Being mainstreamed into “regular school” during junior high and high school didn’t totally remove me from the school for “orthopedically handicapped” children. I’d spend mornings at “regular school,” and then I’d have to return to the special school for the afternoons. I didn’t much like going back, but that was the prevailing wisdom in the late 60s and early 70s.
Midway through my sophomore year of high school, the Lord brought me to salvation. I talked openly about my newfound faith at both schools. A girl at the special school seemed especially interested, and began attending Tuesday evening Bible Studies with me.
This girl had the same type of Cerebral Palsy that I have, although her speech defect was much more severe. She’d probably be categorized as non-verbal by today’s standards. I often translated for her — not because I understood her speech, but because I knew her well enough to guess what she wanted to say. Most of the time, I guessed correctly.
When she wanted to be baptized, a mutual friend raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t baptism a sign of repentance from sin?” this friend asked. “How could someone this disabled possibly sin?”
Our questioning friend operated under the false assumption that sin only happens in physical activity. Since the girl couldn’t walk, use her hands or speak intelligibility, our friend believed she had no real opportunity to actually commit sin. Why, she couldn’t even tell a lie!
Of course, our friend had a very narrow, and therefore faulty view of sin. Everybody had witnessed, for example, the girl’s violent temper. And while her anger appeared understandable in light of the obvious frustrations that her disability created, it was still sinful according to the words of Jesus Himself.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ~~Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)
You’ll recall the Lord’s many confrontations with the Pharisees, who seemed so fastidious about keeping God’s Law. Time and again He exposed their hypocrisy, forcing them to face the corruption of their own hearts. Their outward behavior seemed impeccable. Indeed, sometimes it really was impeccable! The people around them considered them beacons of righteousness. But Jesus saw their hearts, declaring them to be children of the devil (John 8-39-44).
Certainly, God will judge outward sin. Thankfully, Jesus took that judgment on behalf of those who believe on Him when He died on the cross, bearing the judgment that we deserve. Unbelievers will bear judgment apart from His grace. But inward sins, committed only in the mind, also require judgment. The inability to physically carry out our sinful desires doesn’t mean that we can claim any degree of purity.
People as severely disabled as that girl at the special school definitely need our compassion. As my own speech deteriorates, I sympathize with her frustrations. But I agree that she needed Christ to atone for sins she had committed in her heart. Don’t we all?