Disabilities, the Gospel, and the Church

Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace We live in a culture that worships beauty, brawn, and body.  From American Idol to Survivor to political races, appearance is front and center.  (The reason why an ugly person won’t win American Idol is the same reason why an ugly person will never win the presidency.)  Young women starve themselves aiming for a “thigh gap,” fifty-year-old women dress like teenagers, and men wear makeup and buy designer clothes to attract the eyes of other people.  It’s a tough world to live in if you are less than perfect, if you are very old, or if you have a disability.

The thing is, most of us know someone with a disability or suffer a disability ourselves.  As Christians, we ask questions: What does the gospel have to do with my cousin who is a paraplegic?  What does the Bible say about your son who has a severe case of Tourette’s syndrome?  What about Christians who are confined to wheelchairs or the beds of the nursing home?  Michael Beates tackles these tough questions in this outstanding book: Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His GraceThis book is a biblical, practical, and challenging resource for Christians who are struggling with the fact of disability (their own or others’).

In the first part of the book, Beates summarizes some key Bible texts on brokenness, disability, and God’s love.  The second part of the book is a short trek through church history on what it means that humans are image bearers of God.  The third part of the book summarizes the modern non-Christian view of human life and compares/contrasts it to the Christian view of human life.  The final part of this book is where Beates gives pastoral advice to Christians and churches on how to gracefully and lovingly handle disabilities in the church.  There are two appendices.  The first is a discussion of God’s sovereignty and genetic anomalies.  The second is a sermon called, “God’s love for the broken.”

The main emphasis of the book was really a highlighting of the fact that God shows grace to the needy.  The gospel is not for nice, whole, and righteous people but for sick sinners who know they are in desperate need.  The point is that it isn’t just the disabled person who needs God’s grace – we all do!  We’re in the same boat whether healthy, old, young, unhealthy, ugly or attractive, ill or well.  Beates says it well: “The Christian community needs a worldview founded upon helplessness rather than upon power.  Only in this way can the transforming power of the gospel begin to be displayed in our weakness” (p. 130).

“Our culture says, ‘Avoid the broken and the disabled.  Hide your weakness and blemishes.  Act as if they simply aren’t there.’  But the Scriptures give story after story and proposition after proposition saying instead, ‘Understand that you – all of you in some sense or another – are broken.  Stop avoiding the truth and embrace it.’  For in that embrace we begin to grasp the power of God through his grace made manifest in human weakness” (p. 72).

This is one book I’d recommend for pastors and their elders to discuss.  Also, if you have a disability or know someone with one, please get this book.  This book doesn’t give tons of  insights on how to effectively help the disabled.  It goes deeper.  Disability and the Gospel levels the playing field and reminds us that we all are broken and in need of God’s redeeming grace.  When we worship Christ, whether we can walk or not, whether we can talk or not, all of us sigh the same humble prayers: “Lord, I’m sinful, broken, needy.  Please help, forgive me, and save.”  In that light, not only can we help disabled people, but they can help us.  It’s called the fellowship of the saints and it’s grounded in the cross and resurrection of Christ – the one who not only forgives sins but will also some day make our bodies like his glorious body (Phil 3:21).

Michael S. Beates, Disabilities and the Gospel (Crossway: Wheaton, 2012).

rev shane lems

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