One of the top conceivable possible tragedies that could happen to a person is falling into a state where the body is 100% completely paralyzed but the mind is active. It would be utterly horrific to comprehend the things going around you but having absolutely no control of your body or ability to interact with your surroundings.
Not only would a person in this state be unable to contribute to society out of their own, but they would essentially have a negative impact on the rest of the world in that they would be draining resources. Time and capital would have to be spent in order for the person to be kept alive. What hope in life does a person in this situation have? How can a person in this situation be assured that their life has meaning?
The primary message that society is propagating today, especially in a democratic and capitalist country, is self-realization. Discover who you are and what you want, make goals to work towards, and aim to reaching your full potential. Society has recognized the importance and value of human life, and made a leap in reasoning to inferring from that fact that whatever we desire for ourselves must therefore be valuable and important.
That makes things even more devastatingly frustrating for the ones suffering from locked-in syndrome. Their hopes and dreams may have deteriorated to just wishing they could use the washroom by themselves. What good is attempting to reach one’s fullest potential if one is quadriplegic and does not see themselves as having any potential?
Many people make it, thanks to the love and concern that others show them. The hope given to a person because of the love that others demonstrated to them can be extremely beneficial. But not everyone has lasting reminders of other’s love for them. How can those people be assured that their lives still have value? Not only that, but the ones who have been given more attention may feel guilty and resentful over the fact that they are not able to do much to repay the kindness given to them.
We may be able to comfort individual body-locked individuals with pronouncements about their lives having value because they matter to us. But is there any universal truths that any quadriplegic can look to know and be certain that they have a purpose in life?
One sec, don’t just glaze over that question as you read through this post. I want you to stop. Stop and think what you would say about the ones who are most disabled and with the least amount of people showing care for them. How much value does their lives have? We know in our hearts that yes, their lives have value, but can you truly show this to be true logically, and not just emotionally? I’ll give the answer soon, but first I want you to stop reading and truly think about the issue. I know that I am talking about sensitive subject matter, and I don’t want to miss anything, but if I am, I would like clear feedback. It will be easier for you to give me that feedback if you come up with your own answers to my questions at this point, particularly if I’m going into my answers built on false presuppositions.
Done thinking? Okay, here’s my answer.
We know that we all people have value. I am saying this is true because God made us and He says that we have value. If we leave God out of the picture, then whatever value we tell ourselves that we have are based either scientifically on our quantifiable contributions to society, or emotionally based on what we want to believe about ourselves and so we choose to; without God, any value we have we measure by standards that we constructed for ourselves and our worth is assumed and not inherent. That makes telling the one with locked-in syndrome that their lives are valuable more difficult.
One of the reflexive statements that people who reject God would say in this situation is “if God was real, it wouldn’t be very loving of Him to leave someone in such a torturous state like being quadriplegic in the first place.”
I find that the simplest way to define love is “wanting the best for someone, and the deeper one’s love is for someone, the greater the depths one is willing to go to in order to achieve that end.” So it makes sense that whenever God lets something bad happen to us that we take that to mean that He doesn’t actually love us.
Perhaps you’ve heard the sentiment that “God knows best,” just like the parents of a child knows what’s best for them. However true that may be, it’s still too vague for my liking. Perhaps I’m still being childish, but I can’t see how the tragedies some people go through is what’s best for them. I personally have had a very blessed life full of good influences and wise mentors and teaching. How could this life not be “better for a person,” particularly spiritually, than someone who was raised in an abusive family? I’ve had opportunities to learn many life lessons without having to learn it through experience like some people.
I believe the only way that we can have a truly satisfactory answer is if we understood what is “best” for us. If God is truly real, then what would be the best thing that He could give to us? What would be the absolute best gift? Would it not be Himself, holy in His perfection? If giving us access to Him, and drawing us close to Him was the best gift that He could give us, then that should be the object of our pursuit above any other pleasure.
Pain as it’s best understood is not the root problem itself, but a symptom of the problem. So if God is the best thing for us, and if our lives can only reach its truest fulfillment when He is at the center, then it would be unloving for Him to let us go on living like there was no problem with something else at the center of our lives. Pain is a symptom of a problem – the problem of the world as a whole’s rejection of God. While pain on an individual level may not be the direct result of something the individual did wrong, it’s still a constant reminder of our need for something better, our need for the thing for thing that is the best for us.
So how could a loving God let a person become a quadriplegic? The answer is the same as why He lets any of us be born into a world filled with pain and hardship. He is loving because He is still letting us have a connection to Him, regardless of the situation we are in; God is loving because He gives us all access to the very best thing for us, should we choose to accept it.
This also speaks into the nature and significance of Heaven. People often see Heaven as just a paradise created by God for us to live in. The problem with this is that people see themselves as already able to build a paradise for themselves, if that is the end goal anyway. In fact, they use that as justification to seeing the image of Hell they have in their heads as more pleasurable, as they see the things that are more pleasurable are the things that are condemned by the religious. They would rather have fun partying in the ugly paradise of Hell than to be bored to death in a pretty world of Heaven where they aren’t allowed to do anything.
If God is what is best for us, and if He is the one who gives our lives the truest meaning possible and is the only one able to give us ultimate happiness, then the best thing that He could give to us in Heaven wouldn’t be an eternal extension of primarily physical pleasures partially achievable here on Earth. The best thing in store for us wouldn’t be perfect weather, freedom from physical pain, and unbridled exploration of sensual pleasure. The most appealing part of Heaven would be the complete satisfaction gained through the intimacy of our connection to His perfect and glorious self.
The promise of Heaven is nice and all, but how can a person with stunted physical abilities feel like their lives here on Earth have a purpose? It’s nice to feel valued and loved by God and others, but that isn’t always enough to give us a sense that we are on this planet for a reason.
If God is the best for us, then our primary function out of our love for Him would to be to draw close to Him and worship Him. The practical way that we can show our love for God here on Earth is to allow Him to work through us and bring others closer to God.
Those of us with working bodily motor functions have a degree of control over our own actions, and can do many great things to be a positive influence in the world. We can control our actions, but we can’t control the response of the human heart. That means that true transformation in our own lives and those around us needs to come through the power of God. So the greatest impact that we can have on the rest of the world cannot come through our own power. God wants to work through us, but it needs to be His strength that governs us as a corporate body of his followers and as individuals. An essential tool that God gives us to work in this way is prayer. Prayer is a petition to God to aid us in the things we are unable to do on our own.
The human with the conscious ability to obey God has the ability to pray. That means they have the ability to be an active and important participant in God’s work in this present life. So even the one who may not be able to do anything but pray is useful in their vital role.
I believe that a natural desire that we all share as humans is for a deep and meaningful connection with someone. I also believe that those who purposely cut themselves off from others do so because they understand at least subconsciously the significance relationships have, making the significance that failed relationships have and the pain that they cause even more profound.
I may have shown how the one most hindered in their ability to connect with others can have a meaningful connection with others and with God through prayer, but the temptation for most of us is for us to live apart from that same connection. After all, most of us have the ability to walk, talk, and use our hands to build relationships with other people and find joy in it in multiple levels of physical intimacy.
I admit that I have often mentally cried out in frustration because of my inability to connect to other people at a desired level. I want them to see the world as I see it, in order for us to reach a greater level of unity. Within the last few months, I have had the privilege of growing closer to a friend who sees life and their place in it at a level very close to my own. It made me feel less alone (yes, I often feel alone, but not necessarily lonely), and more encouraged. It also brought to light that it didn’t matter how deep of a connection I have with someone, there will always be a limit to that connection. Although it may be possible for them to gain a great deal of understanding about the way my mind works, there will never fully understand exactly how I feel in every moment.
That is the benefit that we all have of having a connection to God. While he may not talk with us verbally like our friends do, He does have the ability to have a relationship with us, communicate with us, and fully understand us at all times. Personally I find great joy in the fact that God fully gets me, and still loves me despite all of my shortcomings.
The meaning that the body locked person has in their life is no greater or less then the meaning to all of our lives: to build a connection with God and glorify Him with whatever means that He has given us. I do not know of any line of reasoning outside of God’s involvement that can give that same level of certainty of our absolute worth and purpose.
Helpful scriptures that I looked up and had in mind during the creation of this blog post:
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Romans 8:18 – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Ephesians 1:22-23 – And God placed all things under his [Christ] feet and appointed him to be over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.