Theology of Disability
The society we live in expects life to be trouble-free; there is an assumption that we somehow have a right to an easy life. This mindset is reflected in the answer to a typical question. “What is the number one question an expectant parent is asked? ‘Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?’ And what is the typical response? ‘It doesn’t matter as long as my baby is healthy.’ That seemingly innocent exchange may reveal a foundational belief that resides in the hearts of many of us—that there are few things worse for a parent than having a child who is not healthy.” (See, Steve Viars, Your Special Needs Child.)
Sadly, this mindset is not only prevalent in the unbelieving world but also in the professing church. Therefore, believers need a theology of disability that both glorifies the Creator and honors the incredible value of every human life. As a father who lives in the world of special needs, there are 12 biblical truths that have become important for me to continually meditate upon. These form theological pillars that uphold our faith.
1. God is sovereign over all (read Psalm 103:19 and Ephesians 1:11).
There is nothing in our lives that falls outside the umbrella of God’s sovereignty. Everything that occurs falls within the counsel of His will and His kind providence.
Personal Takeaway: We must release our desire for control.
2. God is the wise Creator of all—even the disabled (read Exodus 4:11).
Regardless of secondary causes (genetics, injury, Satan’s attacks, etc.), God—the sovereign God—is always the primary cause. As God made clear to Moses in Exodus 4:11, He is never ashamed to take credit for all those who have disabilities.
Personal Takeaway: We need to trust His wisdom.
3. God fashions each child with His purposes in mind (read Psalm 139:13-17).
A common question parents of disabled children ask is, “Where were you, God, when my child was developing that you did not correct it?” God’s answer is, “I was right there, in the womb, forming that precious boy or girl exactly as I had planned.” The womb is the Divine Artist’s studio.
Personal Takeaway: We need to trust God’s good purposes.
4. God’s ways are good, wise, and kind (read Psalm 145:17).
No matter what man’s definition of “good” is, the ways of the Lord are always good. He always acts in kindness toward His children.
Personal Takeaway: We need to believe His Word, not our feelings.
5. God is not using my special-needs child to punish me for my personal sin (read John 9:1-3).
As was the case with the disciples, the fallen human mind has the tendency to always form a connection, a cause-and-effect relationship between suffering and sin (someone must be blamed!). Granted, all suffering results from sin in the generic sense—from the original sin in the Garden of Eden. However, not all personal suffering is the result of personal sin. There is a massive difference.
Personal Takeaway: We need to remember that we live in a fallen world in which we will experience all kinds of suffering until the curse is finally removed when redemption is complete (see Romans 8).
6. God uses physical and mental disabilities to remind us of our greatest disability: We are all spiritually disabled.
Apart from our union with Jesus Christ and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit:
- We are each blinded (Romans 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 5:11-12).
- We are each hearing-impaired (Zechariah 7:11-12; Romans 11:8; Isaiah 6:9-10; Hebrews 5:11).
- We are each mentally-disabled (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:3; 4:17-18).
- We are each helpless (Jeremiah 13:23; Romans 5:6-8).
God’s gift of disability is a gracious means of reminding us of our own deficiencies. If any of us thinks ourselves to be healthy, fully well, and wise then we are deceiving no one except ourselves. We all live in a constant state of desperate need.
Personal Takeaway: We need to constantly run to Christ and find our soul’s rest in Him.
7. God’s grace is sufficient for any trial (read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
No matter the trial, no matter the need, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is sufficient to strengthen and sustain those who truly belong to Him. When your 24/7 attentive care for a child with disabilities leaves you in deep weakness and exhaustion, realize that it is then that God’s strength is perfected in you.
Personal Takeaway: We need to be dependent.
8. God’s goal is to reshape us into the image of His Son (read Romans 8:28-30).
All things do not work together for good. No, read the verses above, again. It is not that all things somehow work out in the end; it is God who actively works all things together for good. No difficulties (and God really means none) escape His control. God’s wisdom enables Him to work out any and all suffering and evil toward the goal of His glory and our Christ-likeness. Our sanctification—becoming like Jesus—is of immense, personal interest to the Lord.
Personal Takeaway: We need to be Christ-centered.
9. God disciplines those whom He loves (read Hebrews 12:3-13).
God only disciplines those who truly belong to Him, but spiritual bastards remain peaceful on their road to destruction. God’s desire for us to become like Christ leads Him to develop a personal training program for each of us. He corrects, guides, and trains us as we need. Our trials are not punitive. No, Christ took care of all our punishment already. Suffering is part of God’s training program to conform us to the image of His Son.
Personal Takeaway: We need to be submissive to God’s training strategy.
10. God created us with dignity (read Genesis 1:26).
When the triune Godhead held a conference before the world was created, they decided to set humanity apart from every other created being. We alone possess immense value as God’s image-bearers. Every child, whether “healthy” or “disabled,” is of immeasurable worth in God’s eyes.
Personal Takeaway: We need to be thankful for every image-bearer for each one is priceless.
11. God redeemed us to live in community (read 1 Corinthians 12:14-25; Romans 12:10-11).
The church is not like a body; it is a body. It is a living organism with many parts, each of which is of equal importance and value, though prominence of function differs. The church needs the disabled, weaker members, in order to function as God designed. Without the disabled included in church life, to the fullest degree possible for each, the church itself becomes dysfunctional.
Personal Takeaway: We who have special needs’ kids need to humble ourselves and let others serve us and our family.
12. God-ordained suffering for our life in this fallen world is “light” compared to the weight of glory that one day He will reveal to us (read Romans 8:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
When compared to eternity in the presence of the Creator who became the Savior, all suffering and disability in this life will barely be visible. The brightness of the glory of God will dispel all shadows of doubt.
Personal Takeaway: We need to keep our eyes on Jesus and look for the Lord’s return.
May these pillars in a theology of disability be, for us, a comforting and stabilizing foundation for vibrant faith!
* First published at the Biblical Counseling Coalition on October 15, 2015.
Dr. Paul Tautges
Dr. Tautges has been in gospel ministry for 25 years and currently serves as pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He has authored ten books, including Counseling One Another, Comfort the Grieving, Pray About Everything, and Raising Kids in a ‘You Can Do It’ World. He also contributed chapters to volumes produced by the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Paul also serves as editor for the popular LifeLine mini-book series (http://www.lifelineminibooks.com/) from Shepherd Press and blogs regularly at www.counselingoneanother.com.