Paralyzed as a teenager, Joni Eareckson Tada has spent most of her life as a quadriplegic. Since the 1980s, she has served as an advocate for people with disabilities, working with the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the US State Department. An active speaker and writer, Joni has written books about suffering, like When God Weeps and A Place of Healing. Bible Study Magazine recently spoke to Tada about reading the Bible through suffering and despair.
BSM: WHAT METHOD DO YOU USE FOR STUDYING THE BIBLE?
TADA: Inductive Bible study is, for me, the most personal approach to understanding the Scriptures. Asking why, when, to whom, and what—along with prayer—reveals themes and insights from the Holy Spirit. I’m amazed at how both Old and New Testaments constantly repeat themes, stories, metaphors and religious practices that have to do with redemption—it’s the common thread throughout Scripture!
BSM: AFTER YOUR ACCIDENT, HOW DID YOUR VIEW OF THE BIBLE CHANGE? HOW DID YOUR BIBLE STUDY CHANGE?
TADA: Before my accident, I viewed the Bible as a manual for righteous living. But after, I began to see the Bible as it describes itself: “the Word of life.” It’s not merely about living, it is life. As we study Scripture, it becomes “alive and active,” as we are told in Hebrews—reproving, correcting and shaping our lives. After my accident, I embarked on what has become a lifelong study of suffering—its purpose and God’s relationship to it. The theme of redemption is woven in and out of every passage pertaining to affliction. To me, that is very comforting.
BSM: WHAT PASSAGES COMFORTED YOU SHORTLY AFTER YOUR ACCIDENT? DO THEY STILL INSPIRE YOU TODAY, OR DO OTHER VERSES HAVE MORE MEANING FOR YOU?
TADA: The Psalms provided a refuge for me when I was first injured and faced a life of total paralysis. I identified with saints who doubted and struggled against despair, yet turned their fears over to God. The Bible invited my questions, anger and doubts. That helped immensely in my desire to trust God. Now, almost 45 years later, I find myself drawn to the passages that speak to the ugliness of the human condition—if the core of God’s plan is to rescue me from my sin, I want to partner with the Holy Spirit in being transformed from “glory to glory.”
BSM: DO YOU FIND VALUE IN MEMORIZING VERSES?
TADA: Sometimes, when I don’t quite have the words for prayer, I borrow God’s words. Memorizing whole passages instructs us on how to think God’s thought patterns—how to see things His way. Although I use the English Standard Version or the New International Version (1986) for Bible study, I like to memorize using the King James Version—the cadence and syntax read like poetry.
BSM: HOW CAN THE BIBLE BE A SOURCE FOR THOSE BATTLING WITH DEPRESSION OR DESPAIR? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM FOR STUDYING THE BIBLE?
TADA: Life is hard, and it’s only human to be discouraged. But life frustrates us, so we look to the time when “sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa 35:10). I encourage people struggling with depression to memorize Scriptures about hope and heaven. I also direct people to the Psalms because they are anchors, keeping us fixed and floating above the fray.