There are many questions relating to certain disabilities that cannot be answered with absolute authority on clear biblical grounds. For example, the Scriptures do not directly enlighten us concerning the eternal destiny of individuals with mental impairment. Neither does it say just when an adult with mental impairment and other cognitive disabilities begins to assume responsibility for sinful behavior or if he ever does.
The Scriptures are silent concerning the possibility of special eternal compensation that might conceivably be provided to those who in this life bore the extra burden of a disability. On the first issue we generally rest our case on God's infinite mercy, and on the latter we imagine how the extra joy of release and wholeness might well be in and of itself the extra compensation enjoyed by those who will shed their disability forever. We must admit that there is much we can only
surmise, infer, and guess. On the other hand, there are some things we can know with certainty, and one is that individuals with disabilities are a part of God's purpose and plan in the world.
There are no credible alternatives to the position that believes with disabilities are full-fledged members of the Body of Christ, having been joined to God and the Church by the same operation of faith as anyone else. In fact, in the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:5-24), when those whom the master invited made various excuses in refusing to attend the feast, he pointedly designated that the servants should now go forth and invite, in a compelling manner, the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. The parable has obvious reference to those who are invited into the Kingdom of God. Believing people with disabilities are members of the Body of Christ. For believers with disabilities, as with all believers, relationship with Jesus and His Body adds new meaning to life. None of us has true and adequate meaning for our lives when we dwell, or are made to dwell, in isolation. We each have meaning relationally that is, we relate not only to Christ but also to His Body, the Church, and in these relationships we find meaning for our lives. It follows that not only do people with disabilities receive ministry in this relationship, but they also must exercise ministry. Furthermore, this implies that we should give people with disabilities equal opportunity to serve to make a difference in the Kingdom of God.
The multiple instances of Christ healing people with disabilities should, among other things, signal to us His compassionate concern for them in the days of His flesh. But more directly Jesus taught in Luke 14: 12-14 that we ought to direct our hospitality toward those who could not recompense us in kind, such as . . . the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. . .
Then in Leviticus 19:14 God warns, "'Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.'" And again in Deuteronomy 27:18 he warns, Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road. In other words, God is warning against any abuse or mockery of people with disabilities and implies that he who would stoop to such activities would have God to deal with afterward! When trying to vindicate his personal righteousness before God, it is interesting that Job cites as part of his good record, I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame (Job 29:15). If his is not merely metaphorical speech, Job is saying that an expression of his righteous life was ministering practical help to individuals with disabilities.
We already have cited the examples of Paul and Moses and God's provision of conquering grace. The kind of victory that God makes available to people with disabilities is beautifully illustrated in Lloyd Douglas's novel, The Robe, which describes Marcellus's visit to the village of Cana to talk with the young maiden Miriam and to hear her sing. Each evening the inhabitants of Cana would gather around her cot to listen to her inspired voice lifted in song. She attributed her beautiful voice to her faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Miriam tells Marcellus, "It has completely transformed my life, my singing. It instantly made me over into another kind of person. . . I was morbid, helpless, heartsick, self-pitying, fretful, unreasonable. And now, as you can see-I am happy and contented." It bothered Marcellus that she would feel this way. He wondered why Jesus didn't restore her power to walk since she had the power to sing so beautifully. Miriam's response is a classic in understanding the nature of life as the quality of response to a disability.
"I do not regret my lameness," answers Miriam. "Perhaps the people of Cana are more helped by the songs I sing - from my cot - than they might be if I were physically well. They all have their worries, agonies, defeats; if I had been made whole, perhaps they would say, 'Oh, it's easy enough for Miriam to sing and rejoice. Miriam has no trouble. Why indeed shouldn't she sing?'"
"You are a brave girl," declares Marcellus. Miriam shakes her head. "I do not feel that I merit praise, Marcellus. There was a time when my lameness was a great affliction - because I made it an affliction. It afflicted not only me, but also my parents and my friends. Now that it is not an affliction, it has become a means of blessing."9
Being full members of the Body of Christ, people with disabilities share an identical eternal destiny with all other members of the Kingdom of God. But for them this radiant hope excites extra~special anticipation. When this corruptible shall have put on the incorruptible, the release into eternal wholeness out from the jaws of earthly restriction shall be greeted with shouts that will ring from one end of heaven to the other. How good it is of the Lord to make special mention of people with disabilities in certain prophetic passages that speak of the end times.
Hear the Word of the Lord:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5,6).
Jeremiah speaks prophetically of the returning Jewish remnant in Jeremiah 31:8
See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return.
Think of it- in the day of the Great Resurrection the first sight of those who are blind will be the face of their Savior! Those with mental disabilities shall then know all things perfectly, even as now He knows them. Those whose physical disabilities restrict their movements shall be beside themselves in ecstasy. Those who cannot speak shall compulsively practice every possible phonetic sound for the sheer joy of hearing themselves speak. Those who cannot hear shall stand awestricken listening to every sound of heaven, from the shouts of the saints to the anthems of angels, from the whir of seraphim wings to the mighty rushing sound of the Spirit of God.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
1The Church and People with Handicapping Conditions (Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, 1979).
2 Disability within the Family of God (A Theology of Access for the American Lutheran Church).
3 Loving Justice: The ADA and the Religious Community, (National Organization on Disability 1995).
4 Francis A. Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop, M.D., Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Fleming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1979).
5 Is Our Theology Disabled? A Symposium on Theology and People with Handicapping Conditions. (Health and Welfare Ministries Division, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church).
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