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Interpreting disability in light of Scripture – part one

On Sunday 28th April 2019 the BBC published an article about ‘Disabled Christians reinterpreting the Bible”. The gist of the article is that disability is not a negative thing and may well be present in heaven.

This immediately set my alarm bells ringing. I’ve come across this approach to theology of disability on twitter and at a course for making church more accessible to all disabled people (we discussed this idea, but the course itself and the conclusion of the group did not support it). Consequently I’ve had time to reflect on it deliberately and not just make a knee-jerk reaction based on general bible study and knowledge of God.

Creation, Fall and Redemption

My main concern with this ‘reinterpretation’ of Scripture is that it is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of physical reality given the Fall, and the full story of Creation, Fall and Redemption. In this full story, we acknowledge that things on Earth are not as they are meant to be, but that God can gloriously redeem bad things into amazing good.

Whilst a non-Christian may not appreciate the message that they need ‘fixing’, it is a message that Christians hold to be true for all people. Our sin has broken our relationships with God, other people, ourselves and nature. Our bodies, minds and souls are not perfect but instead are born in imperfection. Over the course of our lives we accrue further physical and mental breakage as the consequences of our own sin, the sin of others against us, and the inevitable harm of living in a creation that is also broken.

When Christians say that we need healing, we mean far more than healing of physical ailments, whether those are temporary or permanent. We mean also the healing of our relationships with ourselves, with other people, with nature and with God. We are all broken, and we all need fixing. It is the contention of Christians that we can be truly fixed only by God, through acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and that this full healing of all that is broken will not be fully achieved on this earth.

For most Christians, it is the fact that Jesus did not heal everyone that is challenging, not the idea that he healed everyone. Certainly, when people were directly before him asking for healing, Jesus did not reject them – he even stopped en route to saving a girl from death in order to speak to a woman who had been content merely to touch him.  But Jesus also attended a gathering of disabled people and picked just one to offer healing to, and he deliberately walked away from disabled people in order to be able to fulfil other aspects of his ministry.

Physical healing is not all that Jesus offers, and nor is it all that matters. Jesus wants to restore our relationship with God – which is why he would offer forgiveness before offering healing – and in so doing to restore our relationship with everything and everyone else. This is a progressive reality, with healing being brought on deeper levels and to more areas as Christians progress in their relationship with God. The full healing will not be until there is a new heaven and earth, but that does not mean that God does not care about every aspect of our lives right now.

There are many reasons why God does not bring full healing right now. One is that to do so would mean initiating the full Kingdom of God, and therefore convicting all non-Christians of sin with no further chance for repentance. Satan, as well as our sinful selves, is still active on earth until God’s kingdom comes in all its fulness, and therefore we and the demons and the broken Earth are constantly causing and perpetuating injury. God, in his mercy, is delaying the full bringing of his Kingdom in order that as many as possible will come to accept him as their Lord and Saviour, but this means accepting the ongoing presence of injury and brokenness.

Another is that we tend to focus narrowly on physical or mental healing, and fail to see where other aspects of our lives are broken. Sometimes God uses our broken bodies and minds to address and heal our broken relationships. This includes sick and disabled Christians being able to use what they have learnt about managing and living with their condition to help others with the same problems. God cares about far more than just our physical bodies, and sometimes he prioritises other areas of our lives for healing and restoration. God’s healing is much richer and all-enveloping than a focus on physical healing implies.

A third reason is that God’s power is most strongly seen when it is shown through people who are weak. This does not mean that God does not use strong people – the apostle Paul was an excellent scholar, whilst Luke was a highly esteemed physician. But through Paul’s imprisonment and unknown ‘thorn of the flesh’, God used Paul to be the second-most prolific author in the New Testament (after Luke). When little people do big things, the world sees that it is God who is the power, and so God’s name is praised.

It is not enough to say that Jesus’ miracles were done to ‘beef up his credentials’. Certainly, a God that is capable of creating an entire universe, sustaining it an orderly manner and intervening to bring about transformation is a God worthy of much more worship than one that is incapable of effecting a substantial transformation. But Jesus didn’t come to Earth just to bring physical healing. He came to bring restoration of right relationships, so that we could be healed spiritually, physically, emotionally and relationally. Whether we know that we need that restoration or not, and whether we think we want it or not, when Christians enter heaven they will do so with a transformed body and complete restoration of all that was broken on Earth.

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