The Lutheran Church of the Triune God

Disabilities: One Lutheran’s Perspective

 

The issue is a very sensitive one. It is one that can hit close to home at any time, especially in our congregations. Yet it affects me every day. The issue I am talking about is my disability. More importantly, how people react to it.

 

We have come a long way towards bringing people with disabilities into the fabric of our society, including the life of the church. But there is always that uneasiness when, for example, on any given Sunday morning a person in a wheel chair or any other visible disability shows up simply for The Divine Service. A myriad of questions can go through a person’s head ranging from “who’s with the person?” to “how do I act now?” It’s almost automatic.

 

On one hand, much has been done to try to fix the problem. I have cerebral palsy and I am well aware on how big “awareness and sensitivity training” has become. One can almost make a living out of it. To further help, I have seen churches start special groups or “ministries” and even hold “disability awareness” or “physically challenged” Sundays. Please don’t get me wrong, such training or events may have their place. At times, however, I wonder if they get to the real source of our discomfort.

 

Perhaps the source of the issue is not a lack of understanding or compassion on either person’s part. Nor can we say that it’s some emotion that we feel at the time. Maybe the problem goes deeper than that. Just maybe the situation forces us to look at something we don’t like to admit. It is the exact same thing that causes all that is “wrong” in the world; natural disasters, sickness, disease, and even death. I of course am talking about original sin and, as a result, the law.

 

Let’s think about it from both perspectives. To the person that is meeting the disabled person, he is now seeing first hand exactly what Adam’s disobedience brought about, something our flesh can’t handle. We want to think everything is OK. We try to deceive ourselves into thinking we are basically good people and, for that reason, God has been good to us in whatever way we want to measure that, be it health, financial status, or possessions. Now we see less than perfection in front of us, forcing us to consider that we, too, are not what we think we are. Our souls are awakened to the fact that there is nothing we have done or can do that God should favor us. In fact, because sin infects every part of us, we are total enemies of Him. Meanwhile, the disabled person also feels discomfort. Further, he might feel frustrated that he is misunderstood or being separate from everyone else. This is yet another reminder of what we deserve; nothing less than being totally cut off from God. As hard as we try to put the thought out of our minds, words of a familiar hymn begin to reverberate through our being:

 

 

All mankind fell in Adam’s fall

One common sin infects us all

From sire to son the bane descends

And over all the curse impends.

LSB 462 v. 1

 

 

A doctor who was treating me one time for a persistent infection told me “Once we figure out what the cause is, it will be easy to find the right cure.” We have already identified what the cause of the uneasiness around people with disabilities. Now the cure should be obvious. Simply put, it’s the Gospel. It’s nothing but Christ and his saving work. For we know that through His suffering and death on the cross, not only did he take upon himself the weight of all our sins, but also the effects of our sins. I, for one, certainly realize that it does not mean disabilities go away or are any pre-conceived ideas about the disabled removed. Yet, what we experience in such situations, Christ himself experienced. He took our place for all those times we misjudge someone, for any reason, and by offering His life and rising from the dead, we can take comfort in the fact that we too, are free from our sins. What’s more, situations like this, although still awkward, have absolutely no power over us.

 

Now, in true Lutheran manner, we can ask here “What does this mean?” Earlier, I mentioned the ways churches tend to “over compensate” in order to make the disable more comfortable. There is nothing wrong with anything that fosters inclusion and understanding of people with disabilities. We can also say that there is no one “sure fire method” to do this since, even people with the exact same diagnosis can be affected differently. However, my view is that many times such activities become the main force in working with the disabled rather than letting sound doctrine and practice be the guiding norm.

 

The story of the healing of the paralytic I believe provides a good example. We are probably familiar with the story. But have you ever noticed what order the events take place? From Mark’s account (Chapter 2), we learn this man was lowered through a hole made in the roof. We are then told in verse five, “and Jesus seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Think about it. In a sense, when Jesus encounters this man, his first action is to pronounce absolution, much like the beginning of the Divine Service. Yes, this man is healed, but only after the scribes begin to protest. Even then, Jesus makes it quite clear that this healing is happening “so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Verse 10)

 

Sure, I struggle with my disability at times. I do not believe that there is a disabled person who does not. However, like any person who has his share of problems, whether the issue is physical, mental, emotional, or pertaining to any of life’s problems, I need to find relief. Contrary to what many churches may teach, it can’t be found by reading a popular self-help book. It can’t be found by becoming active in this or that special group or the church’s latest “ministry”. Believe me; I have been in churches, all LCMS that take that position. I have found that the only place where I find that relief I need is within the church itself. It comes as the pastor announces that my sins are forgiven. It comes as I hear the Word of God, both law and Gospel, boldly proclaimed. It comes when I come to the altar every week to receive His body and blood and what it bestows. This is where I, as we all should, finally find peace and relief I so desperately want.

 

I don’t think this little piece will have a great effect on how churches and people with disabilities they come in contact will interact with each other. That is not my intent anyway. However, it is my hope and prayer that these thoughts will give us the encouragement we need when we are faced with a similar situation. And may our Lord Savior keep us all in the faith, knowing that He has paid for our sins, and that we can rest knowing we are truly the children of our great and loving God. Amen.

 

Scott D. Dehn

New Hope, Minnesota