A Biblical View of Disability

August 1, 2014

Rev. Jason D. Hilliard

By Rev. Jason D. Hilliard

Birth defects, tragic accidents, disease, and the effects of old age are just a few of the countless ways that disability invades our lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of United States citizens cope with disability, and the disabled population increases to more than 50% in persons over age 65.

How are we to understand and respond to disability? What is God’s role in disability? How will we cope when disability affects us and our loved ones? The unavoidable and seemingly unanswerable question is “Why?” Why was I born this way? Why did this happen to my child? Why did God permit my spouse to contract this debilitating disease? How could a loving God have allowed this to happen to my father or mother? And what is our initial reaction when we encounter a handicapped person? Do we pity them? Do we fear them? Are we uncomfortable around them?

My challenge to you: Why not sense awe at the glory of God?

Every human being, no matter how severely disabled, exhibits beauty, value, and dignity, because we have all been created by God, in his likeness and for the purpose of communion with him. Adam Schulman writes in Bioethics and the Question of Human Dignity, “‘Made in God’s image’ has the implication that all human beings, not only those healthy and upright but also those broken in body or soul, have a share in this God-given dignity. Seeing human beings as created in the image of God means, in some sense, valuing other human beings in the way a loving God would value them.” As questions mount, we can be thankful that God’s word is not silent on the topic.

When the disciples encountered a man who had been born blind (John 9:1–38), they assumed God was punishing either him or his parents, but Jesus rejected their claim. His answer affirmed the truth that there is no suffering outside the purposes of God. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

In this case, God’s glory was revealed in healing. But healing is not the only manner of expression that God uses in disability. Though Paul repeatedly pled for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response was astounding; “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9–11)

It is easy to become discouraged when our loved ones suffer. Similarly, our own frailties can be a source of impaired self-esteem. However, we can be encouraged that God often displays his power by sustaining, rather than healing those whom he loves. In both testaments we witness God’s glory, not only in blindness, but through crippled feet, withered hands, speech impairments, deafness, paralysis, disease and death. The testimonies of Isaac, Moses, Sarah, Zacharias, Bartimaeus, and the Gerasene Demoniac all demonstrate God’s mighty works in the presence of physical and mental disability. As we witness similar ailments in the lives of our loved ones, we can acknowledge the presence of strength in their weakness, and recognize the power of Christ that rests upon them.

As Christians, we understand that God is sovereign in suffering, and we want our lives to express an unhindered joy, as we recite with Paul, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17–18)

If you have found yourself caring for a disabled person or coping with disability yourself, encourage and be encouraged. God has a purpose for all things (Romans 8:28). Jesus will ultimately complete our wholeness and healing (Revelation 21:5). Just as the Man of Sorrows sought out the rejected blind man, he wants to reveal his glory in and through all who suffer.

A biblical view of the image of God combined with a full understanding of God’s expectations for treatment of the elderly, enable us to honor, value and respect all life, in an effort to establish a preview of the new creation that we all long for at Christ’s soon return. This understanding should be demonstrated in our view of others and of ourselves. Especially regarding the feeble, downcast and marginalized, it is clear that the heart of God is to treat all people with honor and not neglect.

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