I read a blog recently on disabilities and the Gospel. It was written by a man whose son was born with multiple disabilities, so he read the Gospel through the lens of his experience, as I suppose we all do to some degree. I was tracking until he proposed that the reason Christ, when He revealed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection, didn’t heal His broken body, but kept the holes in his hands and feet and the wounds on his side in tact, was that he would be able to relate to people with disabilities. I stopped reading and mulled that over. I concluded that this gentleman, though sincere in his premise based on his trying to make sense of his son’s disability, had a very narrow and misguided view of the Gospel of Christ and what the Bible has to say about those with disabilities.
There is no shortage of passages that speak about people who are blind, “lame,” diseased, and mentally challenged. Jesus healed people with seizures, people with horrid skin diseases, people with severe and violent mental illness, and people with physical disabilities. The author of the blog I read contended that the Bible’s view of folks with physical or mental challenges was insulting, and that he was offended to think that anyone with a disability should be “cured.” He said that a disabled person’s very identity is so tightly enmeshed with their disability (say, Downs Syndrome or Dwarfism) that they can never be separated from it because they would lose that identity. Even in thinking about eschatology, this gentleman theorized that the resurrected glorified bodies of the disabled would retain the disability they had in their unglorified (earthly) body. I understand this thinking, but again, I think it is misguided. Especially since Christ healed to reveal His power, not to make a judgement about disabilities. His real focus, as is always His real focus, was on forgiving the sins of the people He came to save, disabled or otherwise.
How, then, do we view the disabled in light of the Gospel of Christ? The answer is simply this. We view the disabled in the same way anyone is viewed in light of the Gospel of Christ. We are born in depravity and in need of a Savior. That Savior is Jesus Christ, the propitiation for our sins. This need for and receiving of salvation transcends intellectual or physical abilities, social or financial status, gender, sin level, or any other positive or negative attribute that can be assigned to human beings. To say that a disabled person is not able to benefit from or comprehend the message of the Gospel because of limited mental capacity is absurd. Where would the line be drawn? After Einstein or Jonas Salk? After me? I am worlds apart intellectually from the many intellectual giants who fill history. And I am intellectually advanced compared to some (very few, actually). Intellect is not relevant at the Cross of Christ. In order to receive the Gospel message, one only has to accept it as true and necessary in their life. God is able to reach even the simplest of us for Christ. He reached me, after all!
Recently, I visited a church where the pastor was preaching about paying close attention to the Gospel message. He told a sweet story of a young man with autism who came to his church. This young man was unable to sit still in his seat during the service. He made strange noises and seemed to be oblivious to his surroundings, let alone the message being preached. But every Sunday, that young man would approach the pastor and ask enthusiastically, “How can I apply the message this week, Pastor?” After which the pastor would follow up with a summary and application of the sermon. God truly does use the simple to shame the wise!
A few years ago, I had the honor and privilege of having in my classroom a remarkable student named Molly. Molly was born with multiple physical and health challenges, and was not expected to live past first grade. I had her in my class from fourth through sixth grade, and she was a joy and a blessing in my life. The summer after she left my classroom to venture to middle school, Molly would come to my house every week for tutoring. By then, her physical challenges had taken their toll on her small frame, and she was barely able to breathe. She would shuffle up my short front sidewalk lugging her oxygen tank over her shoulder, gasping for air and needing to rest in a chair just to have enough stamina to say hello. It was agony to watch. But Molly never complained. She was the most positive human being I have ever met. Her challenges, though excruciating, never stopped her from being a charming, engaging, and caring little girl. One summer afternoon, after watching her struggle once again up my front walk, I looked at her and said, “Molly, you amaze me. I am so proud of you for never complaining and always staying sweet. How do you do it?” I will never forget her answer. She looked at me with her sweet, precious smile and declared, “Prayer and praise, Mrs. Schmucker, prayer and praise!” I was humbled to my core. Molly was freed from her body and ran to the arms of her Savior the following November at the age of 13. Anyone who knew her was blessed beyond measure. She was a living reflection of the Gospel of Christ!
Next year, God willing, I’ll venture into the world of the disabled and the Gospel, as I follow God’s lead in expanding the special education program at Dayspring Christian Academy. I am beyond excited! Please pray that God will use this program to open doors to the Gospel and Christian education for disabled children in Lancaster County.