We are very naturally led now to the burning issue of "why." Why is my child disabled? Why do I have a disability? The discussion of cause is directed toward the question of "who." Who is responsible for the disability? If we can bow our hearts and minds to Scriptural revelation, we can accept that God Himself is the "Who." He is the ultimate cause. Accepting this truth as a "given," it is imperative that we proceed to the next question very carefully. The most natural follow-up question is, Why? If God has caused or permitted my disability, then why? What possible reason does God have in mind to make me this different from the majority who are in the mainstream of life?
Its matters very much how we ask this question. In what spirit do we ask it? Is it the right question after all? Daniel Porkorny suggests that maybe there is something the matter with the question of "why?" Maybe we shouldn't ask it. Maybe that's the problem!"6 Instead of the relentless and often bitter demand we press upon God to give an answer for His actions that cause us hurt, had we not better ask another question: What, Lord, should be my response to what You have sovereignly chosen to be part of my earthly life? Arnold Kimsey King Jr. wrote, "We speak to all when we say that what adversity does to one depends on what one chooses to do with adversity... It is the quality of response that counts."7
When we are faced with adversity, the quality and values of life in our Western society do not help us to plumb the depths of theological issues to the solace and instruction of our souls. We glorify health and beauty. We marry success to spirituality. We worship images that are what one writer termed "media perfect." Leszek Holokowski wrote "One of the most important (though rarely articulated) characteristics of our civilization is the total rejection of belief in the value of suffering." He went on to describe our society as a "culture of analgetics."8 We reach for a pill to relieve us of the slightest misery. As a luxury-surfeited society we are left impoverished in thought, spineless in will, and weakly swept along through life on the waves of our own frail emotions. With our addiction to soft silks and pillows, hard steel has fled from our characters. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we are confused, bitter, whining, angry, and rebellious when disability touches our lives or the lives of those we love?
Having said all this, it is unquestionably profitable for a person to search the Scriptures in an effort to better understand the ways and the mind of God when He ordains suffering to be man's lot. Most of our inquiring "whys" could be answered under one or more of the following headings:
This was true of the young man born blind in John 9. By divine ordination he was born blind with the specific purpose that, at a certain point in time, Christ would heal him and thereby glorify His Name. It should be kept in mind that the manifold healings of individuals with disabilities in the days of Jesus were purposed to be signs of His messiahship. Jesus made this very clear when He sent word back to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:5; Mark 7:37; Luke 7:22). Thus there are eschatological implications attached to the frequency of those healings of people with disabilities at that time. This is very important to our understanding, especially when people with disabilities and the parents of children with disabilities are approached by well-meaning believers who urge them to quickly resolve all their problems by seeking healing from Jesus. By doing so they lay layer upon layer of guilt on people who are perhaps already laden down with agony and hurt and who are now to regard themselves as being faithless.
This principle was surely at work in the life of Jacob. After he became disabled, no longer could he use his cunning to avoid Esau. He was purposely weakened physically that he might spiritually prevail with God and man. The same principle was at work in Paul with respect to the thorn in my flesh. Just how much this thorn was a disability we are uncertain, but it did cause Paul to boast all the more in his infirmity in the sense that when he was at his weakest, God was at His strongest in him (2 Corinthians 12). There are many Scriptures that instruct us to believe that experiencing a loss can result in a gain. It is better, for example, to enter into life maimed or crippled, than to have all our body members and be cast into hell (Matthew 18:8,9). Better to be weakened that in the end we might drink at the fountain of true strength. Better to suffer temporary loss that in the end we might inherit eternal gain!
The principles taught in 2 Corinthians 1 :3-7 can legitimately be applied to those who face the challenges of a disability. By applying these truths, the disability is "'transformed into a door of opportunity and a realization of...God's purpose for one's life! In my disability I reach our to God who comforts me. In turn I reach out to people in similar circumstances and comfort them with the comfort God has given me. God fills my cup with comfort to the extent that it overflows and accrues to the benefit of others facing similar challenges. Not only is there the opportunity to share the comfort of words and actions of ministry, but there is the opportunity to model an exemplary life under adverse conditions.
We again refer to the 700 Benjamite soldiers who must have been an inspiration to the entire army as undoubtedly, they spent months outside of their towns in the open fields and in the woods practicing the use of the sling with their left hands. They refused to succumb to self-pity; they refused to allow their disability to turn them into mere spectators of marching troops returning from the wars. They doggedly practiced with their formerly untrained arms day after day. The very thought of their determination is enough to turn a tiring warrior into a lion in battle!
What God laid on Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when he was unable to speak must surely be categorized as the discipline of the Lord (Luke 1:20). In fact, the angel explicitly said to him that he would be unable to speak until the angel's word had been fulfilled because you did not believe my words. In some lives a disability is the Lord's means to bring about faith and obedience which might not have been realized otherwise.
We can only guess what ruin might have been brought about in some lives had it not been for the restraining influence imposed by a disability. First Peter 4: 1 says, . . .he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. There is a principle here. Some forms of physical limitation can actually restrain men from sin. On the other hand, we have the interesting case of Ezekiel being temporarily restrained from prophesying (Ezekiel 3:26, 24:27,33:22) until the news came that Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Chaldeans.
This was true of certain Levites who had various "blemishes" or forms of disability, disfigurement, or deformity; they were forbidden to serve in the sanctuary. We will not enter into all the ramifications of Leviticus 21 on this latter point, but suffice it to say that the practical outcome of the Levite's disability was that he was restrained from ministry. Today the doors of opportunity are gradually opening wider to encourage people with disabilities to use their gifts, talents, and skills to serve the Lord. However, it must be acknowledged that certain forms of disability may limit or restrain some from certain areas of ministry. Thus, whether we are talking about restraint from sin or restraint from something such as prophesying and serving in the sanctuary, we need to understand that God uses disabilities to restrain certain people from going in a direction, good or bad, that would be contrary to His will for them.