A very common reaction to really bad news is ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ It’s a short step from this to, ‘what have they done to deserve that?’ Are people with disabilities specially bad that they deserve what they get? Is their disability a judgement from God?
No it is not.
Not worse sinners
Jesus breaks the link between sin and disability clearly in John 9:
As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:1–3)
There is no link between this man’s blindness and his sin. As John Hull says: ‘Sometimes things just happen’ (quoted in McCloughry & Morris)
It seems that actually there are some rare cases where the disability is linked to a sin. For instance someone who drove recklessly and became disabled as a consequence is indeed bearing the consequences of their actions.
In John 5 Jesus met a man who had been disabled (NIV uses invalid) for 38 years and healed him. He met him later and said
“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)
There’s a possibility that this man’s disability was linked to his sin. So despite the general point, the Bible teaches that there may occasionally possibly be a link. But that’s the exception and not the rule.
Not worse sinners, but sinners like the rest
Does that mean that people with disabilities are not sinners? In Matthew 9 again, Jesus meets the man who is paralysed (Mark has the added detail that he was lowered through the roof). He speaks to the man about his sin. And the teachers of the law take offence at Jesus’ claim to forgive sin. The shock of the story is the way Jesus dealt with this man’s sin, not his disability. This man is a sinner like any other. In this story, he stands for everyone else.
People with disabilities are not worse sinners: they are spiritual people like anyone else. They can be saints. And of course they can be sinners.
The obvious-but-needs-saying implication is that a disability does not remove the need for spiritual care. If we are to recognise people with disabilities as people, then we must also recognise them as people with spiritual needs.
Next question: Are People with Disabilities Sick?