Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I Love Joni Eareckson Tada

I've never met her. Never communicated with her in any way. But as a young man I read her eponymous book detailing how her young, athletic life was redirected after a terrible diving accident.

She was left a quadriplegic, but rather than allowing that to defeat her she reinvented herself. Today she's a well-known author, radio host, and spokesperson for the disability community. She also has been waging a courageous battle against breast cancer.

Her story gripped me. It made me uncomfortable. How much she accomplished from what would be to most of us an almost unmanageable situation!

But it wasn't always so. During her early rehabilitation depression often got the better of her, even to the point of leading her to ask friends to help her commit suicide. Her faith in God was severely challenged.

But slowly she grew in grace. She learned to paint, holding a paint brush between her teeth. While I had allowed so much less than that brave lady has gone through shipwreck my faith, she somehow got it all together and has been an effective spokesperson for religious belief in the face of tragedy.

Yes, it made me very uncomfortable, and really always has, that by comparison I have lived a charmed life and have achieved so little of lasting value compared to what Joni has accomplished with all she has to work through.

Frankly her theology is not my theology. As I understand from her writings, she is somewhat a Calvinist. She contributed a chapter to John Piper's book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God. On her Joni and Friends website she has often tackled the problem of suffering, as for example in this piece on How can God permit Cancer?

But she is a champion of hope. She writes:

Let me explain. Lamentations chapter 3:32-33 says, “Though God brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Did you catch that? Did you read it? Yes, he brings grief, but it doesn’t give him joy in doing it. Yes, he permits painful circumstances, but it doesn't make Him happy, watching us squirm! I like how Dr. John Piper explains it. He says that because God's ways are so much higher than ours; He has the capacity to look at cancer through two lenses: a narrow lens and a wide-angle one. When God looks at a disease through a narrow lens, he sees the heartbreak for what it is; it is awful! God feels the sting in his chest when your doctor says, "You have cancer."

However, when God looks at your condition through his wide-angle lens, he sees it in relation to everything leading up to it, as well as flowing out from it. How your battle will strengthen your faith; how your battle will make you more prayerful; how this cancer will inspire you to encourage others … make you empathetic toward those who hurt; draw you, your family, and friends closer together. And best of all, God delights in how a battle against disease will give you a platform to share your story, and so much more. These things are God's wide-angle view of disease and disability. He sees this grand mosaic stretching into eternity, and it is this mosaic with all its parts, both good and bad, light and dark, that includes his wonderful plan for you.

She has written often on this theme, as in her book When God Weeps. Hers is not a sadistic God, not one who vindictively sends thunderbolts crashing down on his children, but as she wrote in another of her books, The God I Love, “Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”

It is sometimes difficult to make sense of those who believe so strongly in God's sovereignty and what role that plays on the problem of evil and suffering. But conservative Christians like Joni believe that we live in a fallen world. Things aren't as they should be, as they started out to be before sin entered, and how they will be again someday.

So I think the following probably best sums up Joni Eareckson Tada's thinking on the matter when discussing her diving accident:

So... who caused my diving accident? I could ask, "Was it God's fault?" and be assured that although He's sovereign, no, it was not His fault. I could ask, "Well then, was my accident a direct attack from the devil?" and yes, maybe it was. Or, I could press further and say that it was not the direct assault of either the devil or God, but simply the consequence of living in a fallen world fraught with dangers (like a shifting sandbar in the shallow water of the Chesapeake Bay).

And again as she also wrote:

Finally, does God ordain? Permit? Plan? Allow? You know the verb is not so much the important thing as the noun: God — He is the noun — and God is love.

Does that answer satisfy me? Not exactly. That's not the way I think about it. But maybe my heart isn't exactly right.

This much I do know. Joni's story has moved me ever since I first encountered it so many years ago. She and her ministry has been a presence in my life ever since. Whatever I could say about the problem of suffering and God, it could never carry the weight her thoughts do, because she speaks from the depths of suffering.

I love Joni Eareckson Tada because she is a messenger of hope with the credentials to back up her message. I love her because she demonstrates one is never defeated unless one accepts defeat. I love her because she exemplifies how one life can make a difference, even under the most trying circumstances. I love her because she is and always has been an inspiration to me.


  1. Interesting and slightly surprising, Doug, but it is good to be surprised (mostly).

    Like you, I'm not a fan of calvinism, but I did like this: "Finally, does God ordain? Permit? Plan? Allow? You know the verb is not so much the important thing as the noun: God — He is the noun — and God is love."

    I sort of agree with it, because we can theorise about God, and we can believe revelation, but we still can't really understand God.

    1. Hi unkleE. I liked that, too. And I'm more impressed when those who know the depths of suffering manage to come through with their faith intact or sometimes even enlarged.

  2. I read that book as a preteen. I think it was at my grandma's house or something like that. I found it to be very inspirational, but I was always very sad for her.

  3. I've had at book, and I read it many times! I love her. A lot. "I love her because she is and always has been an inspiration to me." Amen to that!

  4. Umm, Doug? I'm worried about you ...

  5. Perhaps he's taking a break or dealing with health issues re: his mom or even himself?

    1. You're probably right, but Feb 19th? It doesn't seem right.

  6. Sent an email to him just now.

  7. Okay everyone who is concerned. I've heard back from Doug! Relief. He gave his permission to let you all know:

    It's his computer that is on the fritz. He cannot access his blog or anything for that matter. He is okay.

    He misses everyone like "crazy" (his term) :) and hopes to be back to blogging soon.

    1. Whew! That's a relief. Tell him "hey" for me. :)