One cannot think about theology of disability without soon wrestling with the notion that each human being is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27-28). Found in all “religions of the book” (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) what exactly constitutes this image is the subject of much assumption and debate. In contrast with certain philosophies that emphasize the ‘perfection’ of the human body or intellect as the image of God, or theologies that identify impaired bodies as the result of sin, Nancy Eiesland responds,
Our bodies participate in the imago Dei, not in spite of our impairments and contingencies, but through them (The Disabled God, 101).
Eiesland points to the resurrected Christ of Luke 24:36-39 as evidence that “full personhood is fully compatible with the experience of disability” (100).
While imago Dei been perceived in many ways at many times throughout history, it has to a large extent been a positive influence on the promotion of human rights and equality. Philosopher John Locke derived his principle of human equality, including the equality of genders, from Genesis 1:26-28. This later became central to the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights echos the same Lockean principles (see here for more information and references).
I won’t often post regarding my own particular faith community, but this past Sunday’s message at the Meeting House was particularly relevant to the present discussion. The first part of the “Who Am I?” series is “Made in God’s image.” Click here to watch the message or listen to the audio. While teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey does not specifically speak to disabilities, the message revolves around the concept of imago Dei. Keep in mind that this is one reflection on what it means to be created in the image of God, but some key points will resonate with many who have thought through the impact of this theology on people with disabilities. Bruxy identifies that being made in the image of God does not point specifically to our ability to think and is not lost through the fall, but rather, regardless of ability, each human being reflects the image of God.
The intent of this post is not to provide any one answer as the ‘right way’ to think about the image of God, but to prompt us to think about positive (and potentially negative) ways in which this ‘image’ can be understood in theology.