December 18, 2017

Reasons for Disabilities

A Biblical Explanation

Amy Crane

Why did God allow this disability to happen?" "Why does God allow people to endure severe physical and emotional pain?" These are common questions that nonbelievers and Christians alike ask after learning, for example, that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, paralysis, depression, or a chronic illness. Christians sometimes think that God’s love for His followers includes a "protection blanket" that prevents Christians from experiencing all forms of personal pain. Although God’s love for us is unconditional and eternal, becoming part of God’s kingdom is not an instant ticket to an earthly heaven of perfect health and freedom from disease.

Through hearing other people’s testimonies of overcoming illnesses or learning of God’s protection in a serious accident, Christians can easily draw the wrong conclusion— that God must protect all Christians from experiencing pain and acquiring disabilities. "If God is such a loving God—which He is—how can He allow me or an innocent child to endure emotional and/or physical pain as a result of having a disability?" Several verses of Scripture relate to the causes and purposes of illnesses and diseases.

Although the book of Genesis does not give examples of people with disabilities, the primary cause of disabilities and illnesses is found in this book Adam and Eve were the first people to disobey God. They rebelled against God by partaking of the forbidden fruit, which marked the beginning of sin in the world. Before the fall of man, there was no sin. In Genesis 1, the phrase "it was good" repeatedly expresses the beauty and perfection of God’s creation. But the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was that all creation would be affected negatively. Women would experience sorrow and pain in bearing children (3:16), and we learn "cursed is the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life" (3:17). In other words, God stated that all of creation, including animals, plant life, and, yes, humans, would reap the consequences of sin in the world.

As a result of sin, people suffer physical and emotional pain. Every day, babies are born with obvious abnormalities, older children are diagnosed as having learning disabilities or seizure disorders, and active adults who are living a godly life receive the unexpected news from their doctor that they have a terminal illness. The natural human reaction to these circumstances is often one of despair, grief, bitterness, and hopelessness. A middle-aged man who has been diagnosed with cancer might respond in anger and bitterness, knowing that he most likely will not live long enough to be promoted in the company he works for or to see his children graduate from college. He might ask, "How could God do this to me and my family?" And the married couple who finds out shortly after the delivery that their child has a severe handicap might ask God, "Why did God allow our baby to be born blind? We didn’t do anything to deserve a child with a disability. We did everything right during the pregnancy. How could this happen?" These are natural questions and reactions that have a dear Biblical answer.

In John 9 Jesus encountered a man who was born blind. His disciples asked Him, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v. 2). Jesus gave a very dear answer. This reasoning can be applied to anybody with a disability, whether it be a disability from birth or one that is acquired later in life: "Neither bath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (v. 3). Later in chapter 9, Jesus gathered day from the ground and anointed the blind man’s eyes and healed the man. Who would have guessed that the blind man would one day see? The neighbors in the community were astounded. The "blind" man’s response to being asked how he acquired his sight can be summed up in one word: Jesus. He gave God the glory. This leads to the primary purpose of God’s allowing disabilities to occur: disabilities enable people to better glorify God. God can work miracles through people with disabilities and can bring others to a saving knowledge of Him as a result of healing the ill. While sin—that is, human sin, not necessarily personal sin—is the spiritual cause of all disabilities, the spiritual purpose of disabilities is to glorify God.

After a Christian realizes the cause and purpose of disabilities, they are easier to accept. When one understands the simple truth that disabilities are for the glorification of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, any guilt or blame that resulted from having a disability soon dissipates and is replaced by peace that only God can provide. No longer is the disability the fault of the father or the mother or the family history. God created every human being for a reason. God is in control of all circumstances and nothing surprises God, not even the birth of a handicapped baby. We can trust in Him for all of our needs, and we can know that He holds the future. Even when disease leads us to despair and our physical and emotional pain is beyond words, we can place our trust in Him because we know that He knows the future. By reading the Bible daily, the brokenhearted are comforted, and the unfavorable circumstances are easier to bear. Psalm 119:50 says, "This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word bath quickened me." The word quickened means to make alive, to endue with life. In other words, in our affliction, reading the Word and trusting God will give us physical and spiritual strength during times of suffering and can also lead us to a more productive life, not merely in spite of but through our human frailties.

Does God use modern medicine to heal the sick? Absolutely! God can work through any means to bring glory and honor to His name. Jesus rubbed clay on the blind man’s eyes; the blind man gained his sight as a result of Jesus’ power to heal. Reading this example of healing in the Bible, we automatically think that the healing occurred through the power of God. Did Jesus use a product in the environment to heal the blindness? Yes, He used clay. Was it the clay that did the actual healing? The power of the healing came from God. Jesus used the day as an instrument to heal a human frailty. Likewise, God may use modern medicine, technology, and human knowledge to heal people with diseases. God is in control of everything on this earth, and He has a purpose for every medical discovery God can work through any circumstance to bring glory and honor to Himself.

Not every person with a medical disease will be cured, but God has a purpose for every person’s life. To hold bitterness about the presence of a disability in one’s life is to doubt God. God’s ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8). God’s plans are not always our original plans. God’s plans become our plans as God reveals them to us and learn to accept them. Be thankful that some occurrences in life are beyond our control. We serve an omnipresent, omniscient God who is in control of all circumstances, even the emotional and physical obstacles that come with having a disability.


At the time of original publication, Amy Crane was a member of the faculty at Hidden Treasure Christian School in Greenville, South Carolina.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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