Ligonier National Conference - Joni Eareckson Tada (I)
Mrs. Joni Eareckson Tada has for many decades traveled the world to remind people of the practical applications of the Gospel. She is the founder of Joni and Friends, an organization designed to evangelize and disciple in the disability community. She currently holds an appointment to the Disability Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department and has served in past years on the National Council on Disability. Mrs. Tada is also a highly sought-after conference speaker and author whose many works include When God Weeps and Passion Hymns for a Kid’s Heart.
Mrs. Eareckson Tada was asked to speak on the subject “Good News in a Fallen World.” She noted that evidence of a fallen world is abundant: Governor Spitzer’s resignation, shootings on college campuses, a decade of war in the Congo leaving four million dead. About 97% of disabled children in the world are abandoned, starved to death, or maimed to facilitate begging. Dutch doctors sometimes euthanize children for “incurable” diseases such as spinal bifida or Down syndrome. Sixty years ago we hanged German doctors for such things, and today they are done in the name of mercy.
From her work for the Disability Advisory Committee, Eareckson Tada is aware that many children and even young adults with cerebral palsy are tied to their cribs and never taken outside. A fallen world should break our hearts. Yet while we recognize (and feel) that the curse is heavy, we should never forget that the curse is just.
PAIN POINTS TO THE SERIOUSNESS OF SIN
Pain and suffering ought to awaken us to the moral outrage of sin. One look at this fallen world should give us a sense of how seriousness of our sin. We ought not to assume that those who experience natural disasters are “innocent.” None of us (including children) are innocent. (cf. Luke 13:2-5)
Joni was once told, “If you were the only person in the world, Jesus would have died for you.” But a statement like this should speak more of God’s graciousness than our specialness. What is really meant is: my sin was enough to merit the wrath of God.
Suffering is a wake-up call. The alarm sounds louder for those who experience more of it. Man is like a breath, his days are like a fleeting shadow. Only a rugged and rigorously biblical gospel is sufficient. Only the death of Christ is sufficient for people’s souls.
THE RIGOROUS GOSPEL
We must not introduce people to a false Jesus. We must not say that forgiveness is easy. We must not pass on trite lines, like “Jesus is your best friend.” We ought to bring the rigorous gospel to bear on people’s lives. Sin kills. Hell is real. Judgment is coming. God is merciful. And Jesus is the way. Our Savior came to proclaim good news to the poor and liberty to the oppressed.
We don’t teach a half-baked gospel that turns bad men into good men but dead men into live men. Jesus did this, and we adorn the undying gospel when we follow his example by relieving suffering and promoting justice in the name of God. Jesus wants the captives set free. We are to be lights shining in the world. We cannot shrink from the battlefields that are ugly.
True, the gospel is off-putting to those who think they have everything. But the gospel is everything to those who have nothing. They are desperate for something that this world cannot give. Affliction is a physical symbol of the spiritual reality that without Christ we cannot do anything. Blessed are the pure in spirit. The price of salvation is high. The poor more readily see that Jesus is everything. They are already dead to the world in a way that the privileged are not.
SUFFERING AN ADVANTAGE?
Joni shared that when people offer to pray for her healing, she always accepts, but informs them that she would rather have prayer for her selfishness and other shortcomings. Fighting sin, not physically walking, is Joni’s #1 priority. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17)
So then, we who have disabilities have an advantage! Were it not for suffering, we might not learn who we truly are - and how sinful our remaining corruptions are. “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” (I Peter 4:1-2)
Although those who suffer do not necessarily become more holy, Eareckson Tada noted that saints who suffer the most often experience God’s deepest streams of joy. She closed her message by recounting the joyful worship of her friend Magdalin and others she met in Thailand at a conference on evangelism and relieving suffering for people in disadvantaged nations. Magdalin was abandoned as a young child and later came to Christ. She now rescues abandoned kids from gutters and alleys, feeds them, clothes them, and helps them acquire basic life skills.