Disability: Why We Should Care
by James Martin
Disability & Our Need
I know most people don’t need much convincing about why they should care for persons with disabilities. It’s an ethical given in our way of life. I’m sure the reaction of most people would be, “you don’t have to bring it up, persons with disabilities are fully accepted and included into our way of life. What’s the big deal? Why do we need to think about it?”
While I appreciate the sentiment, I can see from my experience and observations that more thought needs to be given to the matter. So, I want to drill down a little further, and help us think a bit more; to think about exactly why disability should matter to us in the context of BRBC, in our everyday lives, and further afield into other cultures and contexts.
At BRBC we confess to the authority of God’s Word, the Bible. We believe it is God-breathed and therefore, is the grounds for our thinking, our behaviour, and our core, foundational beliefs about reality. The Bible reveals who God is, what He’s all about, and what we are to do about that.
You might well be tracking me on the need to thinking about disability more and tracking with me on what the Bible is, but starting to think whether or not the two converge. Does the Bible actually have much to say about disability? The answer, is yes. The Bible has so very much to say about it.
In the Bible we find a God who has a massive heart for persons with disabilities; a God with huge levels of compassion for those who experience such limitations, and especially for those who are segregated because of their disability. Disability is an important topic as far as the Bible is concerned.
Why We Should Care
I’ll make my case clear: You should care about persons with disability. You should love them, meet their needs, give where possible, honour their struggles, grieve and hurt with them, include them in EVERY facet of life, and seek to give them a voice. Because it’s a nice thing to do? Yes, absolutely. But more so, because God cares and wants us to care. Biblically speaking, we must care for persons with disabilities. I’ll give you at least four reasons.
1. God’s Image
In Genesis we read of God’s magnificent work of creation. The pinnacle of this creation is the forming of human beings. But importantly, God puts something special in them. His image and likeness. This means that something of God’s fingerprint resides in every human being.
Regardless of the fall’s marring of that image and likeness, it still remains (Genesis 5:1; James 3). Each person is special. Each person has an inherent importance. Each individual person has a created dignity that must be upheld.
That’s why Christians have so passionately fought for the importance of every single human life. For the last 2,000 years the church has sought to honour the image within each person. That includes the unborn, that includes those who can’t give back on our investment, that includes those who don’t register our love, and yes, that includes persons with disabilities – whatever kind of disability that might be.
2. Fully Included
In 2 Samuel 9 we read of King David’s response to the disabled son of his best friend, Jonathan. The son’s name is Mephibosheth, and David’s response to Mephibosheth’s need is remarkable. David goes beyond just giving, beyond seeing him a mere object of his charity. Instead, David gives and then includes him into the most familial aspect of his life: Mephibosheth “ate at the kings table” for the rest of his days.
David’s example shows us that the inclusion and embrace of persons with disability is more than just seeing such people as objects of our charity. Building a ramp outside of a building or having handles by the toilet is a great thing to do, but there’s a bigger issue at stake.
David shows us that full inclusion of persons with disability is a matter of the heart; it’s a disposition. Of course, the inclusion and embrace of persons with disability does mean we alter our buildings to accommodate for any additional needs and that we do give where possible, but it must come from a heart guided God’s desire to see them brought in and fully included.
3. Symbol of Hope
The prophets in the Old Testament had a hard job. They were commissioned by God to affectively wake a nation up and cast their gazes back to God. Often, they found that there message was rejected, which meant they themselves placed their hopes in a better time.
Isaiah was one of these prophets, and, like the other prophets, he hoped in a better time. Isaiah describes this better time in 35:3-6,
“Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”
Isaiah was looking forward to a better time, it included the hope that a servant-king would come, and when he would come he’d bring persons with disabilities into focus. We know now that the king he was hoping for is Jesus, and exactly that happened when Jesus came. Jesus opened the blind eyes, caused the lame to walk, and unstopped the deaf ears.
But let’s be careful here. Jesus didn’t bring His kingdom in it’s fullness. He brought it in part, and left us with the hope of His return and kingdom-fullness. Jesus’ healing ministry gave us a window into a glorious future; the same future John speaks about in Revelation 21, where pain and suffering will be wiped away. This is the hope of all who are in Christ.
If you’ve ever been around a person with a disability who comprehends this hope, then you’ll know how very real the hope in a better future can be. Spending time with such people can only ever increase our hopes for that same future bliss. Their struggles, their limitations, and their pain point us to a better day. Their lives (with all the persistent hurt and limits) produce a hope within them, which means they are symbols of hope to us because their struggles point us beyond this broken world. Grieving with them in their disability points us to a better time and therefore, gives us hope.
4. A God-Given Responsibility
I don’t have to work hard on this one. God calls us to love big. When it’s inconvenient, when it interferes with our near little lives, and even when our investment is unnoticed and doesn’t seem to give much back. We must “consider the interests of others more important than our own.” Not easy, but we must do it.
We follow in the footsteps of Jesus, even with his same focus on persons with disabilities. Meeting them where they are and exhibiting the same compassion, attention and inclusion. Jesus’ life continually points us to a better future, so let’s live into that hope.
Acceptance, Integration, and Inclusion
We can’t hide from the God’s heart revealed in the Bible. So let’s keep moving forward to greater acceptance, integration, and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Let’s move forward from thinking that practical changes to our building is enough, and into a broader understanding of inclusion.
There are approximately 600 million persons with disability in the world today. That’s a lot of people and the world has come a long way. But in many areas, in both the developed and developing world, we have a long way to go.
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