When I was a student and studying education I struggled with the Bell curve. That curve puts most of the population with an IQ (Intelligence Quotient) of 100 in the middle (or at the top of the bell); and the higher the IQ the fewer people there were with that IQ, so the curve sloped down to the right.
The same thing happened on the left; the lower the IQ the fewer people there were with that IQ. So the two curves made up a bell shape.
Why did God create people with such a range of IQs? What about those on the left of the curve, with the increasingly lower IQs? Weren't they disadvantaged from early on? And didn't that mean that those with a higher IQ were much better off? Wasn't God supposed to create everyone equal?
Deciding to follow Jesus
When I was young, I became established in a Christian tradition that favoured making a decision for Jesus as the definition of becoming a Christian. (I had made such a decision when I was 15, and it transformed my life. Over the years at various times I had wavered in my faith, and then made continuing decisions to follow Jesus – and I am very grateful that I have done so.)
But it wasn't only the Bell curve that made me think about the people who weren't capable of making a decision to follow Jesus. When my children were born, they were not capable of making any decisions, and it was a long time before they could make choices for themselves.
For a time near the end of his life, my father-in-law lived with us, and as he lost his memory his capacity for choosing anything diminished greatly. Near the end of his life he wasn't even capable of making a decision to feed himself.
What about people who can't make decisions?
Where were such people, and those with distorted thinking processes through mental illness, before God? What if some people were never capable of making choices – like some of the severely disabled people I had seen in an institution?
When I first struggled with the Bell curve I had the opportunity to talk with a doctor and his wife at a conference and share my concerns. It turned out they had an intellectually handicapped daughter whom they said had a genuine relationship with Jesus, even though it was not something she could articulate. She was able to experience the love of God.
God is bigger than our thought processes
Of course, Paul the Apostle has said that the love of God is not something that we can ever fully comprehend or articulate. He also said that the Spirit goes beyond mere words when it comes to the depths of prayer. I knew these things with my mind for a long time. But I now see and experience more fully how the grace and love of God goes beyond our cognitive abilities, or lack of them – thankfully!
Our thinking is flawed anyway
Yes, we are all created as equals, and made in the image of God. But our capacity to choose is flawed, just like any other capacity we have – be it to care, to communicate, to create. We are all flawed human beings, in need of the grace of God.
And no matter where we come on the Bell curve we can receive the love of God; whether we are elderly and with Alzheimers, or just newborns beginning to form neural pathways in our brains.
Who God is
Being able to choose, has virtually become a god in our society. But this leaves out so many people who cannot choose for themselves. God does not love us, just because some of us might be able to make the choice to follow him. He loves us because of who he is – God IS love!
And the commandments that Jesus emphasised are the love commandments; we are to love God with all our hearts, and souls, (and yes, our minds), and our strength. And our neighbour as ourselves. Love involves our whole being.
God did not just declare His word through the prophets, but He sent his Son, as the Incarnated Word (to use the theological term). This means above all else that God is with us; it is his presence that communicates. And similarly, by cuddling a newborn, by sitting alongside an elderly person who can't choose any longer, by being with those with limited and flawed capacities in whatever way is needed, we too can convey in some small way by our presence the awesome love of Emmanuel – God-with-us.
Liz Hay continues to learn and experience the love of God – an increasing tribe of grandchildren is one of the ways that this is happening. Another way is evident in the fascinating people who 'wash up' on her doorstep in her idyllic mountain world where she lives.
Liz Hay's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/liz-hay.html