Encouragement from the Word, for People with Disabilities.
by Harold St John (1876-1957)
In the days of David, a curious statute was laid down for the guidance of future generations in Israel, viz., “That the blind and the lame must not enter into the house of God”. It remained in force for over 1,000 years, as we see in the case of the man laid outside the Gate Beautiful – its meaning plainly being that human infirmity and weakness unfit us for the presence and service of God (2 Sam 5:7-8).
The evangelist Matthew, who delights in showing how the word of Christ transcends all that had been said “by them of old time”, points out that on the occasion of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple and He healed them. He evidently wishes us to understand that God is quite willing to repair broken tools and to enlist them in His army.
The subject is so important that I feel I should cite other illustrations of the working of the same law before I venture to draw any deductions.
First, then, we go back to the thorn-bush where Jehovah met Moses and showed him His goodwill; Moses is sent to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharaoh, but he objects, saying, “O Lord, I am not eloquent, for I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.” Now mark the divine answer, “Who hath made man’s mouth, or who maketh a man dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Have not I the Lord?” (Exod 4).
Jehovah claims that He is man’s creator, and the omnipotent author of all his gifts and defects; He determines the quality, measure, and number of our talents, and accepts responsibility for their incompleteness. Nor does He suggest that these shall be lessened.
Again, in John 9, we read how our Lord was leaving the Temple and saw a man blind from his birth. His disciples immediately challenge their Master, asking, “Rabbi, who did sin, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” The Lord declines to discuss the dark mystery of the origin of sin, but lifts their eyes to the end in view: “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in Him.” Plainly, His purpose was that that man’s condition should be made to serve the glory of God, both in the sufferer and in the spectators, for it is he whom the Lord loveth that He chasteneth. No one wastes his time purifying iron, but the refiner is prodigal in his patience when he has an ingot of gold in his crucible.
A third illustration must suffice, and the case of Paul will furnish all we need. We learn that he, like Moses, was a poor speaker (2 Cor 10:10). In addition to this, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, is sent to buffet him, and in his distress, he beseeches the Lord thrice to break this fetter. He is reminded that the progress of the kingdom is not to display the perfections of man, but it is a revelation of the power and wisdom of God. These will best be served by setting the treasure in an earthen vessel. It will be noticed that in the cases of the blind and the lame, disability is removed entirely, but with Moses and Paul there is no suggestion of this, and the disability is left to hamper.
Disadvantages can be considered under various headings. First, those which are congenital or existing from birth. Again, many of us lie under acquired and social disabilities; physical ill-health which shortens our working hours and limits our powers; poverty, as when a man writes a great book or poem, but has neither money nor influence through which to publish it. With many, either marriage or its absence may greatly hamper us. And lastly, the passage of the years warns us all of the limitations of life.
I think that our attitude towards our limitations should be frank and definite. We all suffer from them, and the occasional apparent exceptions are only on the surface. Each of us has his inner side, his hidden victories and defeats, our specious limitations and our private humiliations.
First, then, we must weigh the nature of each disability from which we suffer; some of them are fixed and unalterable, others may be mitigated or even removed entirely. When our Lord was contrasting the two ways of life, the way of worry and the way of trust, He asked, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?” That is, He reminds us that we are what we are, and that, in certain directions, our only wisdom is to accept as settled, the base of our triangle of life.
On the other hand, perseverance and prayer, hard work and confidence in God, can often change the lie of our circumstances. I fancy that Moses at the bush, slow and halting in his speech, became an orator of another calibre when he delivered those five great addresses which form our book of Deuteronomy. Our second concern will be to weave our disability into the main tapestry of life. When George Matheson found himself on the brink of marriage and his life’s career, suddenly blinded and forsaken by the one who had pledged him her hand, he sat down and wrote his famous hymn:
“O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul on Thee.”
The human love might betray him, the lamps of earth be extinguished, and the shadows of sorrow swallow him up; but the love eternal, the light of Heaven, and the gladness of God, these remained. By this means, a blind man’s hand became his candle, lighting him through dark valleys.
An even nobler case is that of Dr. [William] Moon, the brilliant young physician, also stricken with blindness. A few weeks later, his mother, passing his bedroom door, overheard him praying, “Oh, Lord, help me to consecrate my talent of blindness to Thee.” How nobly his prayer was answered can be seen in the system of raised letters by which countless thousands of blinded men and women are able to enjoy the treasures of literature, divine and human.
But a third possibility remains to us. We may win victories through our defects, and instead of being stumbling-blocks, we may make them stepping-stones. The case of Paul and his “thorn in the flesh” will help us here. The apostle has been recalling the supreme humiliation of his life, the day when he was let down in a rope-basket out of a window in the wall of Damascus. Then later, he reminds us how a stake or thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan (the word is “an angel of Satan” – the affliction personified), is sent to buffet him, or literally, to “keep on slapping him in the face.” His soul history in relation to Christ began with the pricking of a goad, it ended with the stabbing of a stake! Three times the servant waited upon the Master and asked for the extraction of the thorn, but “He hath said (perfect tense, as if a final word), ‘My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’.” That is, that the power increases as the weakness grows.
If we accept this, the haunting dread of bankruptcy vanishes, and our spiritual solvency is guaranteed. Had He said, “My grace shall be sufficient,” that had been a sustaining hope. But the word was, “My grace is sufficient for thee”, and the assurance was accepted with equal calm. His Lord said it and that was enough for Paul.