A Message of Appreciation to Joni Eareckson Tada, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of Her Life-Altering Accident

In 1967, 50 years ago, a diving accident left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic at age seventeen. Years later Joni wrote about what she was thinking:

I desperately wanted to kill myself....

Why on earth should a person be forced to live out such a dreary existence? How I prayed for some accident or miracle to kill me. The mental and spiritual anguish was as unbearable as the physical torture.

But... there was no way for me to commit suicide. This frustration was also unbearable. I was despondent, but I was also angry because of my helplessness. How I wished for strength and control enough in my fingers to do something, anything, to end my life.[1]

Who at that time would have said, “God is clearly working out His gracious purpose in this young woman’s life”? Yet thirty-five years later, Joni, still a quadriplegic, wrote what may seem counterintuitive, but one day we will see through different eyes:

God cares most—not about making us comfortable—but about teaching us to hate our sins, grow up spiritually, and love him. To do this, he gives us salvation’s benefits only gradually, sometimes painfully gradually. In other words, he lets us continue to feel much of sin’s sting while we’re headed for heaven...where at last, every sorrow we taste will one day prove to be the best possible thing that could have happened.[2]

The Alcorns and TadasMy wife Nanci and I deeply love Joni. With her warm-hearted exaltation of God’s sovereign love, she has profoundly impacted our own lives and ministry, along with countless others. She’s a living example of the verse she quotes in the introduction to her wonderful Beyond Suffering Bible: “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (Psalm 119:71).

I love to look at the books on people’s shelves. One night when Nanci and I were at Ken and Joni Tada’s home, I looked through the bookshelves, lined with classic works by great theologians and preachers, including many of my favorites, such as Charles Spurgeon. The books Joni reads are rich and deep, centered in God’s Word, food for her soul. No wonder both the life she lives and the books she writes share those same qualities.

Recently I recorded a video message to be shown at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Joni’s accident. As I mention in the video, the fact that Joni would be celebrating something so difficult, which a sovereign and loving God has used so greatly, shows the kind of character and Christ-honoring perspective she has.

I highly recommend reading through Joni’s personal reflections on the anniversary of her diving accident (as well as this interview with her from Christianity Today). She writes:

What a difference time makes—as well as prayer, heaven-minded friends, and deep study of God’s Word. All combined, I began to see there are more important things in life than walking and having use of your hands. It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him. 

Later she writes this:

I don’t think you could find a happier follower of Jesus than me. The more my paralysis helps me get disentangled from sin, the more joy bubbles up from within. I can’t tell you how many nights I have lain in bed, unable to move, stiff with pain, and have whispered near tears, “Oh, Jesus, I’m so happy. So very happy in you!” God shares his joy on his terms only, and those terms call for us to suffer, in some measure, like his Son. I’ll gladly take it.

Thank you, Lord, for our dear sister Joni. With people like her as our examples, we celebrate the truth that you are sovereign and loving and purposeful. We celebrate that in the coming resurrection, in our new bodies and living on your New Earth, we will no longer suffer but will forever experience joyful pleasures at your right hand. Thank you for purchasing by your deliberate suffering all of our joys, both here and in the world to come.

[1] Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 74–75.

[2] Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes, When God Weeps (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 56.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries