The Magazine

Purpose in Life

The glorious burden of a Down syndrome child.

Mar 12, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 25 • By PETER WEHNER
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What Becker also came to understand, amidst the pain and through grace, is that there is purpose in Penny’s life simply as she is and who she is—God’s child, His gift, an instrument of mercy and illumination. Her extra chromosome is not only associated with delays and impairments but also sweetness, joy, wonder, patience, and love.

Shortly after the birth, Becker was speaking with her mother about how she should think about Down syndrome in terms of God. Is it a manifestation of sin in the world? Her mother responds: “The only evidence of sin that I see in Penny’s birth is in how we respond to her.” Becker writes that it was as if she had been looking through a kaleidoscope, and it turned a notch: “All the same pieces and parts, the same colors even, but a totally new pattern. A new way of seeing.”

In the West we have succeeded in domesticating the Jesus of the New Testament. We have fit His ways into our ways, rather than vice versa. And so the person who told us that the last shall be first, that His strength is perfected in weakness, that the poor in spirit are blessed, and that it is the meek who shall inherit the earth, has been housebroken and diluted, made safe and reassuring, a ratifier of our cultural presuppositions and old patterns.

And yet sometimes, if we are lucky, we encounter people in our lives who remind us how fundamentally different truth is from the shadows we take to be real. They might even point out to us, in their particular way, that a God who took on the nature of a servant and became obedient even unto death might also consider a child with Down syndrome to be of inestimable worth.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.