In His Image regularly collaborates with and learns from Elim Christian Services here in the U.S. We love their work and their heart for the differently-abled. The following are reflections from Elim on the biblical worldview of disabilities. This article originally appeared on Elim’s blog.
I was born with a disability. I have never liked the disability, but it is part of my every day life. It seems like it’s a part of me, and that I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t have a speech impediment.
The mother of a child with Down syndrome or autism probably doesn’t like the social, behavioral, and medical issues that accompany the ‘disability.’ And yet, there is a freshness in their child’s perspective, a different take on the world that is both unique and somehow essential. In some mysterious way, God’s wonders are revealed in the life of this person.
These wonders–God’s patience, His stillness and His strength in weakness–seem so important to understand that we conclude that God wanted us to learn them. And if He wanted us to learn them, perhaps He needed to send that child, with their disabilities and struggles and all. And that begs the question I try to respond to here. Did God make me this way?
Did He make me with a disability, and why? If He made me this way, what does that mean for my value, what does it mean for my place in God’s kingdom? What does it mean for people with disabilities?
If God Made Me This Way…
I want to say that God did make me this way, because:
- It means that God is in control, which is what I’ve been taught. It’s what the Bible proclaims.
- It means that I am still okay just the way I am, because ‘God doesn’t make junk,’ and
- It means that my disability is actually okay (just a ‘difference’ or a ‘different ability’), if not actually a really good blessing from God
I want to believe that God made me this way because it is affirming, and it would seem consistent with my (flawed?) perception of what it means for God to be ‘loving.’ If God is all these things (a powerful God who is in control and does things only for our good), then it is easiest to accept disability as some kind of intentional gift from God, and–therefore–good.
But I Know It’s Not A Gift…
Just as I know disability is not just a curse, as has been thought for so long, I also know it is not a blessing (something I’ve already written about). The idea of it being a blessing is a more recent development, for all the reasons I listed above, plus a more fundamental one.
We want to believe that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with us.
We don’t want to think of ourselves as liars or cheats, or selfish and prideful. We know those things are wrong, and we know we can do those things. Being inclined to lie, cheat, and steal are obvious defects of the human condition.
But there are other ‘symptoms’ of that condition that are not inherently sinful. As tough as it can be to accept, disability is one of those symptoms. Being disabled is a real-world sign that things are not as they should be, that the kingdom of this world is broken. All Creation has been affected by the fall, in all aspects, and this is true not only in our moral lives, but in our spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological lives as well.
Yet God Redeems All Things
There is secular humanist support for the idea that we are fine as we are, and that stands in direct contrast to the Christian message that we all need Jesus, and even then, that all is still being made new (which reminds us that many things are wrong with this world).
My speech disorder may not pose me many problems (which is not true for a large number of people living with disabilities), but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with my disability. Even if I can function at a ‘high’ level, this is still a disability. It still is part of a broken world that is tainted in all aspects by sin.
I was created by God, but He did not create me to be disabled (which gives value to my disability), He created me to serve Him (which gives due glory and honor to Him).
It is difficult to say this well, and yet it is so simple a thought. I happen to have a disability, and whether or not I have it from God’s hand is not really as important as this. I have the answer to something much more important. Does God have a purpose for my life? Can He use me despite my disability, or maybe even because of it?
God redeems. Two thousand years ago, today, and every hour, He redeems. And He uses me. He uses my disability. He uses my sins and my failings, and He redeems. He redeems me. He redeems people around me. He redeems them through me and my faltering speech.
He Redeems You
God may not have given me my disability, but He definitely uses it. The same is true for you. Your value (whether or not you have a disability) is not determined by what you contribute, how independently you live, how impressive your resume looks, or whether or not you can feed yourself. Your value is complete because you are a child of the Living God. And whether or not you are disabled, and whether or not that disability comes from God’s hands, He still redeems.
This is part 1 of a two-part series. To read the next article, click here.
Dan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.