Down Syndrome and the Image of God

My little brother Kerry had Down Syndrome, so articles like this one always strike a chord with me.

By Samuel L. Caraballo

In 2008, my daughter Natalia was born with 47 chromosomes, a condition is usually known as trisomy 21 or Down syndrome. Before her birth, all I knew about Down syndrome came from my high school and college courses. Sad to say, most of the scientific literature I had consulted throughout my academic training treated “trisomy 21” as a “chromosomal aberration” that can be detected and even prevented through medical advances in prenatal screening. Other than the extensive list of medical complications, I never read anything positive or encouraging about individuals affected by such conditions. …

Although trisomy 21 causes intellectual and physical challenges, it is also true that with appropriate support and treatment, many people with Down syndrome lead happy and productive lives. My wife and I often joke that the hardest part of raising a child with Down syndrome is having to deal with people that do not have Down syndrome.

Raising Natalia has helped me understand the danger of reducing a person’s potential to her genetic profile. Although it has been unquestionably a lonely road for our family, Natalia’s humor and perseverance through adversity have brought us joy and a sense of purpose.

This is not to say that my faith in Christ was automatically strengthened by my daughter’s arrival. On the contrary, a serious theological crisis ensued the moment that beautiful, but not “typical,” girl came to this world. Ironically, my faith crisis was accentuated by my “faithful adherence” to a particular biblical understanding of what constitutes the image of God in humans.

… in the course of loving and caring for my daughter, I have come to realize that the image of God does not need to be thought of as an “inventory” or a “checklist” of desirable human traits. Despite her evident challenges, God’s image is displayed all over Natalia’s life, not by means of her specific skills or talents, but by virtue of the one who endowed her with such capabilities. Her contagious belly laugh and her dancing abilities are a reflection of her purpose rather than a justification of her worth. I have come to understand God’s image upon individuals with and without congenital impairments as a “divine seal” that denotes our intrinsic worth despite the presence or absence of any given feature.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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