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The Cause of Disabilities

On this subject most religious authors have offered one oversimplified solution. Many writers merely quote one Scripture passage, John 9:1,3, and make Christ's response apply to all cases: ... "Rabbi, who sinned, this mnn or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," Jesus said, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life ."

Jesus said this regarding a particular blind man; but to the exclusion of another relevant passages of Scripture, writers jump to the conclusion that the principle embodied in Christ's reply to this single situation is universally applicable to all people with disabilities. It certainly must be true of many, maybe even of most but, just as certainly, not of all. If the first part of Jesus' statement is true in every case, then the second part also must be true, namely, that God would heal every person with disabilities, for Christ is referring specifically to the healing of this young man when He said, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

After saying these things Jesus immediately commenced to heal the man and the "work of God" thereby "displayed in his life" obviously sent forth ripples of impact that were referred to later in John 10:21 and11:37. But let us set aside this case for a moment and begin the discussion of the cause of disabilities where we ought to begin, with the Person of God Himself.

God assumes ultimate responsibility for the cause of disabling conditions. God's response to Moses in Exodus 4: 11 is forthright and astounding. When God called Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses complained that he was "slow of speech and tongue."

The Lord said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

God is big enough to assume responsibility as the ultimate cause of disabilities. This passage does not make an attempt to distinguish between what God allows through His "permissive will" or what He directly and immediately causes. The effect of what is being said here is that when we discuss causation, the very bottom line is found in the sovereign will of Almighty God.

This, then, is our starting point. All that follows somehow is incidental or attaches itself to this mysterious verity. What a wonderful assurance it should have been to Moses to know that the same God who assumed responsibility for his slow tongue was also the One who promised to help him cope and overcome his disability: "Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

Now we can return safely to John 9. In some cases, as with this blind man, there is no sin factor, as a cause, involved in either the parents or the disabled offspring. In some wonderful way this man with a disabling condition fits into God's grand scheme of things, and at the appointed time and place, Christ released His healing virtue to display His glorious power. In the case of this blind man there was a kind of "fullness of time," an appointed historical moment when not only the causation issue was resolved, but the reason for his blindness was made clear. Even though, in being true to the text, we must admit that God revealed His work in this blind man by healing him, experience and history have taught us that He also can reveal His glory through people with disabilities by means other than healing. Let us also be careful to note that the explanation Jesus gives here tells more about the reason for the blindness than it does the cause. We can safely assume that the cause is God himself. We can come to no other logical conclusion. God withheld sight so that, at the appropriate moment, He might give it when it would effect the most desirable result.

Some of the more immediate causes of disabilities include:


In John 5 Jesus healed a paralyzed man who had been disabled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus found the man later at the temple, He said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you" (John 5: 14). The text infers, but does not say directly, that the man's disability was caused by personal sin. Though we cannot be absolutely certain of that, we can be sure about the clear meaning of Christ's warning; namely, that if he continued sinning, he would contract a condition worse than his lameness. Here, as a future possibility, Jesus definitely and specifically connected personal sin in this man's life with a disability.


There are at least four interesting cases of disabilities being caused by demon possession or, more specifically, by particular spirits that caused particular disorders. Two of the four involved multiple disabilities.

In Luke 13: 11 there is the case of the woman who had been bent over for eighteen years and was unable to straighten up at all. The Scriptures say she had been. . .crippled by a spirit. . . Matthew 9:32, 33 and Luke 11:14 present the case of the deliverance of the demon, possessed man who was mute. Matthew 12:22 records the exorcism and healing of a man afflicted with blindness and muteness caused by demons. Matthew 17:15 and Mark 9:25, when put together, present the most extreme case of all - a demon-possessed boy who had seizures and was deaf and mute. His condition was so difficult and the spirits so resistant that the disciples were unable to deliver him.


In some cases where the Scriptures say that a man was blind from birth, (John 9) or lame from birth (Acts 3), perhaps it is not entirely possible to conclude that there was some prenatal problem in the fetus. Disease, accident, or even mishandling can occur at birth, that could result in certain disabling conditions. However, in cases like the deformed, hunchbacked, and dwarfed of Leviticus 21: 18, 20, we are reasonably safe in assuming some congenital defect for the majority in these categories.


Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, was lame in both his feet as a result of an accidental fall when he was five years old (2 Samuel 4:4, 9:3, 19:26). It is not improbable to believe that his nurse, who dropped him as she fled in haste, condemned herself ever after for his condition even though she only was trying to spare the boy from possible assassination.


In Judges 20:16 there is the fascinating reference to 700 chosen Benjamites who were left-handed. This word really means they were "bound of the right hand" (itter yadyamin); that is, they had been "disabled in their right hand." Because of their numbers and because they were fighting men, we can assume that their disablement was caused by being wounded in battle.
What is commendable about these men is that they had so diligently striven to overcome their disability, that in due course, they could utilize a slingshot with their left hands possibly more skillfully than when they had used the sling with their right hands. Now they could sling stones and not miss with their reeducated left hands.

Ehud, son ofGera, a Benjamite, also was disabled in his right hand (Judges 3:15). He is the one who slew Eglon, king of Moab, by using a dagger with his left hand. He then rallied all Israel to defeat Moab, after which Israel rested for eighty years. It is not recorded how he became disabled in his right hand, whether by disease, by being wounded in battle, by being injured by a criminal or some other aggressor, or by sustaining permanent disability as a result of an accident.


It can be assumed that at least some of those referred to as being lame or paralyzed and some others who had shriveled or paralyzed limbs (Mark 3:1,3; Matthew 12:10; Luke 6:6,8; and John 5:3) had experienced strokes, polio, or such other diseases that might cause disabilities.


In some rare cases God directly intervenes and causes a permanent or temporary disabling condition without using any earthly mediating instrumentality or agency. How curious it is to ponder the fact that Israel, Jacob himself, the revered father of the tribes of Israel, was disabled. The reason for his disability must be discussed elsewhere rather than under the subheading of causation. Jacob became lame when the angel with whom he wrestled touched the socket of his hip so that his hip was wrenched. What is further curious is that the Jews commemorate the occasion of their ancestor becoming disabled by refraining from eating the tendon attached to the socket of the hip of any animal (Genesis 32).


There are/other cases of God's direct intervention causing such conditions as blindness in the Syrian troops (2 Kings 6:18), in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:8), in Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:11); and in the inability to speak as with Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:26, 24:27,33:22), Daniel (Daniel 10:15), and Zechariah, father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:20).

These, then, are the causation categories as they can be identified in Holy Scripture. They could be embellished upon. For example, we could talk about "human error" in the case of Mephibosheth's nurse, instead of "accident," or the implications of poor prenatal care of the pregnant mother in some cases under the heading of "congenital defects." However, no matter how long or how detailed our deliberation on these more easily identifiable causes may be, our understanding still will be woefully incomplete unless and until we come to grips with the deepest level of knowledge on this subject revealed to us by God Himself through the Scriptures.

Behind all of the ways and means whereby disabling conditions occur, though incomprehensible to us, a divine, sovereign decision was made in the heart and mind of Almighty God to cause or permit to be caused, for reasons fully known to Him alone, disabling conditions. To some this knowledge is too wonderful to comprehend. To others this knowledge is too unthinkable to accept. To others it results in bitter anger. Harold Wilke reported that in a church conference, thirty or forty people with disabilities, all with church orientation, listened to a lay theologian quoting verse after verse about God's causing the handicap to help other people. The gut reaction of this biblically "not very well informed" group [of people with disabilities] was an almost angry denial of what the theologian said.5 We must, nevertheless, repeat that God is big enough to accept the responsibility of causation and big enough to absorb all of our reactions to this truth.

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