Recently, I saw this image of a pretty gross looking ear of corn and a beautiful, nearly perfect-looking ear of corn. The caption on the deformed corn said, “How I see myself” and then the caption on the delicious-looking ear of corn read, “How Jesus sees me”.
The point of the image is that we often devalue ourselves, especially compared to the inherent dignity and worth we are imbued with by our very identities as daughters and sons of the Creator. God sees our true worth and dignity, especially when the rest of the world does not. I absolutely loved the image as it resonated with my own experience, and I know that so many of us can relate to the idea of focusing on our faults and having a much more negative self-image than how God sees us.
However, the more I thought about the image and thought about my experience with the autism community, the more I realized that this image misses the mark in a way that is detrimental, particularly for the disability communities (which includes the autism community). Let me illustrate with a personal example.
This is going to sound crazy and perhaps even rude on some level, but I was struck by the realization a few years ago that the closer I am to God, the stronger my relationship is with our Lord, the less often I see “ugly” people. Objectively, psychological studies have been done to find scientific attributes of beauty such as symmetry, for example. This is the kind of objective, superficial beauty I’m talking about. Objectively, the people I am around – those regularly in my life and random strangers in the community I live in – have not altered their physical appearances and so objectively do not look any different, save for the slow process of aging we all go through.
So, it’s not so much that God is transforming the looks of those around me, but I believe that my prayers to see and think and love as He does are answered as I draw into a more intimate relationship with Him. As these prayers of mine are answered, the superficial, objective, external beauty of people around me remains the same, but my eyes and heart see better the beauty of individuals’ inherent dignity and worth in a way that transforms what superficial beauty means.
You see, I don’t think God or Jesus see us as perfect creatures, looking past our sins and flaws to love us despite ourselves. The Holy Trinity sees you and me, as we are, warts and all, sins and all, differences and all, and loves us unconditionally. That love is freeing and that freedom found in being a loved sinner, being loved for who we are and as we are, is what allows us to respond to God with love in our words, thoughts, and in how we live our lives.
How does this relate to disability and autism? Let me get vulnerable and share another, deeply personal example. My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) about a month and a half before I went back to school to finish my Master of Theological Studies degree. That fall, I was taking a class on prayer and various prayer methodologies and one of our activities was to spend some time in the hilly, suburban neighborhood of our school and pray with an emphasis on Creation. I was still struggling to understand autism and what the diagnosis meant for my son and, to be really honest, I wasn’t talking with God all that much during that time.
As I set out walking the neighborhood, looking at gorgeous trees and plants, stucco buildings, a nearby creek, and the blending of city with nature, I kept thinking about Creation and God as Creator. God makes all good things, but what did this diagnosis mean for my son? How could God let this happen? I clearly remember being reminded in my thoughts of something I had told so many young people during my years in youth ministry: “God doesn’t make junk”.
I practically growled at God, “that’s all fine and well, but what do I do with THIS?! This autism situation?! What does this make my son?!” In that moment, my attention was drawn to a dusty patch of earth between the sidewalk and the street. In this unassuming space were weeds and flowers that were absolutely beautiful. A voice boomed in my soul that I do not believe was my own: “Beautiful. Your son is beautiful. He is mine. He is loved.”
Tears immediately welled up in this not-so-sentimental mom (my eyes still get misty recalling that moment). I stared at those beautiful weeds for several moments. God showed me that even in the parts of Creation that we humans might see as ugly or detracting from our superficial ideals of beauty, God still makes things beautiful and good. We may find no value in the weeds and we may pluck them and throw them away, but God has made even these weeds beautiful for our delight if we just stop and take them in for what God has made them to be.
To be clear, I’m not trying to say that disabled individuals or autistic individuals are weeds, but simply draw the comparison that what the world may not find value in, has inherent beauty and value and worth through God’s creative goodness. You and I and everyone else, regardless of our looks, talents, abilities, neurology, etc. are inherently good and beautiful. Period. No exceptions.
Often in pop culture stories – books, movies, television shows – a person with a disability or physical adversity is portrayed as finding love and acceptance once the other people in the story recognize some amazing talent (e.g. the upcoming television show, The Good Doctor’s lead character is autistic, but a savant) or the person goes through some incredible transformation that allows them to fit into societal norms better. The message our society lives and breathes is that, those with disabilities are acceptable the more “normal” we can conceive of them.
When Jesus appeared post-Resurrection, his glorified self was unrecognizable to many at first, but it wasn’t because his resurrected, glorified body was some perfect, Dwayne-Johnson-like body. Jesus’ glorified body still bore the wounds of his crucifixion. The fact that Jesus’ body remained marred post-Resurrection makes a bold statement about the worthiness, goodness, and lovable-ness of our own “imperfect” selves, particularly individuals with any kind of disability.
So the meme about the corn is correct: God sees us differently than we see ourselves. But it’s not because God sees wholeness or perfection while we only see imperfection; it’s because God sees “imperfection” differently than we see and judge imperfection in our worldliness. And that is very Good News for all of us, and a truth we would all be better for recognizing.