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It’s easy to become depressed when thinking about the tens of millions of aborted children. It’s also easy for people who are physically suffering to become despondent. Here’s the second part of an interview with author and inspirer Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been a quadriplegic for 45 years with reason to despair. (See Part 1: "Loving life," from the Jan. 12 issue of WORLD, and online-only excerpts from the interview: "Joni Eareckson Tada on words that hurt, actions that help" and "Joni Eareckson Tada on faith healing and marriage.")
Does depression still ensnare you at times? Are you happy? I make myself be happy. I make myself sing because I have to. The alternative is too frightening. My girlfriends will tell you, in the morning when I wake up, I know they’ll be coming into my bedroom to give me a bed bath, do my toileting routines, pull up my pants, put me in the wheelchair, feed me breakfast, and push me out the front door. I lie there thinking (gagging noise), “Oh God, I cannot face this. I’m so tired of this routine. My hip is killing me. I’m so weary. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to lunchtime. I have no energy for this day. God, I can’t do quadriplegia. But I can do all things through You as You strengthen me. So God, I have no smile for these girlfriends of mine who are going to come in here with a happy face. Can I please borrow Your smile? I need it, desperately. I need You.”
Our weakness, God’s strength.I hate the prospect of having to face the day with paralysis. I choose the Holy Spirit’s help because I don’t want to go down that grim, dark path to depression any more. That’s the biblical way to wake up in the morning, the only way to wake up in the morning. No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “Boast in your afflictions.” Don’t be ashamed of them. Don’t think you have to hide them and gussy yourself up before God in the morning so that He’ll be happy with you and see that you’re really believing in Him. No, no, no. Admit you can’t do this thing called life. Then cast yourself at the mercy of God and let Him show up through your weakness because that’s what He promises—2 Corinthians 12:9.
Who are the handicapped? Maybe the really handicapped people are the ones who wake up in the morning, hit the alarm, take a quick shower, scarf down breakfast, give God a speedy tip of a hat of a quiet time, and then zoom out the door on automatic cruise control. Like, “I accepted you as my Savior, Jesus, way back when. I put my sins on the counter in exchange for an asbestos-lined soul. I got this Christian thing figured out. I’ll check in with You now and then, but I can pretty much do it on my own.” God says if you live this way He’s against you—James 4:6, He’s against the proud, those who’ve got it all figured out, but He gives grace to the humble.
The humble are ... People who wake up in the morning knowing they can’t do this thing called life without the divine help of the Savior. That makes my disability such an advantage. I’m so blessed to have it force me into the arms of Christ every morning, because I know my human inclination is not to go to the cross every morning. It’s to turn my head on the pillow and pull the covers up and not face the day.
What you’re saying about hard mercy makes a lot of sense to Christians—but what about non-Christians who ask you to put together a good God with terrible occurrences? How do you talk with them about God’s sovereignty in your personal situation? Always with what the Bible calls reasonable sweetness, savoring my conversation with salt. I get into an elevator with a bunch of people who see the lady in the wheelchair, smiling and humming “Amazing Grace.” They can connect the dots: lady in wheelchair singing “Amazing Grace.” It’s a compelling support for the gospel. If people want to get into discussion with me about the sovereignty of God, I will tell them front and center that God doesn’t like spinal cord injury. He takes no pleasure in multiple sclerosis or children born with spina bifida. John Piper talks about how God looks at suffering through two lenses. He looks at the isolated incident of suffering through a narrow lens and loathes it. His heart loathes it when you go through a divorce. His heart aches when you give birth to that child with multiple disabilities. He hates the isolated lens of suffering. But He delights in the wide-angle lens. He sees the mosaic. He sees how it all fits together into this incredible pattern for not only our good, but the good of all those around us, and for His glory. I’m grateful that God is sovereign. His fingers hold back a deluge of evil in this world. I’m grateful that He only allows to slip through His sovereign fingers that which He’s convinced will help our souls and fit us better for eternity.
What about those who are suddenly murdered and don’t have the opportunity to learn as you learned? It’s impossible to conjecture what is in God’s heart. The Bible calls suffering a mystery for good reason. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. We can’t see the big picture. Why doesn’t God just eradicate suffering all together? If He were to eradicate suffering, He’d have to eradicate sin in which suffering has its roots. And if He were to eradicate sin, He’d have to eradicate sinners. Jesus could have not only established the kingdom at the cross, but He could have fulfilled it right then and there. He could have ushered in the completion of the Kingdom of God. Bang. Close the curtain on sin and suffering and Satan. Send them all to the lake of fire with his hordes and that’s it. Had God done that, you and I and these Patrick Henry students would never have the chance to hear the gospel. So God gives the devil a stay of execution. It means there’ll be holocausts and genocides and wars and rape, things that God hates. But out of it all, the core of His plan is to rescue people, to draw them to His side, to win those who by His favor will be granted an eternity of joy and peace and service to God.
Read Part 1 of Marvin Olasky's interview with Joni Eareckson Tada and online-only excerpts "Joni Eareckson Tada on words that hurt, actions that help" and "Joni Eareckson Tada on faith healing and marriage."