Did God Make Me This Way? (Part 2)

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Did God Make Me This Way? (Part 2)

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Two weeks ago, I posted a personal perspective on God’s purpose in disability. In it, I postulated that it is not a question of whether or not God made me this way (as a disabled person), but that He has a redemptive purpose in each life.

I want to follow that up by sharing what I’ve learned from others.

Disability and the Sovreign Goodness of God Free E-Book

In addition to several great blog posts on the issue of disability, Desiring God Ministries compiled this free e-book for you to download and enjoy

In the post “Why Was This Child Born Blind?” from Desiring God Ministries, John Piper says:

The decisive explanation for this blindness is not found by looking for its cause but by looking for its purpose. [John 9] Verse 3: Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Piper offers a very specific application of John 9:3, to point out that:

  1. [The disciples] want to know: Why is he blind? And Jesus really does give an answer. This is why he’s blind—there is purpose in it…
  2. God knows all things. If God foresees and permits a conception that he knows will produce blindness, he has reasons for this permission. And those reasons are his purposes. His designs. His plans.
  3. And third, any attempt to deny God’s sovereign, wise, purposeful control over conception and birth has a head-on collision with Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139:13.  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”

Though its very mandate is somewhat constricted to the pursuit of the “Great Commission,” the Lausanne Movement (and its subsequent ‘conversations’ – all of which can be found at the website for the Lausanne Movement) are very helpful as we dissect the issue of disability in relation to the Kingdom of God.

How Does God View Pweople with Disabilities; The Lausanne Movement

The Lausanne Movement has several resources related to the connection between disabilities and the Great Commission, including this paper.

Instructively, the authors of “How Does God View Disability?” (a subsection of ” Hidden and Forgotten People: Ministry Among People With Disabilities” written by  Joni Eareckson Tada and Jack S. Oppenhuizen) tell us that “Of course, Satan sometimes causes illness (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16) – but in these references, as everywhere, Satan unwittingly serves God’s ends and purposes. No trial, no disease or illness, no accident or injury reaches us apart from God’s permission…God may not initiate all our trials, including diseases, birth deformities and injuries, but by the time they reach us, they are His will for us for whatever time and purpose that He determines.”

These distinctions, however small they seem, are important, and are also reflected in the serious theology presented in Steph Hubach’s “Same Lake, Different Boat,” a book in which Steph tells us stories about her son who lives with Down Syndrome (Tim) and her son who doesn’t (Fred). Throughout, Steph builds a step by step approach to thinking theologically about disabilities.

Ultimately, Steph draws these distinctions, but talks about them in a very unique way. These distinctions are very important for us today, and she attributes them to certain world views. It is helpful to remember that, while some of these are secular world views, they can have a significant impact on religious thought and theology.

  • The first view, the ‘historical view’ on disability (even among Christ-followers) has long been: “Disability is an Abnormal Part of Life in a Normal World.” This view informs the disciples’ question about sin and the man born blind. It says, this person did something wrong, that’s why he has a disability. It also implies that in some way God’s sovereignty does not extend over disability, and therefore that person has no place, no value, no work to do in the redemption of the world.
  • "Same Lake, Different Boat" provides an excellent theological overview of disability issues, and provides other resources to encourage the discussion of these issues.

    “Same Lake, Different Boat” provides an excellent theological overview of disability issues, and provides other resources to encourage the discussion of these issues.

    The second view is referred to as postmodern and postulates that “Disability is a Normal Part of Life in a Normal World.” Broken down into Christian thought, this leads to the view that God created this person, and created him as he is. He is blessed with a disability. He is okay as he is, and there is nothing wrong with him. This thinking does a great job of acknowledging God’s sovereignty regarding disability, but it unfortunately overlooks the brokenness of creation, the need for restoration to ‘life as it is supposed to be.’

  • The third view, the biblical view, goes like this: “Disability is a Normal Part of Life in a Abnormal World.” Essentially, disability is a symptom of the brokenness of Creation. Things are not as they are supposed to be – Creation is groaning (Romans 8:22) because sin, disability, broken homes and relationships, economic inequality, war-mongering, and other ailments (both large and small) still impact our lives.

I heartily recommend the book “Same Lake, Different Boat,” by Steph Hubach, but I also encourage you to check out the other resources she offers, including an amazing DVD study for you to use in education courses related to the issue of disability, in small group or adult education courses at church, or just with your disability and leadership teams at your church.

So, what do we learn, then?

  • Disability is not a blessing, nor it it a curse. Disability is a symptom of a broken world, and yet is still redeemed to His purposes.
  • God is sovereign over disabilities and the people who have them.
  • Even if God gives, or permits, a disability, it is only as a tool for His redemptive purposes, not as an end unto itself.

As always, The 5 Stages is built on a biblical view of disability. If nothing else, The 5 Stages exists to point the very discussion of disability and inclusion in the direction of Christ. But I wonder what our readers think. Does disability come from God? Why do you think of it as a curse, or why do you think of it as a blessing?

 

 

 

danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

 


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Disability is Not a Blessing, But it Also is Not a Curse

I cringed when I heard him say it.

“I think of my child’s disability as a blessing. He is truly a blessing from God.”

How can you argue with that? Of course, children are a blessing from God. Every Christian ever has agreed with that sentiment, except for those occasions when we’re just not that particularly grateful for the child.

But this man was speaking about his son who was born with Down Syndrome. You don’t expect the parent of a child with special needs to say that about their child. You expect to hear things like:

  • I’m so depressed that my child is not normal.
  • Why would God do this to us?

These sentiments, after all, make sense to us who live in a normal world where disability is simply an anomaly, an abnormality. Disability is not normal, to our thinking. It is wrong.

Stephanie Hubach talks about this in her wonderful book “Same Lake, Different Boat.” She calls this point of view the ‘disability is an abnormal part of an abnormal world’ perspective. People who think of disability this way are no different from the disciples of Jesus Christ who asked “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

But Jesus replies that this did not happen because of a sin. It was not a curse.

But neither was it a blessing. But some folks think it is. They will say that God has blessed parents of a child with special needs with a very special gift, that God must love them indeed. Parents themselves will conclude that their child comes from God, and if God doesn’t make mistakes, then this must be another blessing.

Hubach refers to this mindset as the ‘disability is a normal part of a normal world’ perspective. It’s a sensible approach to the reality of life with a disability. Let’s look at the glass as half-full, and see God’s blessings in everything.

But life with a disability is far different. It is not a blessing, it is difficult. It is challenging and frustrating. It is a source of bitterness, sadness, and depression for many people.

So if disabilities are not a curse, and they are not a blessing, then what are they?

Reality in a Broken World

Disabilities are a reality in a broken world. Disability, to paraphrase Hubach one more time, is an abnormal part of an abnormal world. The world is not as it is supposed to be. It is broken, fractured, in pain. It is mired in sin, it is abnormal.

Disability reflects this abnormality. Disability includes weakness, difficulty, pain, isolation, and sadness. It is a natural part of a broken world, not a result of particular sin, but a symptom of its general existence.

Disability is all these things and it is a real part of a broken world, not a curse or a blessing from God.

But it does present an opportunity, an opportunity to bless or to curse.

You can curse people with disabilities by using words that isolate them, by maintaining an attitude of avoidance or pity.

Or you can bless. You can bless people who have been affected by disabilities: parents, friends, siblings, the persons themselves. You can participate in God’s real work, which is not to curse people with disabilities, or to “bless” someone with disabling conditions or mental illnesses.

No, God’s work is to redeem, and we are invited to participate in that work today. We can redeem our attitudes, we can redeem relationships, we can redeem situations and we can start today.

What You Can Do

So what can you do to participate in redemptive work in the lives of people affected by disabilities?

You can introduce yourself to someone who is affected by disability, whether it’s a man in a wheelchair, a woman who struggles with depression, or a family member of that person.

Today, that’s the only step we’re asking you to take. It’s a huge step, though – not just for you, but for the person you are reaching out to. Just remember, your job is not to see the disability as a blessing or a curse, but as another opportunity for God to redeem and to build His kingdom.