Posted: February 10th, 2022

Biblical and Theological Approaches to Disability and Suffering

Biblical and Theological Approaches to Disability and Suffering

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Biblical and Theological Approaches to Disability and Suffering
The biblical approach portrays God as the one who ordained disability and suffering due to disobedience, sin, unbelief, and ignorance of his people. The scriptures indicate that God brings deafness, dumbness, leprosy, and paralysis to his people if they go astray from his commandments. This punishment may extend to future generations like a curse. In contrast, theological approaches concur with biblical approaches. Still, they tend to suppose that disability and suffering allow us to see what often is invisible to others: all abled and disabled people are dependent on other people exposing hidden vulnerability. Although these approaches have contributed to the discrimination against people with disabilities, the Bible and Christian theology hold perspectives that take an inclusive approach to disability issues.
Understanding God’s perspective on disability and suffering reflects the teaching practices adopted in the learning processes. Impairment is not a reason for lack of integration in classwork activities, and neither is there division based on abled and disabled. Drawing from the Vulnerable Communion book by Thomas E Reynolds, where he critiques the notion that disability is seen as a threat to the social fabric and something to be excluded from, the learning process is characterized by inclusivity in all classwork activities, mindfulness, and reconsideration of everyone’s abilities (Reynolds, 2008).
The knowledge that is caring about people with disability and suffering are not burdens but the basis for learning hidden truths. In Adam god’s beloved by Henri J.M Nouwen, he equips readers with relevant knowledge on how God wants people to care about those disabled to discover their hidden vulnerabilities (Nouwen, 2012). Caring about those born differently provides a chance for a person to reflect on God’s purpose in creating all humans beings and his desire for humanity to show love to each other just as he did by letting his only son die on the cross for humanity’s freedom.
Similarly, ability and disability are societal creations of differentiating people as normal or abnormal and not God’s will for humanity. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 states that the saving power of God is made manifest and perfect in weakness or lack of ability, therefore suggesting that God’s love is not limited due to weakness or brokenness. Still, instead, it’s eternal for all people. Hence, humans should strive to share their humanity in the light of God’s grace because there is always a chance of suffering from impairments as long as one is alive. Therefore, accepting other people’s impairments as God’s creation can aid in eliminating the discrimination people with disabilities face in the social setup.
Correspondingly, Reynolds’s exposure to Christian churches’ misconception of dealing with disabled people enlightens Christians to be hospitable to those labeled abnormal by society. For example, the protestant church members considered Chris a bad influence on their children and wanted nothing to do with him (Reynolds, 2008). Based on that experience, an understanding is derived that societal fears of people with disability lead to the normative assumptions that disability is a problem that needs to be fixed or eliminated. However, this perspective does not concur with Bible teachings that God is love, and those who claim to love him must love their fellow human beings.
The story of Jesus enduring a time of passion after his ministry where he accepted the truth about his imminent death meekly and humbly impacts understanding disability and suffering. Jesus had the power to refuse God’s will for him to suffer severely in the hands of the very men he was meant to redeem from sin by dying on the cross. Instead, the scriptures talk about his humble acceptance to endure the suffering silently. Mentally, he was disabled by his acceptance to accomplish God’s will for humanity, leading to his death. The marks he bore after the resurrection in his hands and legs further indicate his embodied disability.
Moreover, the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14) shows the importance of people with disabilities in the kingdom of heaven. While the householder prepared the feast and invited his notable friends to come, they gave all kinds of reasons not to attend, prompting him to invite the poor, lame, the disabled, and the blind from the streets. This parable seeks to manifest that the kingdom of heaven is not complete without people with disabilities as God regards them as being unique in his sight and obedient when he calls them. By summoning the physically impaired people, the householder implied the complete restoration they deserved as being part of the Body of Christ.
Likewise, the story of Mephibosheth Jonathan’s son, who was physically impaired and found favor in the eyes of King David in honor of his father’s good deeds enhances further enhances knowledge on the issue of disability and suffering. To king David, Mephibosheth’s disability was insignificant in restoring what rightfully belonged to him. He didn’t judge his impairment and consider his unworthiness like Ziba did but instead restored his self-esteem, identity, and back to society. King David’s actions reflect the compassion of Jesus Christ by restoring a disabled person to normalcy. This story depicts people with disabilities as vulnerable to societal abuse where they are considered lesser human beings. Still, King David’s actions bring forth another view that they are essential and deserve to be respected and valued.
All humankind bears the Imago Dei (image of God). That too is present in people with disabilities created with unique abilities to mirror God’s divine nature. The disabled possess the same unique human qualities as others that allow God to manifest in their lives through the capability to have a conscious recognition of their being. In addition, the Imago Dei moral implication is that if humans are to love God, they must love other humans regardless of their physical or mental impairments, as each is an expression of God. The Imago Dei is a constant reminder that people with disability too portray the likeness of God and is of value in his kingdom; hence they deserve to be treated fairly as equal members in the share of God’s kingdom.
The perspective of accepting people with disabilities as bearing the image of God just like any other person considered normal is solidified via the acquisition of more knowledge on the Imago Dei. For instance, people with disabilities are pretty aware of their dependency on others for most of their basic needs, implying that no one is independent. Just like the body of Christ represents all the people being interdependent, we need each as we are created in God’s image, who is present during life and suffering. By considering what it means to be human, understanding disability challenges our norms and remolds our reality of understanding all human beings as images of God.

Hernandez, Jill. “Voices from the edge: Centring marginalized perspectives in analytic theology, edited by Michelle Panchuk and Michael Rea, Oxford University Press, 2020, 236 pp, $80.00 (hb).” (2022): 1-4.
Limbong, Sukanto, and Senada Siallagan. “Poverty as the impact of the COVID-19: A biblical approach in bridging the impacts of social changes caused by global corona virus.” Linguistics and Culture Review 6 (2022): 59-74.
Nouwen, H. J. (2012). Adam: God’s beloved. Orbis Books.
Reynolds, T. E. (2008). Vulnerable Communion: A theology of disability and hospitality. Brazos Press.

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