Chances are either you are personally affected by disability or know someone who is, as 1 in 4 people, endures a physical or cognitive impairment. Even more, the South has the highest prevalence of disability in the country, a reality with definite impact on Southern Baptists. Disability affects many people in a variety of ways from issues with mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, or vision, and even difficulty with self-care. Globally, those with disabilities comprise 10 percent of the world’s population. It seems impossible to be unaffected by disability.
Given the high rates of disability, the church should be well equipped to guide someone facing lifelong impairment. We find such guidance in Scripture, as building a biblical understanding of disability involves looking at Trinitarian involvement with the body.
Or in other words, the ways in which the Father, Son, and Spirit are connected to physical existence designate a foundational dignity to every ‘body’.
We must begin with the foundation that God created humans as his embodied image-bearers who are spiritual and physical beings. Upon forming Adam and Eve with material and immaterial aspects (Genesis 2:7), created humanity was declared, very good. God then tasked his embodied image-bearers, the pinnacle of his creative activity, with specific creation commands. These commands were ones that only a unified, yet distinct soul and body being could carry out. Who we are as embodied people relies on immaterial and material aspects, which are integral to our existence and participation in the Christian faith. This reality renders both soul and body valuable, a bedrock truth in Scripture and an instructive declaration for every single human being that has ever lived.
In the face of impairment, the believer with disabilities must consider God’s sovereign design of the body, which despite its function, was fearfully and wonderfully knit together (Psalm 139:13-16). While the Fall corrupted every part of creation, likewise every part will one day be restored. Presently, the natural world is in bondage and perishing just like our physical bodies. Thus, along with creation, believers long for resurrection because it will mean freedom from the effects of sin and glorious restoration. Scripture portrays creation groaning for this coming glory while believers eagerly await the redemption of their bodies (Romans 8:18-23). The hope that present bondage will be rectified is meant to encourage believers. Though we endure physical effects of sin now, we will one day experience physical perfection, the original intent for God’s embodied image-bearers.
Another biblical consideration is Christ’s assumption of a body. In the incarnation, Christ dignified human embodiment by becoming fully man while remaining fully God (John 1:14, Col 2:9). Not only that but once redeemed, our bodies are also members with Christ and should be devoted to his glory (1 Corinthians 6:15-16, 20). Your physical existence, including your abilities or inabilities, matters to him.
Even more, Christ honored disabled persons by his attentiveness to their bodily impairments. In fact, about half of all the miracles Christ performed involved healing some type of physical issue. Blindness, paralysis, a crippling spirit, deafness, even a withered hand and dropsy were not outside of Christ’s power or concern. He faced constant clamoring for his time and divine abilities but often went out of his way to bring about physical restoration to those society cast aside (Matthew 9:27-34, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 5:17-26). These healings were meant to outwardly depict an inward reality – that Christ alone brings spiritual renewal and release from bondage to sin. While we may lament our current bodily condition and long for healing, we find the greatest comfort in our relationship to Christ, the only one able to heal and redeem us from our corrupt spiritual condition. Be encouraged that Christ healed disabilities to demonstrate God’s power over sin and suffering, which is also meant to foreshadow the body’s perfected, glorified state after resurrection and re-embodiment.
Finally, the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in affirming those with disabilities. Upon salvation, believers are indwelt by the Spirit and supplied with his fruits to empower holy living and forge a distinction amidst those who live according to the flesh (Galatians 5:22-23). The placement of the Holy Spirit also establishes believers as his temple and thus under God’s authority (1 Corinthians 6:19). Just as the corporate church is considered God’s temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16), so also are individual believers filled with his presence and claimed as his temple. Still, there is greater meaning to the Spirit’s indwelling that can comfort those with disabilities. The body is specified as his temple, making the believer’s physical frame significant, for where the Holy Spirit dwells, there God’s good, glorious presence resides. This amazing reality means that by his indwelling the sanctifying Holy Spirit imparts value and dignity to the body, no matter its condition.
So, for believers, whether we personally suffer from disability or know someone who does, how do we practically apply these truths?
First, working from a biblical understanding, we recognize that our bodies are valuable as God’s unique and purposeful creation. He designed us as his embodied image-bearers to serve him in the material world. He cares about our physical condition, comprehensively redeems us, and bodily indwells us.
Next, we wait in hope for the redemption of our bodies when they will be transformed like Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).
Finally, we live encouraged, knowing that the Trinity is involved with the body in ways that dignify embodied humanity even, and especially, in the presence of disability.