Guide When God Gets Physical

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For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalm The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. And throughout Isaiah 53 a picture is painted of the God who suffers on His people's behalf and bears their suffering Himself. From a human viewpoint, suffering often seems unjust, as it did to Job when his suffering seemed out of all proportion to anything he might have done to deserve it:. What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high? Is not calamity for the unrighteous, and disaster for the workers of iniquity?

Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?

Job But the Bible also explains and many of us can testify to this from our own experience that suffering can be the very thing that drives us back to God when we have drifted away from Him:. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word… It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Psalm , God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. And it turns out, to everyone's surprise, that suffering can even result in very good news indeed:. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

These considerations give disability a meaning which it lacks in almost every other religion and philosophy. For it turns out that disability is not karma, as some Eastern religions would tell us:. As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 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. Affliction or disability are not hindrances to God's grace in our lives — quite the opposite:. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

For when I am weak, then I am strong. Jesus demonstrated this when a woman with a haemorrhage crept up behind Him to touch the hem of his robe. She was healed and He singled her out for special honour because of her faith Luke When a man with a contagious skin disease broke the law that excluded him from venturing into the city, and fell at Jesus' feet imploring Him, " Lord if you will, you can make me clean ", His immediate response was to stretch out a hand and touch this man whom the law forbade Him to touch, and declare, " I will; be clean.

When God chose to incarnate Himself in the person of Jesus, his attitude towards disabled people was quite revolutionary in His day, and if we're honest, in our day too.

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  • A Biblical View of Disability.

In the Bible, disability is not seen as caused by God, even though God is sovereign over it. When Job suffered, it was Satan who caused it, even though God permitted it. In fact, when Job said, " The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord " Job we're told that He didn't sin, but his unfolding conversation with God showed that he was mistaken; it was not, in fact, God who had taken away but it was God who restored to him more than he had lost.

However, although disability in itself is not caused by God, disabled people are created, valued and loved by Him:. So the Lord said to him, 'Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Our Saviour chose to flash His credentials as Messiah through ministry to disabled people. We in our wheelchairs get to prove how great and how trustworthy God is.

But positive images of disabled people in the Bible are not confined to Christ's ministry; they are found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps the best known example is Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He was the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. He became disabled when his nurse fell with him in her arms as she was trying to flee from danger. We don't know if he suffered injury to his legs or brain injury affecting the motor responses in his leg muscles, but either way he had a mobility impairment for the rest of his life.

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When David became king, he made enquiries as to whether there was anyone left from the house of Saul to whom he could show kindness for his friend Jonathan's sake. When he found Mephibosheth, he did not single him out for his disability — he simply did what he would have done for any son of Jonathan.

What do the Scriptures say?

Nor, when he discovered his disability, did he recoil from honouring him; he treated him exactly as he would have done if Mephibosheth had been a powerful warrior. He welcomed him to his table, gave him Saul's land and provided servants to farm it for him.

This story becomes a powerful metaphor for the kingdom of God, where abled and disabled people sit together side by side as equals at the feast table. Moses is another example. He was too frightened to speak to Pharaoh because he had a speech defect Exodus We don't know whether this was an actual speech impediment, or whether he suffered from a disabling degree of anxiety. Either way, God provided support for him in the form of his brother Aaron who was sent along to be his spokesman. Elijah was very impressive in public; he called down fire from heaven in front of all the people and shamed the false prophets of Baal.

He had great spiritual authority and was unafraid to challenge the king's wrongdoing. And yet the day after his great triumph he was in hiding, suicidally depressed, and begging God to take away his life.

When We Suffer: A Biblical Perspective on Chronic Pain and Illness - Focus on the Family

God's response, in 1 Kings 19 , is very tenderly to care for his physical needs food and sleep to take him to a place of safety, and to speak to him in a voice of the utmost gentleness. How is it, then, that so many Christians feel stigmatised by their fellow-believers when they experience mental ill health? In 2 Kings 7 there is a curious story in which the heroes are four disabled men — they are outcasts due to their physical condition, some form of skin disease or 'leprosy'. The King of Aram has laid siege to Samaria.

The people in the city cannot leave and no one can enter; consequently the people are starving. A donkey's head changes hands for an exorbitant amount, and people are even reduced to eating the bodies of those who have died of starvation. God supernaturally causes the Aramean army to hear the sound of an approaching assault force and they drop everything and flee. Four men with leprosy who have been excluded from the city because the laws do not permit them to live in the community with a contagious condition are discussing their future.

They decide that their only two options are to die a slow death from starvation, or to surrender to the Arameans who might kill them, or might in fact imprison and feed them. They decide the risk is better than the certainty of starvation.

Here’s what God’s physical touch feels like:

But on arrival at the Aramean camp, they find the place deserted and all the Arameans' possessions and food abandoned. They eat their fill, and then realise that they can't keep this good news to themselves; so they break the rules by returning to the city of Samaria, from which they are banned, and share the good news of their discovery. The food is distributed and the Samaritans are saved from starvation by the action of these four men.

This, too, is a striking living parable for the church — it is those who are outcast and stigmatised who contribute to the life and health of God's people. Of course, disability comes to most of us eventually; most of us are in our temporary, non-disabled phase! There are examples of people who, by reason of old age, have lost their physical faculties, but that is no barrier to them playing an essential part in God's plans. Isaac, by the end of his life, is too blind and too confused to be able to distinguish between his sons, or discern that a trick is being played on him.

And yet the blessing which he pronounced on his younger son Jacob had lost none of its spiritual power, and the things which Isaac foresaw for his sons did indeed come to pass. Similarly, Jacob, renamed Israel, and, by the end of his life too frail to get out of bed, quite deliberately switched his hands over and placed his right hand, the blessing of the firstborn, on the head of the younger of his two grandsons.

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Joseph, the boys' father, remonstrated with him, but he made it clear that this was no mistake; despite his physical frailty he had seen that God had particular plans for the younger boy, and like his father Isaac, the words he spoke in his weakness at the end of his life came to pass. The Bible is full of people whose disabilities were no barrier to them playing a vital part in the history of God's people. In the New Testament, as well as Jesus' healing ministry to many disabled people, there are examples of disabled people portrayed in a positive way, and of God using disability for good in people's lives.

Zacchaeus seems to have been of abnormally small stature; so much so that he had to climb a tree to see Jesus above the heads of the crowd. He had a history of making himself feel 'big' by defrauding people when he collected their taxes. Jesus noticed him, valued him, sat and ate a meal with him in his home. Being loved by Jesus enabled him to change and become generous. Saint Paul became blind as a result of his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. We know from his own writings, and from the facts that he did not recognise the high priest Acts and needed to use an amanuensis to write his epistles Romans , that even after Ananias had been sent to restore his sight to him, he had a continuing eye problem.

He wrote to the Galatians:. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Galatians These are just a few of many examples of people vital to the purposes of God who had disabilities.

Gideon seems to have had an anxiety disorder; Leah may have had a squint; Jabez was labelled negatively by others, but refused to be defined by that label; Naaman was more disabled by his pride than by his physical condition; Samson, despite being blinded, destroyed the temple of the idolatrous god Dagon; one of the first evangelists was the man who had been born blind John 9.

Responding to Physical Abuse

Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! But he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me! Get up; he is calling you.