There are 600 million people with disabilities in the world? Why so many? What’s God’s purpose in this?
God’s purpose? Surely a good God has nothing to do with people having disabilities?
Yet, in Exodus 4v11, God claims a role in disability: “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
But why? Why disability, Lord? What’s your purpose?
Disability shows us sin
First, disability shows us sin. Whenever we see a person with disability, we cannot but think, “This was not how we were meant to be.” God created humanity “very good,” perfect in every way. We had physical perfection, uniting indescribable external beauty with smoothly-purring internal functionality. We had intellectual perfection, connecting knowledge, understanding, memory, perception, imagination, and reasoning powers in finely-tuned balance. We had emotional perfection, combining love, joy, and peace in sublime proportion. We had spiritual perfection, fusing moral excellence and communion with God in serene concord. We were made a little lower than the angels, in the image and likeness of God.
But now, when we look at even the best specimen of humanity, what do we see? Imperfection: deformed bodies, broken minds, chaotic emotions, and “soul-less” souls. When we enter hospitals, nursing homes, and respite-care facilities, imperfection overwhelms us.
Sin happened. Not that people’s personal sin brought disability into their lives (though, rarely, that may happen); rather, sin brought God’s curse upon the whole of humanity, and on every part of human nature, to one degree or another.
The worst part of this curse is our spiritual disability. And yet it’s the most invisible, the most difficult for us to see or believe. That’s one reason God makes the curse more obvious in physical, mental, and emotional impairments. It reminds us that we have a deep and serious spiritual problem. These disabilities preach to us that we are spiritually blind, deaf, lame, ignorant, and senseless. Remember, no matter how bad someone’s disability is, our spiritual disability is worse.
Disability shows us God
Although sin has marred the image of God in us all. In some ways, it is even more marred in people with disabilities. Yet, in other ways, the image of God shines brighter in them than in the relatively able-bodied and mentally capable.
Without “romanticising” disability, we often see people with disabilities displaying much greater openness, joy, sincerity, purity, warmth, genuineness, integrity, sympathy, and even love. They often don’t have the same suspicion, cynicism, hypocrisy, and deceit that others regularly manifest.
We don’t just see God’s image more clearly through disability; we also see God’s grace more brightly. We see God’s grace to us by contrast and ask ourselves: “Who made you to differ, and what have you that you didn’t receive?”
We see God’s grace in Christ’s care and concern for the disabled. He not only healed many of them when He walked among us, vividly picturing what He can do for our souls, but He also showed His yearning heart for them: ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21)
We see God’s grace in the salvation of the disabled. While there are difficult questions surrounding the spiritual responsibility of people with mental impairment, we must surely acknowledge that God can and has saved many people with disabilities. In some ways, the salvation of a person with disability shows even more clearly that salvation is by grace not works!
And, ultimately, we will see God’s grace in heaven, when he will showcase the glorified bodies and minds of those who suffered so much in this world. With what delight will he shout: “Look what I’ve done with this body, with this mind, with this soul!”
Disability shows us Humanity
Disability shows us humanity in its heights and in its depths. We are taken to humanity’s heights when we observe the sacrificial love, tender care, and persevering patience that family, friends, and other caregivers lavish upon those with disabilities. By showing us the inestimable value and worth of every human life, they provoke us to good works and to worship the God whom they image.
But disability also shows us humanity in its depths. 90% of children found to be with Down Syndrome are murdered before they see the light. Some children born with disabilities are victims of infanticide, official and unofficial. And even those who are spared to live in this world still face much sinful prejudice and cruelty.
Let’s grieve over humanity in its vicious depths, even in our own prejudices. Let’s continue to pray for God’s deliverance of our society from its terrible crimes against these little ones. And let’s encourage, appreciate, and imitate those who show us humanity in its heights of selfless love. As one caregiver said, “I treat every disabled person as Jesus in distressing disguise.”
This article first appeared in Tabletalk. Subscribe for a year for $23, or sign up for three month free trial.