Disability and the Image of God

Continuing the discussion from Discomfort With Messiness of Science at BioLogos:

Currently in a session with Dr. John Kilner, who has done admirable work affirming the dignity of all people in, including those with severe disability. I’d like to hear what you think of his work, his sensitivities and his affirmations.

@Guy_Coe, you have person experience here that I’d hope you be willing to share with us.

Spot on. The marvel that we are all “created in God’s image” too easily gets lost in the existential angst many feel. The warrant and impetus for a meaningful life then gets too easily shifted to a graded comparison with others, rather than remaining anchored to the magnificence of God.
Then, through a kind of transference, we begin to accord a failure to be good and to act well to God.
The vicious cycle thus damages our grasp of the ideal, without any true warrant, and we drift into utlitarianism, devaluing ourselves and others greatly.
This is the “frog in the teakettle” problem we are currently experiencing vis-a-vis the modern spirit.
I see it as a partial explanation, for example, of the move to leave God out of science currently in vogue.
The one thing Christians must not do is bury the lead.
I recommend this article to anyone feeling a sense of spiritual malaise; and invite them to watch those with PID for a telling illumination, both of who they are, and who we all are. Compassion displaces utilitarianism.

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Would you tell us about how your experienced here has shaped you? It’s okay if you decline.

I have a “special needs” daughter who I am privileged to care for. She is a constant reminder to me of the value of life, of the gift of mutual compassion, and of the folly of utilitarianism.
Though she is permanently “developmentally delayed” (sic.), cannot talk, and is in need of constant supervision, her marvelous gifts shine through like a testament to what’s best in humanity. She relates fearlessly, enthusiastically, transformatively. She slows time down for me, by requiring and giving the gift of now. My wife and I are blessed!


The warrant and impetus for a meaningful life does not require remaining anchored to the magnificence of God.

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I instead recommend a nice walk in the sunshine. And godless acts of kindness and compassion.

Wow… @Patrick

I almost forgot that you were an Atheist. What a shock… how could I have forgotten…

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I understand you completely. I had a special needs child myself. As one father to another father I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day.


Like I say… too predictable. Even he knows he doesn’t really mean it like it sounds. One note bands lose their audience.

@Patrick , thanks! And the same to you. Enjoy a walk in the sunshine! Some time, tell me more about your daughter, okay? Cheers!

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7 posts were split to a new topic: The Unrelenting Zeal of Virtue Without God

Well, speaking as someone who tried to swim against the professional stream and contributed to parliamentary consultations on both abortion and euthanasia, I can’t disagree with anything in the thrust of this. Not that I was that unusual - the Christian Medical Fellowship here also campaigned on a similar basis, and for a number of years I took the Journal of the Centre for Boioethics and Human Dignity, which regularly had articles making a similar case for the “imageness” of all humanity, including the disabled - against the prevalent direction of secular medical ethics, I should add. Knowing several friends with Downs Syndrome, who were spiritually incredibly mature and taught me a lot, helped.

  • His “in the image of the Image” is a concept I picked up from The True Image, by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes - and it underpins my concept of the creation of man as a christological issue. The fact that “the image” is ontological, rather than based on any human attributes, also informs my view of the creation of man - however it was done, it is to do with a holistic work of Christ, and not the addition of some “image factor” like rationality, or speech, to some random product of evolution.

  • The stress he makes on the corporateness of the image is interesting, because it does also actually also allow for those things about man that express the image - a man is not in the Image of God because he is capable of reason, or rule, but those things are neverthless the outworking of the Image in those capable of them, and there is no contradiction.

  • In that regard (as a side issue) I think he maligns Aquinas a little. I checked the context, and Aquinas is answering the objection (based on a warped reading of Augustine) that not all have the image. Aquinas replies that, even when the usual signs of reason etc are missing or damaged by sin, the Image is still there by nature (and he hustifies this by quoting from Augustine). It’s not quite the same as the idea that image is inviolable, but neither is it discriminatory.

  • I note that, in the light of the current “genealogy doesn’t mean much” discussion on BioLogos, genealogy actually has some bearing here too - to be born of man is to be in the Image of God, regardless of genetic health, etc, so it applies equally to the disabled, the embryo, and so on. I’m not sure of any other concept that earths that human dignity in simply being human by birth, ie by nature.

  • I particularly liked this:

Human rights are really God’s rights over humanity more than one person’s rights over another. God is every person’s creator, so God is the one to direct how people treat one another. People have rights; but contrary to much secular thinking, they do not have a right to those rights. Those rights flow from the God-given dignity rooted in creation in God’s image.

  • I used to use such a concept in counselling, not for the disabled (who usually don’t worry about such things) but for those who for various reasons considered themselves worthless. They could point to all kinds of good evidence of failure or weakness, but we often got round to the idea that “Your value is that God values you.” And that is all to do with his Image.

  • My main ambivalence was about some of his thoughts apparently suggesting the continuation of disability in the age to come, based on that concept of Christ rather than “health” being the norm. Whilst I warm to the idea that ones disability in this life might show signs (like well-won battle scars) in the life to come, analogous to Christ’s wounds, I think we shall all be restored to a new and faultless creation that swallows up even all our present disabilities into something new. Nevertheless, even those thoughts are valuable if they help us to see, and even wish to emulate, Christ in the disabled.

Funnily enough I was interviewing someone with quite marked disabilities (not cognitive, I must add) for church membership recently. Recognising the struggle she would have to contribute much to the work of the fellowship, she neverthless reminded me that “his strength is shown in my weakness.”


My son was special needs, I wrote a lot about him in the discussion on abortion.

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Sorry; I misread you. You say “was;” has he passed away?
I don’t need imaginary friends, either. The real ones take care of that.

No, my son is 26 years old now. He is a computer scientist for a cybersecurity firm in NYC. I said he was a special needs child because of his being born long before he was viability for life. The complications were horrendous and were medically, physiologically, and neurologically unknown. His care and education from pre-school to high school was very one-of-a-kind requiring a lot of innovative methods as we were dealing with uncharted waters for just about everything during his first years of life. We and the medical and educational community were dealing with unknowns one how to handle as it was a first in history in so many ways. At an early age fMRI showed a very different processing brain. Even today an fMRI would be labeled “unique” and physiologically “different”. But as amazing as the brain is, his strengths now lies in those very differences. He is able to view computer code and determine immediately what type of person wrote it, if it was machine or human generated, country of origin, even the school of origin of the programmer. Details that our minds would filter over, pop out in his like someone looking through 3D glasses. We first recognized the ability early in childhood but it got more refined as he got older.


My new post on The Hump explores how conventional evolutionary monogenism actually provides an inadequate basis for human equality, whereas descent from Adam does. Seems relevant to this thread.

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A hallmark of post-Judaeo/Christian society.

This is really strange. Are they against all abortions or just abortions specifically related to Downs Syndrome?

What criteria do you use to decide that abortion is justified? The article cites Dawkin’s rationale; your thoughts? Can you see how the Christian view that “all people are made in the image of God” might guide such a decision, in anything but a strict “self-defense” rationale, where a continued pregnancy is a grave threat to the mother’s health?
As for the resulting public policy questions, we live in the wild, wild west in that regard, and I don’t necessarily think that laws can adequately address all the questions involved --so I will try to avoid sweeping generalizations.

I feel that any medical procedure one has (or doesn’t have) is fundamentally a private personal matter. I believe that a woman should be in full control over her body. Regarding Dawkin’s rationale, well it is one way to look at it globally and quite easy for an elderly man to proclaim. It happens to be in line with my thinking on the subject. But I wouldn’t force nor even give my views to say a daughter-in-law or any woman that I know. It is one of the most difficult decisions a woman can make. Whatever decision a woman makes, I would not blame or harm her (or the child) in any way. The one thing that all woman should have access to is information on the options, the reasoning, the choices.