by David Morstad
The Book of Leviticus confounds me, but in that confounding, it speaks to matters of disability and faith.
My grandson went through a jigsaw puzzle phase when he was about four years old. His favorites usually had about 24 pieces, each piece roughly the size of his hand, and he was very good at them.
One day, after completing a simple 12-piece scene of bulldozers and diggers – my grandson led me to the puzzle closet and grabbed another box. His great-grandmother was a puzzle wizard and this was one we had inherited from her – 500 very tiny pieces. Before I could offer an alternative, he took the box and dumped it into a pile in the middle of the floor. And he stared at it. He picked up a couple of pieces, looked at them, looked at me, and looked at the pile on the floor.
I said to him, “I can’t do a puzzle like that.”
He said, “I can’t do a puzzle like that, either.”
It occurs to me that, at that moment, we were looking at a giant pile of Leviticus.
The utter unattainability of it is overwhelming. Here is the law of God – so clear and true and pure and simple and perfect, that it certainly must fit together beautifully. Right? Not in my world. Left to me, it would forever remain a pile on the floor.
This notion of confronting the unattainable highlights an interesting parallel when it comes to our faith journey alongside people with disabilities. Historically, we have tended to put people with disabilities in a different category when it comes to their relationship to God. We have implied that we non-disabled folk struggle with our faith lives, while theirs is ‘child-like’, or ‘pure and simple’. We have routinely likened the faith life of an adult with a disability to that of a child without a disability.
While we think such things out of deep love and caring, there is a danger in it. A voice whispers to us that intellect matters, and we offer a compassionate a pass to people whose intellect measures below our own. Frankly, I’m more comfortable with the position that God has little interest in my IQ.
In his 1951 book That They May Have Life, Sri Lankan evangelist, D. T. Niles, writes that, when it comes to evangelism, “We are beggars telling other beggars where there is bread.” Is the God concept too difficult for people with an intellectual disability to grasp? Of course it is. Equipped with intellect alone, it is for all of us. Isaiah had a sense of that. “all our righteous deeds,” the very best things we think and do, he tells us, “are like a filthy cloth.”
But God comes to us. In my inability to understand, God comes. In my arrogance and ableism, God comes. And, should I need a reminder, the Book of Leviticus stands ready. It will step boldly into my world, pour itself out into a pile on the floor, and say, “It doesn’t matter if you have an intellectual disability or if you are the most capable human being God has ever created, you can’t do a puzzle like this.”