by David Murray
There are six hundred 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’s disabilities? Yet 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?” (Ex. 4:11). But why? What’s His purpose?
Disability Shows Us Sin
First, disability shows sin. Whenever we see a disabled person, 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 perfect 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 all mankind and on every part of human nature, to one degree or another.
The worst part of the curse is our spiritual disability. And yet it’s the most invisible, the most difficult for us to see or believe. The curse is more obvious in physical, mental, and emotional impairments. These remind 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. No matter how bad someone’s physical, mental, or emotional disability is, our spiritual disability is worse.
Disability Shows Us God
Sin has marred the image of God in us all. In some ways, it is more marred in people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Yet in other ways, God’s image shines brighter in them than in the relatively able-bodied and mentally capable.
Without “romanticizing” 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, 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 disabled person shows even more clearly that salvation is by grace, not works.
Disability Shows Us Humanity
Disability shows humanity in its heights and 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 the disabled. 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. Ninety percent of unborn children with Down Syndrome are murdered before they see the light. Some children born with disabilities are victims of infanticide, official and unofficial. Even those who are spared 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.”