A Bible lies open in the seat of a power wheelchair in an outdoor setting. Fallen leaves in the grass indicate it's autumn.
Disability & Rare Disease, God

When the Bible Meets Disability

As someone who has spent almost a lifetime with multiple disabilities, I’ve ruminated a lot on how the gospel applies to disability.

At first glance, this might seem like a rather obscure topic. Yet it affects more people than you might think. An estimated one in four American adults live with a disability. And many people experience the effects of illness, injury, or age at some point. That means many of us either have/will have some kind of disability or know someone who does.

How we view disability and treat those who live with it matter. And, as with every other life topic or ethical question, our best guide is the Bible.

As one writer has pointed out, a biblical “theology of disability” is one major key to welcoming people with disabilities into God’s family. All our best intentions and attempts at inclusion will miss the mark unless they grow from and by biblical truths.

So for this month’s blog post, let’s explore some of the things the Bible has to say about disability and those affected by it. As we go, let’s look for ways we can apply its perspective to our own lives and interactions.

Note that this post is by no means comprehensive, and it reflects my own interpretations. But I hope it gives some insight and inspires you to dig into this theme more deeply.

Ready? Here we go!

Respect People With Disabilities

We often talk about the importance of showing kindness to people with disabilities. And we should. But equally important, yet sometimes overlooked, is the need to respect them.

The Bible asserts that God created humans in His image and personally, thoughtfully invests in each of us. This alone should give us reason to treat any human being with dignity. But in case we miss the point, Scripture also contains some specific imperatives addressing respect—including respect toward people with disabilities.

Midway through a long list of guidelines for the Israelites regarding holiness and ethics, God warns: “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you are to fear your God; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:14, CSB)

Given it’s the only mention of disability in the entire chapter, this command might at first seem puzzlingly, even disappointingly specific. But looking at the theme of the surrounding passage helps shed light on its broader application.

The surrounding verses center on treating people fairly—paying workers on time, deciding cases impartially, refraining from slander, etc. So we can infer that this particular command is about fairness and respect as well.

Two books later, a similar verse tucked into a list of curses on immoral and unethical people denounces anyone “who leads a blind person astray on the road” (Deuteronomy 27:18, CSB). Such false guides are cursed alongside idolaters, land thieves, murderers, and more. Clearly, God hates mockery and abuse of any kind.

These two verses have many practical applications for us today. First and most obviously, we should never abuse or make sport of others’ weaknesses, nor should we tolerate those who do. Further, we should consider whether our shared spaces and activities put figurative “stumbling blocks” in front of the people who share them.

This latter point might at first seem more like an issue of convenience than respect. But to truly treat people fairly, we must ensure they can access what we claim to offer them. Is it fair to convey information in a form your audience can’t understand? Is it respectful to invite someone into a building without a hassle-free, dignified way to get in?

None of us can stop every injustice or control every factor affecting accessibility. But we can do our best with the influence and resources we have. And that’s what God calls us to do.

Meet People’s Needs

While God doesn’t command provision specifically for people with disabilities, He does command it for the poor and oppressed. And in Bible times, disability almost always guaranteed poverty and exclusion.

Further, God never places limits on His admonition to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In fact, when asked who qualifies as one’s neighbor, Jesus told a story in which the two “neighbors” lived miles apart and ordinarily shunned each other. He also told people to love their enemies. So it’s safe to assume He doesn’t discriminate on any basis.

The Bible also provides many positive examples of godly people serving and including individuals with disabilities. When describing his righteous life, Job mentioned acting as “eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (Job 29:15, CSB). The prophet Elisha healed a military official with a skin disease. King David adopted his late best friend’s son, who struggled to walk due to a childhood injury.

Healing people was a big part of Jesus’ own ministry. In an era when living conditions were harsh and disability accommodations scarce or nonexistent, healing meant a new chance at life. It increased a person’s chances of earning a livelihood and accessing community life.

Jesus also went beyond physical needs to address people’s need for connection with God and others. He discussed spiritual matters with those He healed just as He did with everyone else. He willingly shared space with them and wasn’t afraid to initiate interactions. He also often gave them the dignity of participating in their own healing—summoning them (if they could walk), asking them questions, and/or giving them instructions to follow. He interrupted other activities to address their needs, even when others dismissed them. And He instructed His followers to include people with disabilities in their social events.

We might not have healing powers or Jesus’ intuition or realm of influence. But we can and should thoughtfully, prayerfully minister to the people He places in our paths.

We can find out what needs are around us and help meet them. We can reach out to people on the margins and help them connect with the community. We can make sure our group activities take everyone’s needs—and worth—into account. And we can be kind and respectful to everyone we meet.

God Can Use People—and Their Disability

Physically strong warriors aren’t the only heroes in the Bible. Many impactful servants of God experienced disabilities. And none of those disabilities hurt their ministries—in fact, quite the opposite.

For example…

  • Jacob, grandson of Abraham and father of the Israelite tribes, walked with a limp from a dislocated hip. The only time Scripture even finds this disability worth mentioning is in describing the original injury. Interestingly, God Himself is depicted causing it. Yet despite the pain, Jacob literally clings to God as tightly as ever, walking away from the experience more awed—and blessed—than anything.
  • Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, spoke with an impairment. When God first commissioned him to lead Israel, he tried to use his disability as an excuse to back out. But God refused to let him bail. Instead, He reminded Moses that He was the One who had made his mouth and would help him speak. He went so far as to give Moses a helper in the form of his brother. And when Moses finally obeyed, God accomplished many extraordinary feats through him and treated him as His dear friend.
  • The apostle Paul, great gospel-bearer to the non-Jewish world, wrote of an unnamed “thorn in the flesh” that many interpret as some infirmity. He asked God to take it away, but God didn’t. Instead, the Lord assured Paul that He would provide everything Paul needed for ministry. What’s more, Paul’s thorn served a role in that ministry—allowing God’s power to shine brighter and stronger (and, as Paul admitted, keeping his own ego in check).
  • Some prominent Bible figures experienced age-related disabilities, yet used what time and abilities they had to continue serving or make provision for future generations.

So what does all this mean for us?

We should never dismiss our or others’ divine callings on the basis of disability. Like Moses, we should find help when we need it. Like Moses’ brother, we should help set others up for success. And like Paul, we’re allowed to pray for healing. But we should never underestimate God’s ability to use people—weaknesses and all.

What’s more, we should never underestimate God’s ability to use weakness itself. Instead, may we open ourselves to weakness’ ability to bless, teach, and show us God’s grace and strength unfiltered.

God Will Redeem Our Bodies

Jesus affirmed that God can and does use disability for His glory and good purposes. He also tended to prioritize spiritual health and development over physical comfort and convenience.

Yet He still healed physical brokenness. Doing so was one sign of His messianic identity and part of His mission. He considered it a good work and endowed His healing power to the apostles.

Healing physical brokenness showed people God’s care for them here and now. It paralleled Jesus’ primary ministry of healing broken souls. But it also provided a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom.

At Jesus’ future return to earth, He will end sin and death and renew the world to perfection. That includes the bodies of everyone who put their faith in Him. Those who have died will be raised, never to die again. Those still alive will be transformed. All of us will have glorious, incorruptible bodies, just as our risen Savior has.

Of course, we don’t know what those bodies will look like or how they’ll function. We don’t know what renewal will look like for people whose conditions originate in their very DNA.

What we can be sure of is that pain, sorrow, decay, and death will cease to exist. God will complete the good work in us He began when we put our faith in Christ. Best of all, we’ll know Jesus face to face, and He’ll dwell among us forever.

Because of this promise, people with disabilities who trust in Jesus can live with hope and dignity, regardless of our circumstances. Our disabilities might shape our daily lives, thought processes, personalities, and perspectives. They might form a significant part of our identities in this life. But they won’t get the final word in our stories.

Someday this state called disability will pass away, and we will live on. Because we’re more than our conditions. We’re defined first and foremost by the One to whom we’ve entrusted our entire beings.

And on hard days, when we feel constrained, misunderstood, left behind, devalued, or just plain tired, we can put on an eternal perspective. A perspective that assures us we can keep going because there’s a glorious end to this story—and a new, infinitely better story after.

God Loves People With Disabilities

All of this and more point to the Bible’s best disability news of all: God loves people with disabilities just as He does everyone else.

He tells us to treat people fairly, meet their needs, and welcome them because He assigns us all equal worth. He empowers all His children to minister because He can and does want to engage with us. He will one day renew everyone who trusts in Jesus because He wants our entire beings restored.

Just as God makes no distinctions in His command to love our neighbors as ourselves, He makes no distinctions in His own love for us. And He provides all of us the one same route to a relationship with Himself: Jesus.

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, CSB)

We’re all sinners doomed by our sin to a life and eternity without God. But God loves us so much He intervened to offer us a way out.

Jesus, God the Son incarnate, came to live a sinless life, die an innocent death, and be raised to life for us. In doing so, He atoned for our sins and conquered death. Whoever puts their faith in Him as Lord of their lives and Savior of their souls gains a restored relationship with God and the promise of future resurrection and eternity with Him.

God extends this invitation to everyone—regardless of ability or anything else. Quite simply, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13, CSB)

In fact, the gospel is the ultimate equalizer. Because Jesus supplies our atonement and victory over sin and death, none of us can claim we achieve our own salvation. Ability of any kind has no bearing here—this gift is free. And accepting it is simple enough: Repent of your sins and ask Jesus to save and lead you.

If you haven’t done so already, now’s a great time to do so! Confess your sins to God and ask His forgiveness. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Thank Him for all He’s done for and promised you.

This is a God who knows, cares, and acts. A God who will make it all well one day, and in the meantime walks with us, sustains us, and redeems hardship for good.

So trust Him to do all that for you. Trust He can do it for others.

Ask Him to help you see people as He sees them—imperfect but worth restoring, weak but possessing God-powered potential, equal in both their fallenness and Christ’s ability to save them. Let His love compel you to love them as He does.

And remember that same perspective and love apply to you, too.

Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption—in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:27-31 (CSB)

Scripture quotations marked CSB have been taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.