The Tactile Heart: Blindness and Faith

Hull, John
SCM (2013)
Buy this book from

John Hull, a blind theologian, necessarily has a particularist position on God and disability. In a fine collection of essays on the subject his central point is that a theology of disability must start from the premise that to be imperfect is part of the condition of divinely created human plurality. In the most remarkable piece, a letter to Jesus, he says: "Blind people had to become sighted before they could follow you ... well, Lord, I forgive you." His point, made in a variety of ways, is that all the healing incidents in the New Testament put a particular slant on disability which questions the validity, or integrity, of people with disabilities, an unfortunate paradigm in a world which associated - and to a certain extent still associates - disability with sin.

But his sharpest observation, to which he does not give enough attention, is that: "The broken body on earth corresponds to the broken body in heaven". If we are to take that point seriously, then our comfort at being characterised, or stereotyped, as somehow non-viable unless we are physically cured is that in that state we are nearer, in some way, to the crucified and risen Christ.

It is highly unusual in this Laodicean - neither hot nor cold - postmodern age to encounter a missile of blazing passion guided by cold, forensic calculation. The enterprise is daring but the combination is deadly. The only real argument against Hull, which he naturally puts himself, is that the attitude of Jesus was strictly anthropological, i.e. of its time; but if you accept that, a point to which Hull is fully alive, then you have to accept the same argument for much else in the social teaching of Jesus. This is a dangerous argument, even for social liberals, because it puts the reformist weight onto the shoulders of would-be interpreters. As a blind person, I can admire the Hull heroics but I think if I'd been around Jesus I would have wanted my sight back!

A great, bracing, polemical little book!