They say I’m sick. At least, where I live in the Middle East, that’s the Arabic word used to describe me. The backstory is, I was born with a chromosomal abnormality. Although I do not have a lot of the physical features associated with my condition, my weakened body is still susceptible to some potentially serious complications. For most of my adolescent and young adult years, I didn’t keep up with research and information on my medical condition. I relied on the information I had learned when I was young, which at the time was still minimal. Since I enjoyed reasonably good health for most of my life and needed minimal medical attention, I really didn’t learn to live as someone who was “sick.”
A few years ago, a friend of mine found out in the early stages of pregnancy that her unborn child had a rare genetic disorder. The child would not survive life outside the womb. I opened up about my own condition and was encouraged to share my story at a junior high girls’ Bible study. This prompted me to do some more research about my medical diagnosis. As I began looking at current information, I remember wanting to weep over the shame I felt. Words used to describe my condition included ones like failure, difficulty, deformity, abnormality, and even awkward. It was a crushing blow to my spirit.
I knew my genetic story from a young age. Being raised in the church, I learned early on that Christ was the stability I longed for and needed. I knew I would have my particular physical challenges. Still, for the first time, I remembered feeling so broken, weakened, and alienated from people whose genetic story seemed to be complete and without defect. They don’t have to worry about potential heart abnormalities later in life, lasting complications from chronic infections during their childhood, or if their medical condition will affect finding a future spouse.
When I was preparing to share my story with others, my same friend, who later lost her child, reminded me of what we had learned in church history class while in seminary. The 4th-century theologian and Archbishop of Constantinople, Gregory of Nazianzus, once said, “For that which he [Christ] has not assumed he has not healed.” This was a response to a heresy spread by Apollinaris, a 4th-century bishop who questioned how Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. Apollinarianism denied that both divine and human nature could co-exist perfectly together in Christ. This line of thought was condemned by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. If Christ’s incarnation did not include a fully human and a fully divine nature, our salvation would not be complete.
Because of the Fall, it isn’t just my soul that needs redeeming. My body and mind did, too. In the incarnation, Christ assumed all that we are – flesh, mind, and soul. In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth narrative, we learn he grew in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2:52), while Hebrews 4:15 reminds us he was without sin. Because he was fully God (being without sin) and fully man (taking on human flesh), our salvation is complete. I may risk sounding cliché, but I often need the reminder that Christ had chromosomes. Jesus came bearing human genes. We have a Deliverer with a DNA pattern. When we hear of bodies and minds wrecked with genetic or mental maladies, it is not the end of our story, for when Christ assumed all we are, he saved and redeemed all we are. Doug Webster, a Beeson Divinity School professor, acknowledges that “Everybody has a story, but only one story redeems our story.” Likewise, everyone has a unique genetic story. I live daily knowing there is no cure for me. On this side of eternity, I will never be healed. However, I live with hope here and now realizing my genetic story – as well as yours – is redeemed by the gospel story.
In the Middle East, a stigma still surrounds those born with a genetic, physical, or mental illness. I wish I could argue for a better word than “sick” for people like them and me. I can’t change the wording that leaves one feeling as if a looming, shameful, life-long sentence hangs over them. But perhaps a new word is not what they need most. Their greater need is to hear the Gospel and to see their story intricately woven in the grander narrative of God’s story. Living in the Muslim world, I am surrounded by a majority of people with misconceptions about the trinity and holy Godhead. They deny Christ is the Son of God. Striving to incur favor with God by their good works, they have no concept of saving grace. We should continue to share the Gospel with those who have yet to hear, with those who do not have the full picture of the work and person of Jesus.
I can’t change how I was born. My genetic story tells one of weakness, failure, and incompleteness. That would be a sad ending had I never known the One who, through his death and resurrection, heals all our infirmities and says to the sin-sick soul, “Be healed.” In Christ, I have assurance of full spiritual and bodily redemption. And it is in the Gospel that I find my story complete in Jesus.