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.

What happened?
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.

  • Nick McDonald

    So should we be grateful to God for disability because He shows us that we’re broken?


    Without pain, I wouldn’t have known I had a problem.

    It also helps me to reflect on the nature of eternity. In 2 trillion years, will I remember that I had a disability? Who will be the objects of pity then?

    • Dave Conn

      Amen—no one could have stated it better. God Bless!!!!

    • David Murray

      Yes, Nick, an eternal perspective changes everything.

  • Mark

    Thank you David,
    I’m trying to think through the implications for those with learning difficulties. Can you recommend any good places to look for more info?

    • rcjr

      Mark, though I am not David I did receive today from Crossway the newly released book by my friend and former Tabletalk associate editor Dr. Michael Beates- I commend it to you

      • Mark

        Thank you – I will have a look.

  • Richard

    Thanks for this article; well written and right on the money. As a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, I have seen everything written here to be very true both emotionaly and spiritualy.
    How sad that 90 percent of children with Down Syndrome are aborted. The world is missing some special folks.


    • David Murray

      I’m so glad this jived with your experience, Richard.

  • Reg Schofield

    Well thought out and written . Too often in many circles , where our best life now mantra is taught , the place for those who are visibly marred by the fall are not wanted . Most of us who do not have a physical outward disability, can hide it well , the effects of the fall and our sin state . That is why many are uncomfortable around those with disabilities. It reminds us things are messed up and not right . In my home , my wife , my son and my brother-in-law(he boards with us ) all suffer from different disabilities.My wife has seizure disorders , my son is a juvenile diabetic from a early age and my brother in-law has aspergers syndrome , a form of autism . It has been a challenge at times and I cannot say I have not asked why of God as I watch them at times deal with the harsh reality of their disabilities ,but at the same time I have seen so much grace given . Plus it has taught me what it means to love and serve . We can learn so much from those who have a disability , if we are willing to open our minds and just be around them .

    Again very well written . I truly enjoy your well thought out insights . Blessings to you .

    • David Murray

      Good points, Reg. Thanks for your kind comments.

  • Carlene Byron

    It is also true, by research study, that those with disabilities are more likely to live focused on eternity instead of focused on today — perhaps for the same reason that those who have less money are more likely to give a larger percentage of it to charity. It is difficult to place a high value on what you personally experience as transient and in many ways beyond your own control.

    • David Murray

      I didn’t know that Carlene. Fascinating.

  • Kipp

    “we also see God’s grace more brightly”

    Amen and amen. As a minister whose ministry serves those within our church with a disability, and having a wife who is a Special Education Teacher, the fact of your simple statement and, carrying it further forward, seeing the brilliance of God’s glory shine through those with a disability explains the intoxicating, soul-satisfying nature of working with these precious image-bearers.

    • David Murray

      Kipp, may the Lord bless your ministry and your wife’s important calling too. Your work is such a revelation of God’s lovingkindness.

  • rcjr

    Thanks for this David. Can’t tell you how blessed we are to have my daughter Shannon in our family. For those interested her story is part of this episode of Joni and Friends-

    • David Murray

      Thanks for this link RC. I look forward to listening to this. Hope Shannon is doing much better.

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  • http://none B Hodges Jacobs

    Please have your webmaster design a Printer Freindly ‘click-on’ box so just your articles w/o Comments can be printed.
    Where I live (elderly housing) people don’t have computers or access to Facebook. This will enable others to extend your Ministry. Please…….
    B Hodges

    • David Murray

      I’ll certainly look into that.

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  • http://none B Hodges Jacobs

    I have dual disabilities and rejoice in my affliction—BTGOG

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