weak, and (for want of a more appropriate descriptor) disabled people on this side of heaven. And God plans to bring healing to them! We live in a world that waits to be put back in order. A world that, since the fall, has been spinning in brokenness, longing to return to the rule of its Creator. 

And one day, the rule of the King will return. He will unstop the ears of the deaf, open the eyes of the blind, and make his creation new. My son won't need his orthotics or his hearing aids, my daughter's behavior and reactions won't be a puzzle of neurological responses, and our newest addition won't be defined by his chromosomes, but by his Creator.

A God who heals

And God isn't only in the business of healing those with "special needs." He is on a mission to heal all of us. Maybe that's why I so strongly disagree with the statement that those with differing abilities are "perfect just the way we are." The truth is, none of us is perfect (no, not one). But though hopelessly imperfect on our own, we are invited to "put on" his imputed perfection through Jesus Christ. Like the Mephibosheth, lame in both feet, we eat at the King's table as sons and daughters—not because we are swift of foot, or for what we bring to the table, but because, pure and simple, he is good. 

We can all agree that to treat any of God's children as less-than is to sin. But to pretend that differences don't exist, or worse: to assert that anyone is "perfect" in this fallen state, is misguided and harmful. When my son fails to hear the lyrics of his favorite song, he knows that things aren't "perfect," yet as he grows in his young faith, he understands that perfection is ours through Jesus. 

When my daughter walks into a room full of people and her pupils suddenly dilate and her body goes into fight-or-flight mode, she knows, deep down, that things are not as she wishes they were. But as she grows, she will learn that all things are made new through the Son. And she, along with anyone who calls upon the name of Christ, is welcome at the table with the King. 

Instead of seeing an imaginary perfection in a broken world, we would do better to marvel at the beautiful tapestry that is creation, all of whom need healing and restoration. 

While we wait for his return, we embrace those with special needs and differing abilities not because it is up to us to give them worth, but because they have already been given such great worth, bearing the beautiful image of their Creator. Yet, we also look ahead with anticipation for a time when none of us will be limited by the physical, mental, emotional, or developmental—a time when we will dwell with him in his perfection.

Brian McKenney

Brian McKenney is the communications director at Calvary Chapel Chattanooga, where he lives out his passion for communicating the life-changing truth of God's Word. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his wife, Sarah, and their soon to be seven (not a typo) children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24