Автор: Joni Eareckson Tada and Jack S. Oppenhuizen
Category: Disability Ministry
Section 4b and 4c of Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 35 B
Hidden and Forgotten People: Ministry Among People With Disabilities
Prepared by Issue Group No. 6 B on Ministry Among People with Disabilities
Principal writers Joni Eareckson Tada and Jack S. Oppenhuizen
In many parts of the world, Christians are suffering with Christ in great personal affliction, in catastrophic events and sociopolitical conflicts. At the same time, there are spiritual movements manifesting "signs and wonders," and "gifts of healing". Regretfully, there is a rift between different Christian traditions where people with disabilities become deeply wounded rather than fully experience God’s grace. On one hand, people with disabilities, struggling against hopelessness and pain, are drawn to the hope of miraculous healing. Using wheelchairs, white canes, and walkers, these people flood to healing services or “healing crusades” where relief from pain and physical affliction is not only offered, but sometimes even guaranteed. All that appears to be required is faith on the part of the person with a disability or his or her family. Unfortunately, the small seed of faith many people with disabilities possess is often “shipwrecked” when they leave without experiencing a healing.
On the other hand, people are sometimes told that “God is in charge, so endure it. God wants you to be that way or he would not have allowed it or he would have changed it.” These churches rarely expect God to heal a person and so they will ignore James 5:14-15 where it says, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him…and the prayer offered in faith will restore.”
Either of these messages do not fully communicate the compassionate ministry of Jesus to hurting people on earth. People with disabilities become deeply disappointed over having been denied healing by God or being abandoned by Him to intervene in their pain, loss and disability. As a result, a root of bitterness and skepticism about the Christian faith often takes hold.
Theologically, we must exercise balance not polarization. There is great hope in Jesus ministry, life, cross and resurrection. The grace of the cross of suffering heals in the deepest sense. Faith to transcend a disability through healing and the godly character to overcome human suffering are both found in the cross. A disciple is called to build faith and build character concurrently because they are both tools of God to shape the human soul into image of His Son.
Many churches – even denominations – do not have a theological framework in which people with disabilities “fit.” The illness or injury is therefore an embarrassment to a church; if the person does not experience healing after many prayers, then “something must be wrong with his faith.” Often a disabled person – or the parent of a disabled child – is told, “The problem isn’t with God. The blame must be yours.” The truth is real hope is found in the holistic healing work of the suffering Christ “who endured the cross and despised the shame” (Hebrews 12:2) in order to make us whole in Himself with or without a disability. That healing journey for us is an unending. Jesus did not escape suffering and yet He was victorious over it for our sake (Isaiah 53:5). He did not remove suffering from human history yet he stripped Satan’s power to ultimately rule by it. Now Jesus calls us to suffer redemptively, resting in Him while praying boldly to the Father to intervene on the behalf of our brothers and sisters. Identified with Christ, we then can stand up on the threshold of hell and open the windows of heaven.
The challenge to the church is to communicate the love of Christ to people with disabilities without adding to the gospel a condition of physical healing. In God’s Kingdom believers with disabilities should never be considered second-class Christians because of their physical or mental impairment. We should not assume that “healing” would be a sign of blessing or an indication of purer faith or spiritual growth.
What does the Bible say about healing? First, everyone who takes the Bible seriously agrees that God hates suffering. Jesus spent much of His time relieving it. Even when God has to punish sin, he says in Ezekiel 18:32 that it gives him no pleasure. However. it simply does not follow that God’s relationship to suffering is to heal it. For as much as He hates suffering, He hates sin more.
The core of Christ’s plan is to rescue us from our transgressions – and He will often use suffering to help us become aware of our sin, as well as repent of it. A disability can reveal the “stuff” of which a person is made, exposing self-centeredness, anxiety, bitterness against God, or fear of the future. Once an individual recognizes his/her character flaws, (s)he is better able to deal with his/her own sin, as well as welcoming the Holy Spirit’s conviction and comfort. 1 Peter 4:1 says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.” Thus, one form of evil, suffering is turned on its head to defeat another form of evil; that is, our transgressions. All to the praise of God’s wisdom in strengthening the child of God. Suffering is often God’s tool in refining the character and faith of the believer.
As it concerns a theology of healing, Reformation theology provides a clear understanding of God’s relationship to suffering. Jesus came to earth in order to deal with sin by paying its penalty on the cross. He also dealt with the results of sin – faced with demon possession, He cast out evil spirits. Finding disease, He healed the sick. Threatened by storms, He said, “Peace be still” and nature obeyed Him. He had come to begin to reverse the curse which had followed man’s fall into sin. The Kingdom of God was established, not as an “all at once” affair, but will completely shine in splendour when Christ returns.
After Jesus went back to heaven, suffering remained prevalent on earth. Jesus healed the sick, but there were many even in His own country that He never met and healed. The Lord raised the dead, but even Lazarus had to die later on. Jesus began His kingdom, but He did not complete it at the time of his coming. This has profound implications concerning divine healing in our present age. For disease is just one of the many results of sin that Jesus began, but did not finish, dealing with when He started His kingdom on earth. Had Jesus finalized His kingdom at His first advent, most of the world would never have heard the gospel. Modern-day Christians are living stones being placed in the kingdom building and until the last soul is saved, suffering will remain in the world.
The Body of Christ must encourage people with disabilities not to ignore, despise, or seek to only escape from affliction, Christians must help them ascribe positive meaning to their situations – the verses in the previous section can help. God in His mercy may, from time to time, grant people with disabilities healing as a gracious glimpse of the day when every eye shall be opened and “the lame shall leap like deer,” but in the meantime we are living in "this present age," as the Bible calls it and the emphasis on earthly trials in the New Testament gives us the impression that followers of Jesus Christ are going to have to put up with a lot of problems until God calls them home. The Bible specifically says that all who follow Him can expect hardship, and that includes people with disabilities and their families. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps”
Should People with Disabilities Seek Healing?
When believers become ill, the Bible encourages them to seek healing. However, how should ill or injured people view scripture when healing and relief from suffering does not come? Mark 1:32-39 and Luke 9:12 provide insight. In Mark 1:32-34, we see Jesus healing “all the sick and demon possessed... and many who had various diseases.” Very early on the next morning, Jesus went off to a solitary place to pray. When the crowds returned with more sick and disabled people, the disciples went to look for him. “When they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’”
It is not that Jesus didn’t care about the cancer-ridden, blind or those with disabilities; it is that their illnesses were not his sole focus: the gospel was. The Lord’s message was: Sin will kill you, hell is real, God is merciful, His kingdom will change you and I am not only your passport but I have come to live abundantly in and through you. Whenever people missed this, and they started coming to him to have their pains and problems removed, the Saviour backed away. God’s purpose in redemption was not to make people’s lives happy, healthy and free of trouble; His purpose was to rescue them from sin then conform them from the inside out to the image of His Son by the power of His Spirit.
God can, and sometimes does, heal people in miraculous ways today, but the Bible does not teach that He will always heal those who come to him in faith. His sovereignty reserves the right to heal or not to heal as He sees fit. For the person with the disability who does not experience healing, God will grant the strength to endure hardship. He will grant spiritual wisdom. Finally, He will reward those who are faithful, those who trust Him through affliction.
A disabled believer can enrich a Christian community, so that able-bodied believers can learn by faith to grow beyond their hidden weaknesses and limitations. Christians with disabilities – especially those in positions of leadership -- can serve as God’s best “audio visual aids” of His power being made perfect in weakness. In our hurting and fractured world, this is a powerful lesson that needs to be demonstrated; we at Forum 2004 believe that God is choosing people with disabilities through whom He can illustrate for the rest of the world and for the church, these truths. One delegate stated clearly, “A church without a disabled person is a disabled church.”
A powerful expression of these truths occurred at the conference. On the last night our Issue Group, many of whom were disabled themselves, began to pray for healing for those who were ill or in pain. The Holy Spirit then led us to pray for all the nations and people groups that were represented in the room. The power of God love and joy spilled over. After interceding the group suddenly began to dance whether in wheelchairs, on crutches or on legs in a holy chain of rejoicing in God’s overwhelming love. The chain wove through the lobby and able bodied participants of the Forum joined in or cheered as God was glorified in the praises of His earthen vessels.
 1 Timothy 1:9
 Hebrews 12:15
 1 Peter 1:7
 Ephesians 1:13-14; Acts 1:1 refers to the record about Jesus given in the Gospel of Luke as “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” (our italics)
 1 Peter 2:5
 2 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 5:2-4
 Isaiah 35:3-5
 Titus 2:12
 2 Corinthians 1:5; Acts 14:22, Romans 8:17
 James 5:14-15
 Romans 8:28
 1 Peter 3:17, 1 Peter 4:19, 1 Thessalonians 5:18
 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18
 James 1:12, Revelation 2:10
To find out more about disability ministry or to get involved, visit the Joni and Friends website.
The Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends aggressively promotes life, human dignity and the value of all individuals – despite their disabling condition–from a biblical perspective through the Beyond Suffering course.