Is God disabled?

I am disabled—in fact I suffer from multiple disabilities. 

I am very short sighted (my prescription is -5 diopters) and I also suffer from astigmatism (inherited from my father—it prevented him continuing his career as a pilot in the RAF after WW2) which means I cannot function easily in everyday life without medical intervention in the form of optical correction. 

I suffer from acute seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. It made my teenage summers on the cricket field a misery (which had the effect of excluding me in a large all-boys school where sport was everything), and is accompanied by asthma, which means I need medication when doing strenuous exercise. 

In my gap year in Israel I picked up a bacterial infection from drinking unpasteurised and unfiltered cows’ milk, which gives me intermittent digestive problems. 

When travelling in the Far East in my twenties, a viral infection killed the nerve supplying my sub-scapular muscle, disabling proper movement in my right shoulder and to this day sending the other muscles in my shoulder into spasm if they are overused (for instance, by spending too much time using a computer mouse). This also put paid to my cricket career in bowling. 

Ten years ago I had a serious episode of sciatica, preventing me moving for four days, and leading to an ongoing weakness in my lower back. Five years ago I ruptured my left achilles tendon, and the fibres did not properly reconnect, meaning that my left calf muscle has never properly recovered. It means I cannot run, and because I now walk unevenly, I have continued vulnerability to back problems. I need to do daily stretching exercises to prevent further back pain. 

The reason I mention all this is not merely to garner sympathy (though of course that is always welcome!) but because of reading a fascinating article on the BBC website a couple of weeks ago that explored the question of Christian faith, healing, and disability. Damon Rose lost his sight as a teenager, and quite often experiences Christians approaching him and asking to pray for his healing. 

From time to time, without warning or encouragement, I get approached in the street by Christians who tell me they want to pray for me to get my sight back. Since I became blind as a teenager this has been a regular yet annoying by-product of being an independent disabled person who can walk about on the street.

I had always assumed that everyone knew these encounters are a fact of life for people who are visibly disabled. But when one day I told some colleagues about my latest brush with a would-be healer, they were variously fascinated or outraged that anyone would have the cheek to impose their beliefs on me about something so personal.

I have to say that he bears this with remarkable grace, and even though he is not a Christian himself, and mostly feels angry about this, at the end of the article he relates a quite different response:

The last time this happened was on the London underground. The train was packed full of people all studiously ignoring each other when a man put his hand on my shoulder and asked if he could pray for my sight to be restored. Normally when people offer to pray for me to be healed, I say ‘No’. But this man told me that he was a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who had himself been healed by prayer. I got the sense that he really needed me to let him pray over me, so I said ‘Yes’ and let him lay his hands upon me.

I can’t claim to be cured of blindness as a result of his prayer, but I’ll never forget how happy and grateful he appeared to be. To me it felt very much like the roles had unintentionally been reversed, and that it was the disabled man during the encounter who had given out a dose of healing.

But what I find interesting is that the whole article, and the theological issues it explores, consistently uses the common categories of ‘disabled’ and ‘able-bodied’. So the question is: which am I? How much worse would my sight need to become before I move from one category to another? Or how bad would my back need to be? Legally, there must be a definition before you qualify to register as disabled, for example to get a blue parking disc. But a friend told me many years ago that the threshold was not particularly high (so to speak). The language of the disabled/able-bodied is also becoming an important category for those campaigning for ‘inclusion’ of the disabled, for disability theology (which the article explores a little), and for the disability identity politics which is emerging. 

I completely agree with the need for much improved disabled access, and there is a serious practical challenge for any church community to make their building and their activities accessible to all—not least with an ageing church and national population. But I am not sure I am convinced by the basis on which this is usually argued. If you lined up a representative group of people according to their physical abilities, with the most obviously and visibly disabled at one end, and the fittest and most able-bodied on the other, I think you would find a continuum and not a sudden break separating one group from another.

The reason that the ‘disabled’ need to be included, is not because they are ‘another’ group, separate from ‘us’—but because they are the same as us. We are all limited, and most of us are, to some extent, identifiably disabled. 

Moreover, from a theological point of view, our various disabilities are all part of our creaturely finitude. I might be more limited than other people in my ability to run, or see, or lift heavy objects—but we are all limited in these regards, and my limitations are relative and not absolute. Some people might need a smooth ramp to access a building, but there is nothing absolute about the standard nine-inch riser in most sets of steps. If we could all jump like kangaroos, then having a two-foot high step would be fine—but being the humans that we are, that kind of provision would make the building inaccessible for most of us. So why should our threshold of provision include only 90% or 80% of the population, rather than 50% or 40%? Incidentally, this puts the lie to the common mantra ‘You can do anything if you try/really believe you can/don’t give up’ as a response to some extraordinary achievement by someone. We can all probably do more than we imagine—but we are all limited, finite creatures, and the idea that we can do ‘anything’ is just a wilful denial of our dependance on our creator.

This of course points to the important distinction between two ways of thinking about disability—the medical and the social. The medical model of disability postulates a norm of human performance in a particular area of activity, and sees medical or physiological reasons why this norm is not attained as needing medical intervention of some sort to effect a healing of the problem. The social model locates the issue more in the expectations of others as to what is ‘normal’, rather than locating the issue in the ‘disabled’ person. It seems to me that neither model is adequate on its own, and both are needed to make proper sense of the issues at stake. 

There is no doubt that Damon Rose suffers from a medical condition which has led to his blindness. The expectation that he should, normally, be able to see is not merely located in social expectations; our bodies have evolved to perform certain functions, and the purpose of eyes is to see, just as the purpose of legs is to walk. But there is also no doubt that many are regarded as ‘disabled’ because they do to fit with social norms. I was challenged by this when on the staff of a theological college, and we had changed the catering arrangements and put the salad options on a shelf that anyone over five feet tall could reach—forgetting that one of the students was only four feet tall. That student might (or might not) have had a medical condition—but the primary problem here was the assumption made by others of what was ‘normal’.

In the BBC article, the source of the inappropriate behaviour by those praying for the disabled is traced back to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry.

For Candida Moss, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, these stories can be alienating for readers who, like her, are disabled.

“I think the main problem for disabled people reading the Bible is that while Jesus does spend a lot of time with people with disabilities, every time he meets them, if they encounter him with faith, he heals them and so he’s sort of like this cathartic scourge that wanders around eradicating disability from the world.”

Another difficulty, says Prof Moss, is that disabled people are often used by the Gospel authors to beef up Jesus’ credentials, showcasing his divine powers.

“When Jesus meets people with disabilities, he fixes them and that’s a sign that he is powerful,” she says. “That relegates people with disabilities to just being there to show the power of God. They’re not really real characters or real people who have feelings and needs and personalities. That pushes them to the margins of the story.”

I think this offers quite a serious misreading of the gospel narratives. A classic example is the story of the healing of the man born blind in John 9.1–41. The story is both carefully crafted (having an overall chiastic structure of personal encounters) but also includes narrative realism; you can use it unedited as a play script. It begins and ends with a striking contrast between Jesus and his interlocutors. At the start this is with the disciples, and they are the ones who want to treat this man as an exercise in theological reflection.

As he 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 works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9.1–2).

And, similarly, at the end, Jesus’ approach contrasts with the religious puritanism of the Pharisees. In the middle of the narrative there are two encounters between Jesus and the man himself, in classic Johannine one-to-one conversation. The first time, Jesus heals him, and the second time he invites him into relationship as a disciple. The man is a real character, who shows courage, wisdom and wit, and who is certainly not at the margins of this story.

This kind of humane treatment is found all over the gospel healing narratives. When Jesus meets blind Bartimaeus outside Jericho, he does not presume to know what he wants, but asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10.51, Luke 18.41 where he is unnamed, and Matt 20.32, where he is in a pair). Power and decision have been handed back to the person in need, who becomes quite central to the whole episode. Something similar happens in John 5, where Jesus heals a man at the Pool of Bethesda—but after asking ‘Do you want to get well?’ (John 5.6), a question that is completely redundant, unless Jesus is seeking to empower by his healing. On other occasions, Jesus sends the crowds away, or takes the person he is dealing with aside on his or her own; this is no healing circus for others to be entertained by. Surprisingly, at times Jesus even tells people not to make their healing known; his action is driven by compassion for the individual.

It is certainly true that Christian prayer for those who are ‘disabled’ can be crass, even offensive—but I think this arises from confusion about power, as we are anxious about the power of our prayer, rather than focussing on the power of God. It certainly does not arise from the example of Jesus in the gospels.

Moss draws on another image from scripture, one that has been of encouragement to ‘disabled’ readers, of God apparently in a wheelchair.

“We don’t get many descriptions of what God is actually like but we get one of them at the beginning of Ezekiel,” she says. “The Prophet has this vision of the Heavenly throne room, where God resides and God is sat on this throne that is pretty much on fire.

“But it’s also described as having wheels within wheels attached to it. And following this scene, if you think of all the scenes of the Bible laid out chronologically, God is always sat in this wheeled throne and in fact moves – leaves the city of Jerusalem – on the wheeled throne and returns to it later on the wheeled throne.”

Although God is depicted walking in the Bible, Prof Moss says this happens earlier – in the Garden of Eden. “It seems like God is a wheelchair user maybe a thousand years before human beings themselves have thought about wheelchairs.”

So is God disabled? “That is certainly a way to read it” says Prof Moss, admitting that for many, this is a jaw-dropping and theologically challenging idea.

The difficulty with this reading is that the text is really communicating precisely the opposite. The throne is itself an image of power, and the fact that is has wheels implies that God was not dethroned when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by the Babylonians who took the people of Israel into exile. In other words, the image is an affirmation of the continuing power and reign of God despite appearances. We do not need to project our anthropomorphic understandings of ourselves on God, no matter what the degree of our disability—not least because God has experienced our creaturely finitude in the incarnation, when the Word became flesh.

This issue then connects with whether we will be healed of our disabilities in the life to come (described in the article as ‘in heaven’, but perhaps better described as ‘in the new creation’). Mention is made of the pioneering writing of Nancy Eiesland’s The Disabled God, in which she comments:

The resurrected Jesus Christ in presenting impaired hands and feet and side to be touched by frightened friends alters the taboo of physical avoidance of disability and calls for followers to recognize their connection and equality at the point of Christ’s physical impairment.

Candida Moss then extends this to the disabilities of the believer.

Prof Moss says the fact that Jesus retains his scars after the Resurrection suggests that disabled people might also retain their disabilities in the afterlife – something she hopes for herself.

“I think that if I’m not disabled in heaven, I’m not myself so I certainly hope I’ll still be disabled in heaven. I certainly hope that I don’t feel pain in heaven – that seems antithetical to what heaven is. But I still want to be me. And I don’t think that I would be me without the conditions that I have. It’s shaped who I am, how I think, what I do. Everything about my life involves this part of myself, which is integral to who I am.”

But if disabilities lie on a spectrum, rather than being something absolute, does this still make sense? Again, at what point of being disabled does my disability become ‘part of who I am?’ I wonder whether this claim is in danger of making a category error, mistaking means for ends. It is certainly the case that my disabilities and limitations can form in me a greater self-awareness, a sense of humility, perhaps a quality of patience that I did not have when I could do things more easily, and even a greater consideration of others. They shape me in a way that I might not have been shaped without these disabilities. But these things have only needed to be formed in me by my limitations because my sinful, fallen life did not manifest these things already.

The promise of the life of the new creation, when we raised to life, is that we will be ‘perfect’ in the sense of having reached our full potential as the creatures God intended us to be—to ‘become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4.13). If that involves a healing of my ‘disabilities’, then I shall be content.

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25 thoughts on “Is God disabled?”

  1. Thank you for this, Ian. I have giving this matter some thought lately, because of some angry comments I have read, heard & received.

    In understanding ‘Clinical Theology’, I was most helped by the assertion (by the likes of Dr Frank Lake) that the incarnation gives us a ‘norm’ to show us what we as humans should be like. Jesus is our yardstick, as it were, in what it is to be made in God’s image.

    I was challenged on this when encountering members of the deaf community, who were divided on the matter of healing. For many, healing would remove them from their community (an issue you touch, and a passion expressed by others who don’t fit in the ‘norm’.)

    • Thanks for this. I am slightly unclear as to why the loss of one, smaller and exclusive community, and incorporation more fully into the whole people of God is a theological problem. I can see why it might feel like a loss…but that is the same kind of loss as when ‘new’ people come and change ‘our’ church…isn’t it?

      • You are correct, I feel. Whilst I heard their plea for their ‘community’, it seemed it was because it was the only one that gave them what they wanted.
        Most have never heard anything and few expect things to change. That lack of expectation (hope?) becomes a new ‘norm’.
        Attitudes are changing, but I still struggle that the criteria for being “normal” is widening in all areas. We do not live in a ‘black and white” world – rather it is a multitude of greys, but that does not stop us from striving for the ‘palest of greys’, only possible when we have a clue what ‘white’ is.
        In its simplest (?) form, that is the Kingdom of God where we are being drawn, I think.

  2. Excellent article. Thank you. Thought provoking.

    Like you I lie on the disability spectrum. I have what I call a wonky arm. In truth I have Erb Palsy and a profoundly malformed right shoulder. It is the result of being 12lbs 6oz when I was born, wrenched into the world by an over eager doctor, who dislocated my shoulder and ripped the nerves which govern movement in my right arm. It was left untreated and grew dislocated until I was 6 years old. The paralysed arm was finally treated at Great Ormond Street throughout my childhood so I have a moving arm now. But it is weak, painful, and doesn’t work as a normal arm should. I’m told I could lose complete use of it again one day and a future amputation of the whole arm isn’t ruled out. For me – it is my wonky arm. I love it. I love the experience of being in and out of hospital. I love that I learned how to use a paralysed limb when previously it had hung limply by my side. I love that I played rugby with it to some people’s amazement and my mum’s horror.

    For me though it is part of the fallen creation. It is not God’s ideal. I was not designed to have an arm like this. In eternity I don’t know what my arm will be like. I may be left with it as it is just as Jesus had his scars and wounds. Or perhaps it will be fully restored along with the rest of creation.

    What I do kind of think though is that our physical limitation will be more like a watermark on a piece of paper. Feint. Hardly there, but noticeable if you want to look deep into the identity of someone in heaven. While I might still have a wonky arm I hope that I will be able to walk on water whenever I want to (something I can’t do now … and I have actually tried once or twice just to see – haven’t all Christians at some point? No? only me? Ok then). I hope I will be able to fly through the universe and see the beauty of God’s infinite creation. I want to ski on the rings of Saturn, swim through the gravity well of a black hole, bask in the swirling gasses of a nebula. I don’t want to have to use a telescope to wonder about those things. I want, and believe I will be able to do the most profound things I can’t currently do. Will I do them with a wonky arm? Will it matter?

    For those so profoundly disabled that they have limited mental ability, what would it mean for them to retain that limitation in heaven? I don’t believe that would be a full experience of heaven or of God. But what do I know of how they would be otherwise able in the grand scheme of things on the right side of heaven? Perhaps in a non verbal state they could be caught in rapture in the throne room of God basking in his glory without need to communicate. Or perhaps we will all communicate in ways we don’t now. Jesus seemed to be able to read people’s minds somewhat, or was that just prophetic vision? Will we all have the same means to communicate and to know without speaking?

    Lots to ponder. Few answers.

  3. PS – not convinced by the idea of the Throne of God being a wheelchair. It could equally be a tractor … or a Segway… or Sinclair C5 … or a formula 1 racing car…or a Bentley…or a Little Tikes First Car.

  4. To my mind there is a profound arrogance from Christians who claim to have been ‘healed’ by the power of prayer, especially when one notes that the problems (illnesses, disease etc) such people have/once had invariably involve an emotional/psychological component as well as the physical.
    While addiction to drugs and alcohol, for example, most definitely does have debilitating physical aspects a large part of these addictions is mental.
    And what about those former addicts who cleaned up without supposed Divine Intervention?

    Intercessory prayer has been demonstrated to be a fruitless endeavour and has never produced a positive result that could be directly attributed.
    In fact, the Templeton Foundation sponsored the largest intercessory prayer program to date involving Christians and hospital patients. Not only was the program an abject failure in terms of its objective but the health of a number of patients who were aware they were being prayed for actually deteriorated. Couldn’t live up to expectations I imagine!

    When you consider how many millions of children under five that die that each year from preventable diseases and how many of their parents are religious and prayed to the point of becoming ill themselves, it makes you wonder why on earth anyone would be so credulous to believe that any such action would make a blind bit of difference?

    I wonder how many British soldiers returning from Afghanistan with missing limbs have witnessed a leg or two suddenly grow back after a former drug-addled Christian tapped him on the shoulder and asked to pray?

    And, to extend the point of just how ridiculous prayer is, no doubt Spurs’ striker, Lucas Moura will be praying to the Christian god that he scores another hat trick when they face Liverpool on Saturday in the Champions League final.
    Which might annoy Mo Salah a bit as his god will be no doubt be in Spain watching the final as well.

    Pointless, as we all know that Yahweh/Jesus is a Manchester City supporter and this is why they did the Treble. Furthermore we all know that Mo’s god is not real in any case, right?
    Of course. Ask Pep!

    But probably the most insidious aspect is the fact religious leaders and those in charge of congregations actively encourage this practice, knowing full well that, all over the planet millions are dying or becoming physically crippled because it seems their god was either unable or unwilling to intervene to help/save them.
    Truth be told, such religious leaders are in all likelihood fully aware just how meaningless the gesture of prayer really is.


  5. Thanks for writing this. My first wife was healed of blindness at age 24 in a church service. Almost 24 years later she died from diabetic complications. I struggled when her heart and kidneys failed when she was 39. My theology slowly began to change as control of my life began to slip away.

    My second wife was disabled in 2007 and has been using a wheelchair since then. She often get prayer bombed. Before I retired from pastoral ministry folks in our church prayer bombed her every week saying things like “God told me to pray for you this morning”. These days we seem to be able put a lot of it in perspective. Thankful for that .

    Wish you great success in ministry.

    Blessings, Bob

    • Thanks for sharing this Bob. The ‘prayer bombing’ must have been hard to tolerate! I thought that the writer of the BBC piece showed a lot of grace in response to the latest incident he reports…

  6. If you read the full BBC article you will see that it also spoke about the difference between healing in Jesus’ time and now, this is a really vital part of the BBC writing. It mainly focused on the fact that there was no welfare state in Jesus’ time, no NHS (as in the UK now), no benefits system to support those who couldn’t work or help themselves medically. Additionally the major point has been missed that Jesus’ healing at that time restored people’s status. This allowed people who were previously excluded from society – and from the temple – to now worship God and to be restored.

    • Thanks for this comment Rachel. I would agree that Jesus’ healing often restored people’s status; that was most explicit in the healing of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5, where he is restored to his community—but it is also a note in the healing of Jairus’ daughter, where she is given back to her parents, and the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. I think this adds to the evidence that Candida Moss’ reading of the healing ministry of Jesus is quite clearly mistaken.

      But given that ‘disability theology’ and the ‘disability rights’ movements both start from the premise that the ‘disabled’ are a minority and marginalised community in wider society, I am not sure this dimension of Jesus’ ministry is any less important today.

      I am not sure it’s true, though, that the BBC article ‘focussed mainly’ on the cultural differences between then and now.

  7. Off the top of my head, I think most if not all of those who Jesus healed as recorded in the Gospels came to Him to be healed, rather than Jesus going to individuals. He became well known as a healer, so people came to Him. So even though He was 100% successful in healing anyone he prayed for, yet He left it for individuals to come to Him. Surely there is a lesson there.

    An interesting case is when Peter and John heal the lame man. He doesnt seem to have been looking for healing, rather just money. We can only assume they had a definite ‘word’ from the Lord that He wanted to heal the man, as they seem so sure that is what is about to happen. I think John Wimber spoke of similar experiences. But that doesnt seem to be the norm.

    I wonder if most of those who claim they may still be disabled in the next life are mainly those who have never known anything else? I suspect those who have had good health and then suffer later in life would generally welcome restoration to good health again. Of course suffering of any kind can produce good in us, often creating empathy with others which we would never have had without that personal experience, but that is part of this life now. The next life will remove that suffering permanently and the reasons that caused it. So no i would be very surprised if disabled people continued to be disabled in the renewed earth because God’s intention is to restore all to that as it should be.

  8. Really helpful … thank you. I thought Damon Rose gave a good account in his BBC article. I have secondary progressive ms. I hope to be able to walk in heaven … I had a distinct impression that my dear dad, whose body had become twisted and wasted through years of living with Parkinson’s Disease, was walking in the most beautiful garden after he had died. He had borne with our mother, his suffering with dignity despite the expectation of misguided friends that if he repented of his sins, he would be healed.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I find it very interesting that there are widely differing views from those with serious disabilities (i.e. yours, in contrast to mine) on the question of healing in the new creation.

      And I agree that Damon Rose gave a great and gracious account of his own experience.

  9. You only need to read the Bible to see what God says about disabled people.

    Leviticus 21: “16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 ‘Say to Aaron: “For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.”

    • I do find it odd when liberals indulge in literalistic proof texting. Citing one passage of Scripture does not tell us ‘what God says about disabled people’…unless you are a fundamentalism, of either a conservative or a liberal inclination.

      • But isn’t that exactly what you do with gay people? You just use your proof texts to clobber us. Strange you don’t approve when the boot is on the other foot!

  10. Are you aware of any good works on the scars Jesus bears after his resurrection in light of the regenerative promises of new creation? I haven’t come across anything that’s helped me think through that adequately.

  11. Short-sightedness and hay fever are not disabilities. Depending on the level of impairment you experience due to your sciatica, you are are not disabled. This is why we have medical definitions and definitions.

    You and other theologicals want to make the point that disability can be described as limitation, which is something we can all relate to. There is some merit in this argument, but we need to be very careful. We are all physically limited; however, we are not all disabled. The distinction is important.

    There is a minority of us who are disabled, and we face difficulty, prejudice, hate, stigma because of it.

    Let me use a parallel here. Every one of us has a different skin colour, and it is on a sliding scale. Not all of us are people of colour, even if we have very tanned skin. Likewise, there are people who are not sure whether their race should be described as white or an ethnic minority because of their borderline heritage, but these borderlines do not disprove the rule but prove it.

    Part of the nature of disability comes down to power in society, not just limitation in their body. Who has power in society? Able-bodied people have more power and advantage in society because of their grouping. Disabled people have less power because of ableism. In society, a blind person is viewed differently to someone who wears glasses, and the blind person experiences the world differently to someone who wears glasses. To deny this is to pretend that ableism doesn’t exist and this is akin to saying that racism doesn’t exist.

    I have been short-sighted all my life (-6 and -5, with astigmatism). I have now been disabled and a wheelchair user for almost 13 years. I can assure you that being disabled is very different from wearing glasses, and I’m disappointed that this should have to be spelt out.

    If you dismiss disabled readings of the scripture then you miss out on valuable insights. The healing narratives are complex, and there are many interpretations of why Jesus asks some people what they want before he heals them.

    Leaving that aside, I want to focus on the part in Ezekiel where God is in a ‘mobile throne’. As an able-bodied person, you imply that the image of God in a ‘wheelchair’ is inherently disempowering, whereas the chair is about power. Therefore it can’t have anything to do with disability. I agree that the image is one of increased power – but it is very relevant to disability.

    Before I got a wheelchair, I had already felt the limitations of my body and the crushing reduction in my mobility (which rendered me disabled, rather than just limited in my walking). I was surprised to find, in my still able-bodied mindset, that the wheelchair ended up representing freedom to me. I could now be pushed along at speed and join my husband for walks again instead of being stuck at home. It brought me to new horizons.

    God chose to ‘limit’ himself/Godself by ‘dwelling’ among the people in the temple. In the exile, we have a vision of freedom – God was not limited to the building of the temple, and therefore is not left behind, nor are his people left behind, but by using something that certainly looks very much like a wheelchair and has the function of a wheelchair, God demonstrates that he is able to step out of those expected boundaries and remind the people that God is larger than geography. It is an image of freedom, power, and an end to limits.

    Able-bodied people use language like ‘stuck in a wheelchair’ or ‘wheelchair-bound’, and so able-bodied theologians can be reluctant to use disabled people’s terminology as metaphors of God, because it sounds like it’s limiting God. But both the biblical text and the experience of disabled Christians is that a chair with wheels can be a position of power, and a mobile throne naturally speaks of limitlessness to disabled people in a way that’s not obvious to non-disabled people. I hope you bear this in mind when you next write on disability, especially when the non-Christian disabled community is watching. Best wishes.

    • Thanks for the comment Tanya. I am not ‘dismissing’ ‘disabled’ readings of Scripture out of any sense of narrowness; I am pointing out that they are not there in the text, and like many contemporary readings of Scripture they actually silence the text by imposing an alien set of assumptions on the text that originate in the life and perspective of the reader alone. There are much better ways of reading the text—which avoid making Jesus look like a prejudiced and manipulative power monger, as this reading does.

      But I am curious about your definition of disability. When I was not able to walk because of sciatica, and when I had to be transported in a wheelchair because I could not get around the airport, I certainly felt disabled.

      Can you explain where you draw the boundaries of your definition of disability so that you can exclude me as you clearly wish to do? Where are the hard lines on conditions that are mostly experienced on a spectrum?

  12. Good article. Really enjoyed the read.

    In societies that are more rural and removed from modern urbanization, it is likely that many of the conveniences of modern urbanized societies are unheard of. Things like disabled access, prosthetics, even wheelchairs and white canes are not part of the everyday experience of the people who would need them. Therefore, having (especially) a physical disability, sets an individual at a great disadvantage. People born into such society are born into a narrative of being less than other humans and hence in perpetual need of charity.

    This is why the villager’s ear is on the ground for anyone with that magical power to bring healing to the disabled, an event that would at the very least lift them up and place them at the same level as the “able-bodied” majority. Jesus came to rural folk. To folks who wished themselves or their family members out of the pitied, shameful place of perpetually needing charity. These days, disabled people need only be in a society that innovates and develops means to assist those with physical challenges to do all that others can do as independently as possible.

    Every human being has a disability somewhere in them. The more physical the disability, the more it is apparent to society and the more it might be call for charity. Not all, but many who call others to miraculous healing are easily opportunists who capitalize on the wish that everyone has – to be rid of the challenges they face owing to their disability.


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