When God Speaks

Submitted by Justin’s mother, Debbie

viable-god-speaksWhen God Speaks

About 10 years ago, as a young mother of a toddler with severe mental disabilities, I was struggling with how God could love my son (and me as well). It was very evident that Justin could sin but I don’t think that He understood repentance. How would he ever understand salvation?  What was his purpose in life if he couldn’t understand God? Would he be condemned to hell if he doesn’t repent? Why did God create human beings who couldn’t serve Him or others and who made everyone else’s life very difficult? There was a middle-aged man at our church who had struggled with some of those same types of questions as a young man in his early twenties. He shared his story of resolving this struggle with me.

In the 1970’s, Ken worked as a nurse at Agnews State hospital in Santa Clara, CA. This was at the time that most people who had a mental disability whether it is autism, mental retardation or schizophrenia lived in an institution. He worked in the section of the hospital that had patients that were autistic or had a form of retardation. Ken had been praying and asking God a big question, “Why did God create people who could not understand or worship Him?  If man is created to worship and have a relationship with Him, these people made no sense. These non-verbal low functioning people with retardation can be angry; can be mean…they can sin. But they can’t understand repentance and forgiveness. They can’t understand such a complex subject as a God who they cannot see who wants to a relationship with them.” He was thinking about the lowest functioning patients…those that couldn’t talk and sometimes didn’t respond to anything.  He was very troubled because he was surrounded with people who did not fit into what He understood as the purpose of life. It was a faith shaking question.

About once a week, Ken would have to run an errand up to another state institution in San Francisco about 50 miles away. Since the patients rarely got out, this was an opportunity to take one patient and give them an opportunity to see outside the walls of their facility. Other nurses that ran errands like this usually chose to take patients who were higher functioning, who could carry on conversations and possibly be helpful. Ken always chose the patients who could not talk. He had two reasons for this choice: 1.) the nonverbal patients never had the opportunity to get away and,  2.) He led worship at his church; this was a great chance for him to practice singing the worship songs as he drove without being interrupted.

One day when he was running one of these errands, he asked a young man with autism who was about 17 or 18 years old to go with him. As usual Ken sang his worship songs, practicing and worshiping as they drove. About half way through the trip, the young man turned to Ken and said, “You know Jesus. “

Ken, answered, “Yes, I do,” a little shocked to hear any words coming out of this young man’s mouth.

The young man replied, “Me too,” with a smile on his face. Then, he was silent again.

When Ken got back to Agnews, he asked everyone if they had ever heard this young man speak. No one had ever heard one word from him. Ken pulled out the file that held all this young man’s records for many years. “Non-verbal…non-verbal…non-verbal…mute…cannot speak…” Nowhere in his file was there any record that this boy had ever spoken a word.

God is doing things all the time that we don’t know about. We think that those with severe cognitive disabilities cannot understand spiritual truth because they cannot tell us about it. However, God gave this autistic young man an opportunity to minister to another child of God who was deeply struggling with his faith. God is not limited by our ability;  He can break into any circumstance or situation. He was evident and present with this autistic young man even though no else knew it. If you know someone who is unable to communicate with you because of severe disability, their life still has meaning and purpose. God knows what He is doing and sometimes we get a glimpse of it like Ken did on this day.


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