BIBLICAL TEACHING ON PHYSICAL DISABILITIES


“Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” (Luke 14:21)


(Investigator 165, 2015 November)



INTRODUCTION

In past centuries physical disability was considered divine punishment and the afflicted often treated cruelly, but biblical teaching led to a more merciful world.


DEAFNESS AND OTHER AFFLICTIONS

Isaiah 43:8 uses the concepts of deafness and blindness figuratively of people who refuse God's guidance.  Isaiah 35, however, seems literal and describes the future when God rules humankind:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (35:5-7)

Jesus reportedly healed the blind, deaf, paralyzed, deformed and speechless. His miracles introduced the "Kingdom of God" and illustrated the future when healing goes worldwide:

Very truly, I say to you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these… (John 14:12)

Before discussing Christianity's role in healing let's consider the past:


THE PAST

Julie Smart (2001) says:

Bickenbach (1993) wrote a very powerful description of two strongly held ideas about disability: (1) the individual (or his or her parents or ancestors) is responsible for the disability, and (2) because the individual with a disability is evil, it is “our duty” to isolate that individual. He added “In a nutshell, primitive retributivism is the view that people who are manifestly defective are living out a just punishment for sins, vices, or other moral faults, known or unknown, that have been inflicted by some powerful moral force. At most, in this view, these manifest sinners are entitled to our pity; but it is our duty to dissociate ourselves from them”…

Today, in some cultures, the idea that disabilities are somehow “God-ordained” still persists and attempts to treat the disability or reduce its effects are resisted because it is believed that if God ordains the disability, God would not approve of any human attempt to alleviate it…  (pp 103-104)

Early 20th century American eugenic "science" promoted the legalized sterilization of the "unfit" including the deaf. In Germany Hitler passed his Eugenic Sterilisation Act (1933) and 320,000 people were sterilized by 1939 including 17,000 deaf people. 1600 deaf people also died in concentration camps. 

In the Roman Empire and other societies, infants were often deliberately mutilated. The idea was that deformed children would get more money as beggars because people would feel pity.

Deliberate imposition of disability still occurs. 150 million currently living Muslim females have suffered female genital mutilation ("female circumcision") which often leads to life-long health problems.

The New York Daily News reported:

Five albino children from Tanzania, who had their arms and hands chopped off due to superstitions, will receive new limbs at Shriners Hospital with help from the Global [Medical] Relief Fund…

The five victims of the horrific attacks are being fitted for new arms and hands after "witch doctors" in the East African country forcibly hacked them off, believing a superstition that the body parts bring luck and wealth. (Melissa Chan, June 19, 2015)

Many parents impose disabilities on unborn children through use of alcohol and drugs.


DEAFNESS DISABILITY

Smart (2001) writes:

Most people would be surprised to learn that the expectant parents who are deaf want their baby to be deaf. Rather than viewing deafness as a tragic flaw, they see deafness as part of their identity… (pp 109-110)

And Nowak (2006):

Deaf people argue that they use a different language, and with it comes a different culture, but there is certainly nothing wrong with them that needs fixing…

Tsavdaridis & Hailstone (2002) report:

A DEAF lesbian couple has sparked an ethical storm by deliberately producing a baby that shares their disability.

The American couple called on a male friend, who has five generations of deafness in his family, as the sperm donor for their second child…

The biblical position is that deafness is not desirable but a defective condition as surely as blindness and paralysis.


THEOLOGY OF DISABILITY

Exodus 4 tells how Moses tried to avoid becoming leader of Israel:

But Moses said to the LORD, "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
Then the LORD said to him, "Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I the LORD?"

John 9 tells of Jesus healing a blind man:

His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

Some understand these verses as teaching that God causes disability by miraculously interfering at conception to inflict defects. But this interpretation ignores other verses.

Job (in the book of "Job") suffers calamity after calamity. His assets are destroyed, his sons die, and "loathsome sores" cover him. The cause according to Chapters 1-2 is "Satan" who works his evil subject to limitations imposed by God:

The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life." (Job 1-2)

Chapters 3-37 feature a debate wherein three "friends" of Job argue that innocent people don't suffer (4:7) and therefore Job must be evil. Job argues that he is blameless and God is treating him unjustly.

However, we have already learned the answer in Chapters 1-2. "Satan" — a supernatural enemy of God — is the one who imposed Job's misery. God's responsibility is that he let it happen but imposed limits.

A similar principle of God letting things happen applies to the natural world. God as creator got the Universe started, but thereafter most events proceed naturally without supernatural intervention. Many Bible passages imply this view of things. For example:

A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind… All streams runs to the sea but the sea is not full… (Ecclesiastes 1:4-7; 3:1-8)

…time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)

Although God sometimes acts on the natural world — what we call "miracles" — mostly He just lets things happen. (Luke: 13:1-5) Consistent with this view is the book of "Proverbs" which teaches that human knowledge, wisdom, ethics and decisions are what ruin our lives or enhance them.

These principles also apply to disabilities in humans:

Genesis indicates that humans were created to live forever but required fruit from the "tree of life" to avoid death. (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:22) They would also die if they rebelled and disobeyed God:

…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die. (Genesis 2:17)

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all… (Romans 5:12)

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. (Romans 7:18)

Not only death and the inability to do right but also proneness to physical disability and sickness would have "spread to all".

Today we can interpret this scientifically and argue that rebellion against God and eating from the wrong tree changed the genetic makeup or genome of previously perfect humans. Continued deterioration over successive generations multiplied the defects.

Is there proof that humans were once physically perfect? Genesis 11:6 predicts that "nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." This implies that everything God can do, humans can also do. Therefore, if future science, perhaps by gene-manipulation and nanotechnology, produces physically perfect humans, that will confirm our once perfect origin.

Stated concisely, physical disabilities are genetic consequence of human rebellion against God. Not willed or caused by God in each instance, but natural consequences. God "makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind" by having created humans whose genome could deteriorate and letting them choose to initiate its deterioration.

Consistent with the above is the biblical teaching that God will judge everyone "by what they have done" i.e. by their conduct and their ethics, not by disabilities inherited before birth or acquired through accidents. (II Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:13)

The Bible, therefore, opposes the attitude, prevalent throughout history, that physically defective people "are living out a just punishment for sins". If the rebellion of the first humans against God is what led to defective genes and inherited defects, then people born blind or deaf are suffering the physical/natural consequences and not any "just punishment" for crimes they personally committed.

There is still the question, "Why did God allow humans to choose a history of self-harm and suffering?" For an answer read "God, Tsunamis and Evil" in Investigator 104.

 
THE DISABLED HELPED

Mephibosheth, grandson son of King Saul, was lame but King David arranged for his care. (II Samuel 9) Some actions of David and other biblical characters were wrong and the lesson is, don't do what they did. (I Corinthians 10:6-11). But other actions were right such as the care of Mephibosheth and worthy of imitation. (Hebrews 11)

The Law of Moses had clauses to help the disadvantaged such as:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien.  (Leviticus 23:22)

The "poor" would include people with disabilities that prevented normal work loads.

Leviticus 19:14 commanded against cursing the deaf or tripping the blind. John Calvin (1509-1564) in Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses commented:

LEVITICUS 19:14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord.
Since the Law comprehends under the word murder, all the wrongs whereby men are unjustly injured, that cruelty was especially to be condemned by which those wretched persons are afflicted, whose calamity ought rather to conciliate our compassion. For, if any particle of humanity exists in us, when we meet a blind man we shall be solicitous lest he should stumble or fall, and, if he goes astray, we shall stretch out our hands to him and try to bring him back into the way; we shall also spare the deaf... It is, therefore, gross brutality to increase the ills of those whom our natural sense impels us to relieve, and who are already troubled more than enough. Let us, then, learn from these words, that the weaker people are, the more secure ought they to be from all oppression or injury…

Organized education for deaf people began with two Catholic priests. Mirzoeff (1992) writes:

The establishment of the Institute for the Deaf was the culmination of thirty years work by two Catholic priests, the Abbe Charles-Michel de I'Epee (1712-1789) and the Abbe Roch-Ambroise Sicard (1742-1822), who had developed a methodical sign language based on the native sign languages used by the deaf themselves…

Other teaching/training centers followed for the deaf, blind and disadvantaged. Louis Braille (1809-1852), the blind inventor of Braille lettering, was a Catholic.

Many people look at evils done in the name of religion as excuses to oppose everything Christian. The Bible warns that many apparent believers would betray the faith by their wrongful conduct (II Peter 2:2) but others would do "greater works" than Jesus. (John 14:12) Everyone must decide whether to look at traitors for excuses or at "great works" for inspiration.

"Bionic ears" were invented by a Christian doctor with a deaf father. Graeme Clark (b.1935) was an ear, nose and throat surgeon who at age 30 switched to academic research. At 34 he headed the otolaryngology department at the University of Melbourne. This allowed him to research his idea for an electrical device to stimulate auditory nerves. (Worthing 2015; Ross 2015)

Cochlear-implants began at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne in 1978 and have gone worldwide. The Advertiser reported:

Mrs Dunn, 55, of Toorak Gardens, is SA’s first recipient of a “bionic ear.”
The device, which she had implanted in Melbourne last month, has restored the hearing she lost when she was 20…
The “bionic ear” or cochlear implant is suitable for people who are not deaf from birth and who have extreme nerve deafness…
Mrs Dunn’s four-hour operation was done by a Melbourne University team led by Graeme Clark. (June 22, 1985, p. 3)

The Hear and Say Centre in Queensland teaches hearing-impaired infants to listen and speak through a program called "auditory-verbal therapy" which begins with a cochlear implant at age 6 months. (Nogrady 2009)


GENE THERAPY

The 1920 USA Census attributed deafness in 35,026 deaf people to hereditary or pre-natal 38.6%, scarlet fever 17.6%, and meningitis or other "brain fever" 23.9%. (Pintner, Eisenson & Stanton 1941)

In medieval Europe causes of deafness included genetic, accidents, and illness such as measles, meningitis, mumps, smallpox and scarlet fever.

Gene therapy may one day eradicate deafness. Thomson (2014) reports:

…a group of profoundly deaf people … who lost their hearing through damage or disease, will get an injection of a harmless virus containing a gene that should trigger the regrowth of the sensory receptors in the ear.

Michael Tennesen (2008) examines the potential for regenerating the auditory hair cells in the inner ear. Once damaged these cells do not recover and this is a major cause of hearing loss. Tennesen says that 278 million people worldwide have hearing loss and 100,000 use cochlear implants. Bony fish, some amphibians and deafened chickens grow new auditory hair cells and researchers are studying the genes involved and looking for ways to achieve recovery in humans.


BLINDNESS

Christianity fights blindness by charity, teaching of skills, and performing millions of cataract surgeries. The Christian Blind Mission reports that in 2014, "Over 570,000 people received the Miracle Gift of Sight." The brochure says: "For over 100 years, CBM has striven to follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ through our work."

Today bionic eyes are being developed. The Bionics Institute in Melbourne emerged from Graeme Clark's work and implanted a proto-type into a woman in 2012.

Macular degeneration affects 1 person in 15. New Scientist reports that treatment with human embryonic stem cells had reversed macular degeneration and produced improved eyesight. (18 October, 2014, p. 6) And Lewis (2014) reports: "the experimental procedure for placing healthy genes wherever they are needed in the body has restored sight in about 40 people with a hereditary form of blindness."

This raises the question of how modern science began. Universities first began in Western Europe in the 13th century (Haskins 1957); and many founders of various branches of science were inspired by the Bible. This is part of the fulfillment of the promise almost 4000 years ago that through Abraham's descendants God would "bless all the nations of the earth." (Genesis 18:18; Acts 3:25-26)


SUMMARY

Societies that equated inherited disability with personal sin and ostracized sufferers, and people who intentionally disable or mutilate others, are evil and deluded. They demonstrate the truth of the biblical teaching that the entire world is deceived by "Satan the Devil". (Revelation 12:9)

Physical defects inherited at conception began with human rebellion against God which ruined the perfect genes of our original parents. Bible prophecy foretold that under the Kingdom of God — which began with Jesus — physical defects, sickness, and pain would be conquered; and medical science indicates that Bible prophecy can become reality.


REFERENCES:

Bickenbach, J.E. 1993 Physical disability and social policy, University of Toronto

Christian Blind Mission 2015 Welcome to CBM, cbm.org

Crouch, B. It’s hear, hear, for Jeanette, Sunday Mail, November 6, 2006, 27

Haskins, C.H. 1957 The Rise of Universities, Cornel Paperbacks

Lewis, R. Scientific American, March 2014, 37-41

Mirzoeff, N. The Silent Mind Learning From Deafness, History Today, July 1992, 19-25

Nogrady, B. This sound barrier can be broken, The Weekend Australian, Health Weekend, January 10-11, 2009, 13

Nowak, R. Ear implant sparks culture war, New Scientist, November 25, 2006, 16-17

Pintner, R. Eisenson, J. & Stanton, M. 1941 The Psychology of the Physically Handicapped, Crofts

Ross, J. Ringing tribute to dedication, The Weekend Australian Review, August 22-23, 2015, 19

Smart, J. 2001 Disability, Society and the Individual, Aspen

Tennesen, M. Gone today, hear tomorrow, New Scientist, 10 March, 2007, 42-45.

Thomson, H. Let there be sound, New Scientist, 26 April, 2014, 8

Tsavdaridis, N. & Hailstone, B.  2002 Disabled baby boy a wish come true, The Advertiser, April 13, 2002, 34

Worthing, M. 2015 Graeme Clark: The Man Who Invented the Bionic Ear, Allen & Unwin
(Anonymous)


Comparing the Bible with beliefs opposed to it, on this website:


http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

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