Pope Francis hugging a severely disabled person. Joni Erickson Tada being nominated for an Oscar for best song. Evangelist Nick Vujicic traveling the world, swimming, surfing, all without arms or legs. Christians living with disabilities and being honored for great accomplishments is not something that we are unfamiliar with. But how do we respond to the Christians with disabilities that are in our own midst? Many of us are uncertain how to react to them. We either give them too much attention or not enough. We hem and haw and stutter trying to express ourselves in an effort to be politically correct. But is there a biblical way to approach people with disabilities? There are a number of considerations to be had in this area.
First, we all have disabilities in some area of our life. And the Apostle Paul clearly states that those disabilities are given to us to remind us of our dependence upon God and to keep us from getting too proud. In addition to having disabilities, we all have specific gifts and abilities. Even those who are more obviously handicapped. We all have something of value to offer the body of Christ. It may take more time for some to discover what those special talents are, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to find out how each individual fits. And finally we can be reminded that disabilities exist as a result of the fall. While we are here on earth we will all struggle and suffer. But we can also be reminded that there is a greater future ahead where sin and all its effects will be wiped away and disabilities will no longer exist. For some those disabilities may be wiped away on earth. For others it may take death or the second coming. But the fact remains that we have a hope.
So how should we respond to people with disabilities? Primarily, we should treat them like human beings. They are individuals no different than any other, they just may have a few more obstacles than some. If you are unsure what their needs are ask? Each person may have different desires as to what needs they need to have met. Be honest with them about your hesitancy but desire to be respectful to their needs and situation. And don’t define them by their disability. They are not their affliction just a person that happens to have an affliction. Find ways to include them. Make adjustments where adjustments need to be made. A little patience and understanding will go a long way. Don’t assume you know more than they do if they are a little slow. And don’t put them on a pedestal because you assume they have a better spiritual life than you. You have things that you can learn from them and they have things they can learn from you.
The following links will provide more thoughts and resources for understanding and working with disabilities.
Joni Erickson Tada’s ministry for disabled people can be found here.
For a look at the ministry and life view of Nick Vujicic click here.
Here is an article focusing on how the mentally disabled may hear the gospel.
For a theological exploration of disabilities click here.
For a book chronicling a Christian’s life with disabilities click here.