Can Adversity Be a Blessing?

When Joni Eareckson, an attractive teenager, stepped into a boat on Chesapeake Bay, she had her whole life ahead of her. She dreamed the dreams of most healthy young women -- marriage, home, children, and career. One mistake, however, one unplanned dive into shallow water, broke her neck. Since that moment, Joni's body has been helpless. She knows she will never leave her wheelchair. Those who embrace a utilitarian worldview might consider Joni Eareckson worthless, a drain on society. "What can a person accomplish for the good of society when she can't walk or feed herself or even control her bodily functions?" they might ask. I reflected on Joni's life recently when I attended a White House meeting with President Bush who spoke so eloquently about the need for a total ban on human cloning. As he spoke in the terms of a moral theologian about the dignity and sanctity of life, in the first row, just below the podium, directly in line with the president, sat Joni in her wheelchair. She is a powerful counterpoint in the cloning debate to Christopher Reeve, the wheelchair-bound defender of destructive embryonic stem cell research he believes will allow him to walk again. Joni has known much suffering in her lifetime, and she might have despaired. But she has never exhibited self-pity. She has joyfully pursued God's purpose for her life in ministry and advocacy on behalf of the handicapped and in these vitally important debates on bioethics. Several times during his talk, I saw President Bush look directly at Joni. At the end of his speech, the president surprised everyone. Stepping from the podium, he put his arms around Joni and embraced her and kissed her. It was a moving moment. Surely, I thought, this was the moment and the issue for which Joni had been born. There was a purpose for all her suffering. With us in the White House that day also was Nigel Cameron, Dean of the Wilberforce Forum and Director of our Council for Biotechnology Policy. I met Nigel more than fifteen years ago when he was a young scholar in Edinburgh. At the time Nigel told me that abortion was only Bioethics 101 and that we would soon face much greater challenges in euthanasia, cloning, and germline intervention. I'm not sure I believed him, and probably many others didn't either. It must have, from time to time, been discouraging for him as he developed the bioethics arguments, and no one else really seemed to care. But recent developments have proved him absolutely right. He was the one alerting the Christian view, and Nigel Cameron is now one of the world's leading experts in bioethics, the most critical moral issue of the twenty-first century. He helped organize the coalition assembled in the White House that day. As I think about Joni and Nigel and the roles they play in the bioethics debate, I'm reminded of the verse from the Old Testament book of Esther. The people need saving, and Esther was told that perhaps she was the queen "for such a time as this." Sometimes people wonder why certain things happen to them. Why do we experience this trial or that setback? When I look at Joni and Nigel, I think back on my own days in prison -- it's obvious God uses suffering often to do His greatest work. He prepares us for just "such a time as this." Take Action: Urge your senators to cosponsor the Brownback- Landrieu total human cloning ban, S. 1899. To contact your U.S. Senators, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. For more information: "Bioethics and the Christian: An Interview with Joni Eareckson Tada" You can read the text of President Bush's speech on the Wilberforce Forum website. Learn more about Joni Eareckson Tada's group, Joni and Friends, at its website.


Chuck Colson


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