Befriending the profoundly disabled, befriending God

Excerpt taken from a chapter written by Brian Brock, part of a festschrift for Hans Reinders, Knowing, Being Known, and the Mystery of God: Essays in honor of Professor Hans Reinders, teacher, friend, and disciple (Bill Gaventa & Erik de Jongh, eds., VUpress, 2016).

knowingIf friendship with the profoundly intellectually disabled is going to come to life, we must first genuinely see them as humans and as neighbors, and this is no little feat, Reinders suggests. It is challenging because I cannot know such lives without my understanding of my own humanity being broken and remade. Such breaking and remaking is of a type that cannot be accomplished as a purely intellectual exercise because we are talking about the edges of the diversity of human life. This knowledge cannot be gained without putting severe strain on the conventions and practices of our contemporary moral culture.

…modern liberal modern culture… frames the problem of friendship with the severely intellectually disabled in terms that have been set by that modern culture, namely, a polarization of human activity and passivity. …Another way to make this point is to affirm (with Reinders) that we human beings are what we are because we are created by and for friendship with God, but to part with him by denying that humans can be wholly without agency in any theologically determinative sense. As John Zizoulas notes in one of the passages quoted by Reinders, in a theological view of the human, humans are ontologically free, that is, are not robbed by the loss of any capacity from some form of free response to God. Here Reinders would have been more true to scripture and his own account of the extrinsic origins of the human to have accepted rather than repudiated Barth’s insistence that what we learn in Jesus Christ is that every human being is created for reciprocity and so friendship with God and the neighbour. To deny human beings a primordial freedom is to deny them the capacity to image a God who has created them to be God’s friends. 16 The problem here is connected to an essentialization of  the idea of the imago Dei as something which a human “has” instead of a fully dynamic activity of imaging that has the capacity for free response as its condition. From the biblical perspective it is incorrect to say that one cannot image God if one is not self-consciously aware of doing so, as Reinders affirms: responsivity to God need not be construed in terms of the activity of the will in a person’s inner mental world nor as essentially related to a punctual choice (p. 8, 9-10).

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