When we talk about disability on this blog, we generally mean the kind of disabling conditions that last a lifetime.
In his article on John 9, Dr. Poirier suggests that time is one reason why we should not think God intentionally created the man born blind:
The old punctuation presents us with the monstrous thesis that God struck a man with disability from birth just for the sake of allowing Jesus to make a public display of God’s healing power at an obscenely later time in his life. (Poirier, “Another Look at the ‘Man Born Blind’ in John 9“, Journal of Religion, Disability and Health, January 2010, v. 14, p. 62.)
We know he was a ‘man born blind’ so we can guess he had lived, and been blind for, decades by the time Jesus and he had their encounter. Yes, that feels like a long time.
But is ‘obscenely’ an accurate descriptor of something God has chosen to do?
There are times I am still tempted to think time is one indicator of God’s care: if God answers quickly (and in the right way), he cares; if he waits a long time, he doesn’t.
Of course a Biblical understanding of the character of God demonstrates that God has both full authority to do whatever he wants with his creation AND he perfectly loves and cares for us. God knows how we think about time and the impact that experiencing something over a long period of time will have. And he is sovereign over it for our good:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
There is also the problem of definition. At what point does something become ‘obscenely long’? Is a difficult thing we experience for a day acceptable but for a year it is ‘obscenely long’?
Does any part of God’s creation even have the ability, let alone the authority, to determine when something is too long?
Sometimes the Bible talks about hard things that last a long time:
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. John 5:5
When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. Luke 8:27
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. Luke 8:43
Even the saints with God wonder about how long things are taking:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Revelation 6:9-11
But suffering doesn’t need to be measured in years for it to feel overwhelming. My Paul’s seizures last less than a minute – and feel like hours as I watch him struggle.
Frequently I find it difficult to believe that my son is 15 years old. If anyone had said when he was days old that we would have even survived everything we’ve gone through with him – let alone found peace in God – I would have called them crazy, or at least ignorant. Daily, God helps us and those days add up.
But one minute or 15 years, or 38 years or however many years the man born blind lived with his disability is NOTHING compared to eternity. And God seems to care a great deal about eternity.
About 15 years ago, Pastor John included this in a letter to us many of you have already read:
It seems to me that this life is a proving ground for the kingdom to come. Some are asked to devote forty or fifty years to caring for a handicapped child instead of breezing through life without pain. Others are asked to be blind all their lives…
But only in this life – ONLY in this life. I want to be the kind person who makes that “ONLY” what it really is – very short. Prelude to the infinity of joy, joy, joy. But not yet. Not entirely.
Pastor John gets that from the Bible. Paul, for example, lived constantly with very hard things: beatings, imprisonment, slander, shipwreck, heart-ache to name a few. And he calls it a ‘light momentary affliction!’ How is that possible, except that it is in comparison to something much greater than his suffering!
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Disability is hard. On our own, our human reserves will disappear. Human systems – church, medicine, schools, social workers – will fail us. Doubt and dispair are natural outcomes. I am tempted to discouragement all the time, and frequently fail.
Yet, God has promised to supply our every need and to help us.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Psalm 68:19
He confirms his promises based on the obedient life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The promises of God are anchored in God himself!
It really is the perfect combination – God has told us he has created some to live with disability for his glory, he has promised to help us, and there is an eternity of joy that makes these present difficulties look small by comparison. There is hope in this God. Let us remind each other regularly.