What does the Bible say about disabilities?

By Shannon Pugh
In Got Questions
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As the Director of the Special Needs Ministry at IBC, I am blessed with the opportunity to share my experiences with various groups. And a few years ago, I was asked to speak to a class of college students studying family ministry about the importance of the logistics of serving families with special needs. I was excited and honestly pretty confident. After all, this IS my area of expertise! I couldn’t wait to share my copious knowledge with them.

After I said my piece, I opened the floor for questions. An eager student raised his hand and asked this question:

Do you think it’s God’s will for someone would have autism?

My immediate response? I laughed.

Was my laugh inappropriate? Yes. But it was honestly humorous how clearly unqualified I was to answer that question. And then I said three words that I hadn’t expected to say that day: “I don’t know.” It was an incredibly humbling and significant moment for me in my career and in my walk with the Lord.

Thankfully, I didn’t stop at not knowing, because we cannot stop when we hit the hard questions. God doesn’t expect us to understand His ways – in fact, you can read Job 38-41 to see how God responds when we act like we DO understand why He does what He does! Here’s the thing:

Doubt is okay.

Uncertainty is okay.

Confusion is okay.

Our faith can withstand all those things if we just cling to what we do know about God's character, so that’s what I shared with him.

  • I know that God made every single person in His image. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them.” Psalm 139 says that we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs, that we are wonderfully complex, that we are God’s workmanship. Therefore, no one is a mistake, and everyone reflects God’s character in some way.
  • I know that every person can have a relationship with God. God made us for the very purpose of being in relationship with Him. 1 John 4 tells about the love God has for us and the lengths that his son Jesus went to for us to have relationship with Him. The Holy Spirit helps every person understand God’s Word and His character. He is not limited by IQ scores, neurological differences or communication challenges.
  • I know that everyone has pain, and all pain will be healed in heaven. When Jesus returns and makes all things new, He will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” (Revelation 21:4) The suffering caused by autism and other disabilities/challenges will be wiped away. The isolation, frustration, oppression, anxiety and limitations will be healed and replaced by belonging, peace, and freedom.

But all things that bring glory to God will remain. I have seen incredible joy, hope, and unconditional love embodied by many people with disabilities. There is no need to “heal” those gifts. And I believe that those who praised and exalted God on earth despite great challenges and pain will be lifted up high and celebrated.

I still don’t know the answer to the student's question from that day, and I don’t expect to fully understand until I stand face-to-face with Jesus. God’s will is one of the greatest mysteries of our lives here on earth. But I think that we tend to view disability as a problem to be fixed and those with delays and challenges as people to be pitied and helped. At times, I am guilty of the same sentiment and approach. But when we do that, we are severely limiting our ability to see the broad range of ways that God shows His character through humans. Yes, there is suffering associated with autism and other disabilities, but there is also great joy and beauty! And just like all suffering in this life, God does not cause it, but He does redeem it for his glory.

Instead of trying to understand all the complexities of God’s will regarding disability, I have started asking a different question: “What does God want to teach me about His character through this person?” And He has clearly answered over and over! I’ve witnessed and therefore learned unconditional love, perseverance, patience, joy...and those are just a few examples.

My suggestion to you is that if you want to expand your understanding of God, you should expand your friend circle to include the “least of these”. You’ll find out quickly why Paul says that God “chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27 ERV) And your life will be deeper and richer for it.

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