As I mentioned yesterday, the Evangelical Theological Society is having their annual meeting this week, focusing on the theme “justification by faith.”
Just a few hours after writing that post I came across an example of why Biblical scholarship with the perspective that God is both sovereign and good is so important.
In her article, “Biblical And Theological Perspectives On Disability: Implications On The Rights Of Persons With Disability In Kenya,” Pauline Otieno properly connects an understanding of the Bible with how people behave, including how that influences government systems.
One of the major root causes for the discriminatory acts against PWD (people with disabilities) in Kenya is religion-related. Theological interpretations of disability have significantly shaped the ways in which society relates to PWD. The Bible is intermingled with texts that have been interpreted in oppressive ways and together these continue to reinforce the marginalization and exclusion of PWD in the social, economic, political, and religious life of the society (emphasis mine).
She is correct; the Bible has been interpreted in oppressive ways. I would contend those interpretations are inaccurate at best.
Unfortunately, she makes sweeping generalizations that are not accurate:
The New Testament also supports the link between sin and disability. This link is well illustrated in John 9:1-3. The disciples anticipated a connection between disability and sin with the question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This question implies that disability was the punishment meant for some unspecified sin. When Jesus healed the physically impaired man who lay by the pool of Bethesda, He said to him: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you” (Jn. 5:14). This clearly indicates that Jesus thought there was a connection between the man’s disability and some sin. In the portico lay a multitude of PWD and this comment applied to them as well (Jn. 5:3).
Neither Biblical account supports her conclusion! Of course, Jesus himself answers the disciples’ question in John 9:3:
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
And the “something worse” in John 5:14 is eternal punishment, not another disabling condition, as Pastor John helpfully articulates:
And yes, he warns him that, if he turns away, and mocks this gift, or makes an idol out of his health, and embraces sin as his way of life, he will perish. I take that—final judgment—to be the “worse thing” (in verse 14) that will happen because there aren’t many natural things worse than the 38 years this man endured, and because in verses 28–29, Jesus says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John Piper, Healed for the Sake of Holiness, August 23, 2009)
What is particularly frustrating about Dr. Otieno’s article is that it is very well written and she has clearly given this a great deal of thought. This article is full of scriptural references, and she has looked directly at some of the most difficult passages on disability in the Bible.
But it is not written from the perspective that this is God’s story, that he is a holy God, that he has sovereign authority over his creation, that he is entirely good, that he is completely merciful, and that anything that draws us closer to him and into treasuring Jesus above all things is better than anything in this life. Even a life full of suffering and exclusion because of disability – which he has ordained – does not compare to an eternity of increasing joy spent with Jesus.
And that is why we should pray for the gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society this week. Disciplined, smart people write articles about the Bible all the time – and get it wrong. It is God alone who gives new life, eyes to see, and a desire to make much of him.