Why does disability exist? That is probably the wrong question but it grabbed your attention! Specifically, this conversation is about trying to debunk commonly held beliefs surrounding why people are born with disabilities. This is not about those that acquire a disability as a result of aging, an accident, or another incident.
The most commonly held belief is that disability exists in creation as a result of sin originated by the fall of man in Genesis chapter three. People come to this conclusion from one of two different angles. First, the fact that disability is a punishment from God or a curse because of specific sins of either the individual or the parents of the individual affected by disability. Second, would be the idea that disability exists in this world because sin has thrown creation out of whack, and it is a distortion of how God originally intended things to be.
The first reason, disability is the result of sin in the form of punishment from God, is disproven by Jesus himself in John 9:3, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus was answering questions from his disciples who asked why a man was born blind. They assumed that it was the result of either his sin, pre-birth sin tainted nature, or his parent’s sins.
The second reason, disability is the result of sin in the form of creation being cosmically out of whack and a distortion of what God intended, is widely accepted and unquestioned by most people. The following will uncover if this a viable explanation while studying scripture?
The argument begins in Genesis chapter one with the creation of Adam and Eve. This takes place in the pre-fallen world of perfection in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 1:26 says:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
Some would say that disability is proof that people are no longer perfect image-bearers of God because their image has been distorted by sin. They would point to Adam and Eve as perfect image-bearers of God pre-fall, but when sin entered the world it warped the image of God in people. However, there are multi-passages post-Genesis 3 “fall of man” where scripture declares that people are still image-bearers of God (Genesis 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7, James 3:9). Sin does not stop people from being an image-bearer of God regardless of people having a disability or not because being an image-bearer is much less about the physical world, flesh and blood, and more about the spiritual being.
The Bible is clear that Jesus is the perfect image-bearer of God. This can be seen in Colossians 1:5:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
This would be the case because he was without sin and spiritually represented God in ways no other human has. A close look at the physical body of Jesus being scared and deformed post-resurrection shows that image-bearing is not bound to societal norms of physical perfection or even normality.
2 Corinthians 3:8 is clear:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
There are no disqualifiers in this transformation process. We are being made to be more and more like Jesus spiritually.
Moving beyond the image-bearer conversation consider the moment that sin entered human existence in Genesis chapter three. Proponents of this viewpoint would argue that at the point of sin all of creation was cosmically thrown out of whack which explains the existence of disability. Disability being a distortion of what God intended creation to be.
If you hold to this view you would be proclaiming that God is no longer in control of creation or at minimum He has taken his hands temporarily off the wheel and allow chaos to reign supreme. This however can not be the case if we believe any of the following scriptures.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13-14
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
“All things were made through him. Nothing that has been made was made without him.” John 1:3
God is an active participant in the creation of all things, including humans. God does not create distorted or suboptimal beings. To do so would be against His nature.
What then is the result of sin upon creation and is there any biblical evidence that disability is a distortion and a direct result of sin?
Romans 5:12 tells us, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—"
Romans 6:23 builds off of the previous passage declaring, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Death includes both physical, outer self, and spiritual death, inner self. Decay includes only the physical creation, the outer self.
Decay and distortion are not the same things. Decay means that the physical body breaks down over time ultimately leading to death. Distortion means something, people in this case, have been altered in a negative light.
Those holding the view that sin brings disability, a distortion of the human experience, often reference Romans 8:18-22 as evidence.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Bondage and suffering are tied to death and decay that is brought on by sin and there is no direct tie to or mention of disability.
Proponents of this viewpoint tie back the suffering, corruption, bondage, and groaning referenced by the Apostle Paul to the curses that God brought down upon humanity as a result of the fall of man in Genesis chapter three. They would argue then that disability is somehow connected to the curse despite what Jesus declared in John 9:3. A careful look at the curses issued by God in Genesis chapter three finds again there is no correlation to disability.
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The curse upon men is hard work and women pain in childbirth.
The only distortion that can be argued happens on the physical creation of the world including the ground, thorns, thistles, etc., and not upon human beings.
This physical curse upon the ground is what causes creation to groan. The bondage and suffering are a result of the inevitability of death and decay brought on by sin.
To make the connection that disability is a distorted reality as the result of sin is not spelled out in scripture. Therefore one can only conclude that this assertation is made as a justification of the pre-existing negative societal narrative surrounding disability.
People born with disabilities are not lesser than anyone else in creation. They contain no less image of God than anyone else. They are not cursed. They are not a mistake. They are not a distortion of what God intended them to be.