Dr. Jason DeRouchie invited me to speak to his adult Sunday School class this past Sunday, and I was grateful for the opportunity.
He helpfully set up the context by focusing on what God has to say about disability in Deuteronomy and a few other selected texts. Hopefully I’ll be able to hear it again and get it recorded, because he made a beautiful, concise explanation of the impact of sin and the curse (which has resulted in disability in this present age), God’s sovereignty and goodness over all things, and God’s mighty power to provide. I should have taken notes.
What follows is my portion of that class. I mostly stuck with this transcript.
Joint Heirs – Bethlehem Baptist Church North Campus
February 13, 2011
Jason DeRouchie introducing; John Knight presenting
My goal is not to convince you that you should care about disability through statistics or specific examples of families experiencing suffering or a sentimental view of rescuing families experiencing hardship.
But in loving God and soaking in God’s word you would love God’s sovereignty over all things and cling to all his promises for you SO THAT when disability enters your life – you will boldly and confidently and lovingly, with great anticipation and ‘as sorrowful yet always rejoicing’ cling to God in your circumstances or rush to welcome families like mine, to serve these precious families he has given as gifts to you with the strength God provides with the wisdom he provides with the resources he provides.
And not just to serve those with disabilities, but to be served by those the world and the culture considers expendable, weak, and worthless. To actually long for and seek out fellowship with those who are daily being destroyed and discounted because of disability. To understand and enjoy and soak in the reality of God’s purposes. To rise into your places of responsibility with this counter-cultural, God-centered reality: On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:22).
As Pastor John lead us this morning, do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment – including about disability and God’s purposes in it. As he said, “Love your paralyzed neighbor as yourself!”
Short history: At 30, as a member in good standing at Bethlehem, as part of small group, as a regular Sunday School attender and as a volunteer – I took my family out of this place because I believed that God was certainly strong but he was not wise, not caring, not loving – but capricious and cruel.
My evidence – a little boy born without eyes. And I was not afraid to throw that evidence in the face of anyone who dared disagree. I cared nothing for the word of God and turned to my drug of choice – which was television.
Yet, obviously I am standing here with you today – so what happened?
God, primarily. Using one family who believed that all the promises of God are true and who were so gripped by this Biblical vision of God being sovereign over all things that they kept pursuing us. And they confounded us with their love for us and confidence in God’s word. (Soap example) And God used the good men he has called into leadership here – David Michael, Pastor John, Pastor Tom – I could go on – to take me back to the scriptures; they persevered.
Then, one day, God revealed the depths of my depravity to me. And this member of Bethlehem, this outwardly ‘good’ guy who was full of pride and sin and who had run away from this church, became finally alive.
Lesson – never give up.
Our circumstances have not gotten easier – they have gotten more difficult. My son born blind also lives with autism and mental retardation and growth hormone deficiency and doesn’t eat well and doesn’t sleep well. And this past year we added a seizure-like disorder to the list.
In 2004, God added Stage IV breast cancer in my wife. Our story has only gotten more complicated.
Yet, what has changed in me is in an increasing understanding of God’s sovereignty over disability as demonstrated in his word. The Bible has a great deal to say about disability and disease – a great confirmation of God’s goodness in the midst of great suffering. It is almost entirely counter-cultural. There are those who want to re-write God’s word. Some people even call his word evil.
And I want you to love it and trust it and cling to it and quote and teach your families all about it. For his glory and your joy!
Disability is clearly an important issue to God
- God states that He created some to live with disability
- Disability and dissease can be found in 40 of the 66 books of the Bible.
- Jesus made disease and disability a central part of his ministry.
- There are clear instructions about behavior towards and by those with disabilities.
Let’s take a quick look at the Word:
Exodus 4:11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
Could it be more clear?
John 9:1-3 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
As helpful as these passages are, God has proclaimed his sovereignty over his human creation in many other places:
Psalm 139:13-16 13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
(Note: This provides particular hope for those of us dealing with a daily hardship – every day is known by God.) No surprises to God; only purpose.
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
These are overwhelming, incredible, extraordinary, truths about God! They are worth loving and clinging to and helping people to see the beauty in!
And, you won’t treat any of God’s words lightly when you are God-centered. We’ll let our people see that the cleansing of Naaman’s leprosy in 2 Kings 5 is not just a story for children!
Verse 1: Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.
We will not allow people to take Jesus’ statement in John 5:14 and turn it into a statement about sin and disability: Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
Jesus is warning him about eternity! Pastor John took this on in his very helpful sermon on John 5 back a couple of years ago.
And for those, like me, who say scandalous, bitter, heretical things, remember Job 6:26: Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?
Wounded hearts speak harshly – out of their sore and hurt. Let them be words on the wind, not even to be confronted.
Let love guide you.
But love does not let challenges to the Bible and God’s sovereignty go unanswered by wolves who would seek to steal your joy and confidence in God.
Jennie Weiss Block, Copious Hosting
“Therefore, scriptural exegesis of the disability passages begins with a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” asking a question not unlike the question posed by many feminist theologians when they inquire if Scripture, with its decidedly patriarchal bias, can be relevant and meaningful to women. Likewise, disability advocates must ask difficult questions such as: Do the Scriptures have an ‘ableist’ bias that ultimately oppresses people with disabilities?” p. 101
Kathy Black, A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability
“Devastations, sufferings, frustrations, and disabilities happen in this world. God does not cause them, but God is present in their midst to uphold us and transform us. Resurrection can happen in our lives without God causing the suffering and death in order for the resurrection to occur.” P. 37
Really? What about the suffering and death of Jesus?
Don’t let this happen in your own homes – letting the culture (and a response to the culture) be the measure of truth rather than the Word of Truth itself.
Most people are simply not prepared for these arguments, because we live in a culture that celebrates ‘experience’ above everything else.
And the culture? The culture hates people with disabilities! If you think that word is too strong, then tell me what it means when 90 percent of our children with down syndrome are being aborted? When rates of abortion for other disabling conditions also approach 90%? When some studies I read in New York and Switzerland had 100% of the children with certain kinds of disabling conditions being aborted? When professors can hold prestigious chairs at Ivy League institutions and argue for children who are already born to be ‘mercifully killed.’ In the Netherlands they have developed the Groningen Protocol: It contains directives with criteria under which physicians can perform “active ending of life on infants” without fear of legal prosecution.
So, on one side are so-called scholars who are seeking to strip the Bible and God himself of his power. And the other side you have a culture which is actively abandoning its responsibilities to people with disabilities – giving ‘government’ more and more authority over their lives. And then you will have parents like I was, bitter, angry, hurt, wanting answers – from you – about how God could have done such a thing. And right in front of you will be people who claim Christ but are completely ignorant of his word.
And in the midst of that soup of disregard for God and his word – God will provide gifts to his church, individuals who have been given certain gifts of teaching or preaching or encouragement – who live with disabilities.
And sometimes we need to work to see the gift.
We have children at Bethlehem who are difficult because of their emotional or behavioral or sensory disabilities – will we love them?
Will we trust, when confronted, that Philippians 4:19 covers this issue as well? And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
That’s where the answer lies – in God’s word! God thinks very highly of his own ability to do with his creation whatever he pleases – for his glory and for our joy! And he specifically talks about having regard for the weaker members – calling them indispensable. A God-centered view of disability will be radical and sacrificial and will cling to the word of God as having authority. And it will also see the gifts that people have, rather than just the disability – gifts for exhorting, encouraging, loving.
And the place to start giving people an imagination for how big God is in every area and arena of life – is with us and with the children. Children deserve to know that God is God – powerful and wise and judgmental and merciful and kind – rather than the God of fairy tales and myths. They deserve to know that 2 Kings 5 is about God and not about God being ‘nice’ to a man with spots on his body. The point of God’s healing the man born blind is not that God is kind to formerly blind people. They need to know that God is sovereign over hard things – and all things work together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus.
God has used my son to change me, but not just me. Paul, who cannot articulate much, lives a life full of grace and truth. And because of the suffering God has visited on my family, God is sweeter and greater and more powerful than I ever imagined, and he just keeps getting better. A big reason that is so is because of his word; God is continuing to reveal more of himself to me through his word.
So, I beg you, love God’s word, including the hard ones about disability and suffering. Enjoy this teaching you are receiving from Jason and others – then think on it and prepare your families as well.
We just had a conference on prayer. Please, pray for the disability ministry at Bethlehem; we are very needy:
- For wisdom in serving these families, now and through the summer. We have kids who have very difficult behaviors – biting, hitting, running away. We have children who are medically fragile. We have families who have been rejected by other churches. How can we possibly serve all these needs? Only with the help of God.
- For more volunteers. We need more people involved to help make BBC accessible to more families.
- For the CDG conference in March. Brenda Fischer and I are presenting separate seminars – hers specifically on disability ministry, mine on helping families deal with the unexpected. We need your prayers to serve the church leaders who are attending.
- For strength to persevere. Disability is relentless – and we know that God is greater! And we know that God hears prayers and strengthens weakening faith and provides hope.
If you’d like to know more about how we think about this issue of disability and the Bible, we have a number of resources at our blog – theworksofGod.com.
I’ll let Jason close us in prayer and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.