“Dude, you severed my finger.” Sadly it was true. Anthony and I were moving heavy logs, in preparation for a youth camp—kumbuyah round the camp-fire. “1-2-and … STOP!”—and like that his arm locked, I dropped, and the finger lopped. Doh. First came the shock. Then came the accusations: “What about my music career?” Anthony was a talented saxophonist, headed for the music conservatorium. I’m not into brass, but I gather missing a digit makes it difficult to dance over the spatula keys reciting John Coltrane’s ‘Round Midnight’. Anthony was now ‘disabled’.
Jesus’ promises came to mind: “Believe and you’ll receive; ask and it will be given; nothing is impossible.” So like faithful disciples, we drew close, joined hands, and squeezed our eyes shut like Dorothy hoping for Kansas. We prayed, and … well, suffice to say, minutes later we were groping around the dirt for the missing member, carting Anthony and his detached bit off to hospital.
Marshall Brain, the author of whywontgodhealamputees.com, wouldn’t be surprised. His argument is simple. God’s powerful, right? And we know God through Jesus, the guy who supposedly cared for the hurting and went around healing the sick. Jesus then promises us these same powers, in response to prayer. And yet … form a prayer chain of millions and the disability remains. This loving God never regenerates lost limbs—the one non-ambiguous, empirical case of healing which couldn’t be psycho-somatic or coincidental. Two binary conclusions are offered: 1) God has a grudge against amputees; or 2) God is imaginary and therefore doesn’t heal anyone: amputees are no different.
For all his brains, I’m confused how Michael moved from “Jesus healed everyone except amputees” to “Jesus never healed anyone—past or present—as God doesn’t exist.” And a skim of the Scriptures highlights that Jesus did heal amputees, i.e., lepers and the ‘maimed’. Scour the web and you’ll find countless responses to his second contention. But what of the first contention? What of Anthony?
Healing amputees is a subset of any regeneration, so let’s broaden the accusation to God’s grudge against anyone with a physical disability. As Brain notes, “if someone is born with a congenital defect … no amount of prayer is going to fix the problem.” Yet ‘disability’ is a knotty and complex issue. Do all ‘disabilities’ need to be healed? Perhaps Jesus had good reasons for not healing Anthony?
Humour me. Take a few minutes and read John 9. Granted, Jesus heals this guy. But perhaps you’ll see here a subtext for why Jesus won’t heal disabilities.
You may know this story well. It’s the one about the man blind from birth—let’s call him Ben—who Jesus unconventionally heals by rubbing spit and clay into his eyes! And then there’s a saga before the empirical doubters—in this case religious rulers—who refuse to believe Ben was really healed. They interrogate this man, his parents, and then the man again before excommunicating him from their club. It’s worth a fresh look if our spiritual eyes are to regenerate and see the deepest disability of all.
A few quick observations: First, Jesus ‘saw’ the man who was blind, not for his disability, but for his personhood (v1). Ben wasn’t a data point in a sceptic’s set, nor was he a theological conundrum for religious apologists. Jesus truly saw Ben, and loved Him. The imago Dei isn’t an ability or function, but an identity as a child of God, created and loved by the Father, thus worthy of respect. Contra-Descartes, “I love (and am loved) therefore I am.”
Second, Ben’s blindness definitely was a disability, as he lacked the love of community to offer friendship and meaningful activity that might otherwise make his life ‘normal’. As theologian Amos Yong points out, “disability is … the experience of discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion from the social, cultural, political, and economic domains of human life.” Not surprisingly, then, Jesus embraces Ben after he is excluded from the Temple, and draws him into community (vv34-38).
Third, Jesus redefines ‘disability’ at a deeper level. In verses 39-41, he exposes the pride of the empiricists: “I came to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” What is ‘blindness’ or ‘disability’? Perhaps what we call ‘ability’ is actually our pride magnifying “some able-bodied ideal of perfection”? Perhaps what we call ‘disability’ is actually the glory of God in veiled form. Do we have eyes to see that every ‘disability’—whether congenital blindness or an amputated limb—is less a challenge to our faith and God’s existence, and more an opportunity allowed by God in this fallen world for us to become family, where each member loves and is loved?
Isn’t this God’s way? Jesus Christ is the ‘disabled God’. It was through the deformities of his body, paralysed on the cross, that he brought peace and salvation for the whole world. And even in his ‘resurrection body’, sceptical Thomas can still probe Jesus’ scars. In the mystery of God, the non-disabled are dependent on the disabled, whom God has chosen to be a means of saving grace. In this light I see why, many times, Jesus won’t heal disabilities. God made us to be one. And many times ‘disability’ dissolves when we recognise “their central roles both in the communion of saints and in the divine scheme of things.”
So, while Jesus regenerated Ben’s eyes, my mate’s finger went begging. Granted, I wanted him to recreate Anthony’s pointer like Malchus’s severed ear. But Jesus has good reasons why he won’t heal disability, and it’s not because God doesn’t exist. Ultimately, God will set everything right, and this new creation rushes forward to greet us when least expected. But right now, in the miracle of loving community, together we’ve discovered that “God’s grace is all we need; His power works best in weakness.” And for all of us, including Anthony, that is the most soul-full song there is.
That’s an interesting post. It reminds me of something I wrote recently on my blog. Great job. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Tarisai … looks like you’re doing a great job inspiring over at your blog, writersfield :)
I thought I’d get in first before this article is misconstrued!! … Just for the record, I firmly believe Jesus still can and *does* heal disabilities–yes, even in the 21st century. In 1998 I suffered a spinal injury after an incredibly poorly executed forward layout somersault as a gymnastics teacher … I snapped the odontoid peg on C2, and found myself effectively quadruplegic in hospital. Long story short, God worked in some pretty amazing ways during this time, through words of prophecy telling me in 10 days I’d be at full stature (subsequently fulfilled despite at the time doctors telling me they thought I was permanently disabled) … all to say, this article hopefully a play on the atheist web-site title, and hopefully less a projection of my own smaller-than-a-mustard-seed faith! Either way, it isn’t some type of subtle cessationist argument for a non-interventionst God.
So, be encouraged–especially if you or someone you love has a disability … never give up praying. But in the process, know that the mysteries of God’s love and desire for a whole and unified community are far deeper than we can fathom. God bless, Dave.
I’m glad you have clarified your position above, especially seeing how you have experienced God’s mighty deeds first hand! I suppose some other passages to consider in approaching this topic is why Jesus couldn’t perform miracles in his own home town when apparently he had wanted to (Mark 6:1-6), and why Jesus corrects the disciples when they fail to cast out a demon (9:14-29). Granted there are greater theological points Mark is making, I find these passages also show there is more than “God’s will” involved in healing. These passages have actually help me move from being skeptical to hopeful when it comes to prayer. For as you have mentioned in your blog, God’s healing often involves more than physical need in front of us. As a result, I have found all prayer brings healing and wholeness to varying degrees in both the prayed for and the one praying, and sometimes this process can be a journey rather than the instantaneous result we desire. Peace.
thanks for your contribution to this discussion … great pick up of some key passages. My suggestion of *a* possibility as to why Jesus–in some, or even most?–instances *doesn’t* physically heal is that at times, perhaps for the greater good of loving community, he *won’t*. But that certainly is only one of many reasons we don’t see physical healing when requested. I agree that lack of faith is certainly a genuine issue. Bouncing off the atheist web-site, however, hopefully it can be seen that even their most pessimistic reading (of God having a grudge against amputees) still has alternative interpretations without simply writing off God’s apparent inactivity as his non-existence.
Thanks again for adding your thoughts :)