Disability, Doubt and the Design of God
My brother-in-law was born with a rare bone disease which makes it very easy to break his leg. And he has. Again and again and again.
It’s got to the stage where it’s hard for the bone to heal and he’s still on crutches from his last operation eight months ago. He can’t even walk to the end of the street.
Add to that severe gluten intolerance, chronic migraines and a dislocating shoulder and it’s hard for me not to wonder: ‘why?’
Then he asks that heart wrenching question.
“Did God make me disabled?”
So much suffering can make me lost for words. But amazingly we have a God who speaks and cares deeply for those who are marginalised, suffering or forgotten.
Suffering caused by disability is terrible, and grieves God. It’s a result of how human rebellion against him has broken our world and ourselves (Genesis 3:17-19). All of us are now damaged.
Spiritually, emotionally, physically.
Disability isn’t the result of the disabled person’s sin or that of their parents (John 9:1-3). Rather, our whole world doesn’t work as it should, including our bodies.
One day, God has promised to take away all the sin and suffering of his people and we’ll be given new, perfect bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). We should long deeply and pray for that day when everything will be made right (Romans 8:23).
But God also says he allows disabilities to happen to us. None of it’s by accident. It’s all under God’s control (Isaiah 45:7).
Because God has chosen to reveal his strength through our weakness (1 Corinthians 1:27), as awful as disability is, it shouldn’t surprise us.
When God chose Jacob as the father of his chosen people, God dislocated his hip. Afterwards, he walked with a limp. It was through a man with a visible disability that God built a mighty nation (Genesis 32:25-32).
God chose Moses who struggled with his speech as the one to speak to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10). Nobody could say it was down to Moses’ human ability that the Israelite nation was freed from slavery.
Samson, the strongest man who ever lived, was used most by God after he was physically tortured and blinded (Judges 16:21). Samson was pitiful, but his God was strong.
In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man. When the disciples asked why he was born blind, Jesus replied, that it wasn’t a punishment for anyone’s sin but that “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
God chooses to use people, not in spite of their weakness, but because of their weakness. All reason for boasting is taken away until it becomes clear that God alone deserves the glory.
Through our inability and disability, the work of God is held out for all to see.
Jesus is enough
Since the cross, Christians now have Christ living in them (Colossians 1:27). When Christians are disabled, the power of Jesus is then beautifully highlighted for all to see.
Strength contrasting with weakness. Rejoicing in the face of loss. Hope where there should be despair.
In the world’s eyes, those with severe disabilities might have nothing to live for. The book and film Me Before You, shows how not even human love can be enough to keep us going. But in Christ, even the disabled have riches unnumbered - riches to last into eternity (Ephesians 3:8).
Having Jesus is enough. And that’s never clearer than when everything else is taken away.
So often I can be lulled away from Jesus by the comforts around me. I haven’t suffered much in my life, and I forget to long for heaven as I should (Colossians 3:1). Some days it can feel like I don’t need Jesus at all. I’m quite happy with the world.
But my brother-in-law relies on Jesus every day. He longs for Jesus to come back and set things right. And when I see that, I remember that, despite his physical disability, he’s more spiritually able than I am.
I’m broken too. It’s just easier for me to hide. And it’s not just me - the whole world is broken and we desperately need Jesus to come again to make things right.
Through my brother-in-law I see the truth about myself, the world and Jesus. When I’m with him, I remember that this world can never satisfy and all of us need new bodies.
He’s a display case for the power and beauty of God (John 9:3). Every aspect of him was ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in the womb (Psalm 139:13-15). His suffering has a glorious purpose (1 Peter 4:13).
And one day, at the end of all things, we will run together without pain.