By John Hutchinson

The Elephant Man

What do we do with oversized ears and noses – or any other kind of abnormality?

Joseph Merrick
Joseph Carey Merrick (1862-90)

Peculiar protrusions are the playground of artists and cartoonists. How easily they caricature an obese politician to look like a hot air balloon!

Unsightly abnormalities however, are no laughing matter for those who have to wear them. Kids can sometimes be cruellest to those with peculiar features. Adults can also unwittingly say the wrong thing and injure sensitive feelings.

Doctor David, a specialist in cranio-facial reconstruction, has given new looks, life and dignity to many severely disfigured people. The 'before and after' photos are incredible!

Burns from fires have also caused terrible damage and disfigurement to many. Just as car accidents have scarred many a face. The use of thalidomide left lots of children with stumped limbs and legs. The polio epidemic twisted faces and withered up limbs and put many in wheel chairs.

Obesity causes people to bulge in the wrong places. Even old age is waiting to wrinkle our skin, thin our hair, and weaken us to a point of dependency.

One of the saddest cases of deformity was that of Joseph Carey Merrick, a young boy born in the late nineteenth century. His skin became blotchy and lumpy, his lips swelled abnormally and his head grew enormously – to such an extent he had to sleep sitting in a chair resting his face on a pillow. One leg became twice the size of the other and a nasty protrusion grew from his forehead. He fell and damaged his hip which made walking difficult. His mother died when he was 10 years old.

Unable to get a job, he struggled to survive. He came up with the idea of offering himself for exhibition in the hope of earning money. Someone set up a special room and advertised him as 'The Elephant Man.' Yet his appearance was so repulsive that people could not bear to look.

Doctor Treves cared for him during the final years of his sad and short life. Treves said that underneath his unattractive exterior was a person of quiet and pleasant nature.

We tend to avoid the abnormal but often they need us the most and crave our company.

Jesus Christ also suffered deformity and indignity. A prophet had previously written of Him in these words: "...His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – Like one from whom men hide their faces" (Isaiah 52:14-15).

The flogging, the mocking and spitting, the crown of thorns and finally the crucifixion left the Son of God shockingly disfigured.

Ironically, however, the One deformed became the One who transforms.

A verse in the Bible says: "...But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Saviour. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own." (Philippians 3:20-21).

It's an exciting anticipation. The Bible speaks about "a better resurrection". It says the dead will come forth from the grave 'incorruptible' – a perfect transformation!

Jesus Himself promised this saying, "Whoever believes in me shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." ?

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