“I’m always the girl in the wheelchair. This has always had an impact on me. It has pushed me to want to prove that I am neither an object of pity nor heroism. It has harmed me.”
Twenty-five year old Preeti Singh has had cerebral palsy for entire life, causing her to be wheel-chair bound. In an article, Singh outlined society’s flaw in seeing those with disabilities not as equally valuable to those around them, but rather as people defined by their disabilities, objects to be either pitied or praised.
Singh wrote, “When I was nine, I went to my hometown for my grandmother’s funeral. There, a couple of women caught me alone and told me that I was a burden on my parents. They said that I should have died, and that it was stupid of my parents to spend so much money on my health and education. In the months that followed this incident, I became severely depressed.”
Disability is used to justify abortion
As demonstrated by Singh’s story, the conversation surrounding those with disabilities is closely tied to sanctify of life within the womb. Noted evolutionist Jerry Coyne wrote, “If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born? I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral.” Those in step with Coyne’s beliefs would hold that if you can kill a disabled person before she is born, then maybe you can kill a disabled child after she is born.
That’s revolting, but too many people quietly believe this is the case. We now live in a world where our first instinct is to judge a person based off of instrumental value. It has become so easy for us to ask how an individual can contribute to society, ultimately basing his worth on potential usefulness and societal contribution. Rather than seeing an individual valuable person that has a disability, we see a person’s disability as their identity. However, an individual’s identity is never found in his disability—a view which is supported by Scripture.
A biblical perspective on disability
So what is a biblical response to people with disabilities? How should we, as Christians, view disability? Firstly, we know that God created all people, including those with disabilities. He is the Creator of all people, their holy Maker. Not only this, but it is evident that God does not make mistakes. As Psalm 18:30 reiterates, “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”
Using Scripture as our source of truth, we know that God doesn't make errors. However, people do (For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). Scripture also teaches us that God’s ultimate will for His people is for them to someday be made whole in eternity (1 Corinthians 15:40). Being whole includes ability, therefore disability prevents wholeness. But does this mean people with disabilities are less whole than others?
Every human has impairments
There is not a soul who is completely whole on this earth. While it may appear that people with disabilities are less whole than others, this is not the case. Not everyone has disabilities, but every person has impairments. People who do not have disabilities have different sins and challenges that are either physical or behavioral or both. These impairments prevent human wholeness until eternity, though it's not as obvious to the imperfect human eye. As Christians, we know that someday we will experience being made new, and being made whole. But this change will not occur here on earth.
Instrumental vs. intrinsic value
Historically, humans have always had intrinsic value. Something has intrinsic value if its value is inherent in its own existence—such as health or love. Unfortunately, our culture is discarding this view of human value.
When intrinsic value is pushed aside, the belief in instrumental value arises. To have instrumental value means to not be valuable in and of itself, but rather valuable only because it can get you something else that has value. For instance, a two-dollar glow stick is not inherently worth two dollars. Rather, it is valuable because it can get you something else that has value: entertainment. And once an instrumentally valuable thing loses its ability to obtain other things which hold value, it ceases to be valuable. Like a used glow stick.
The problem we see in culture today is a mainstream belief that human beings are instrumentally valuable. If we believe that human beings are truly instrumentally valuable, the very moment they lose their ability to contribute to society is the moment they lose their value. In this sort of culture, the strong thrive and the weak are preyed upon. The weakest in our society—the unborn, the elderly, and the disabled suffer the price.
That’s why renowned evolutionist Jerry Coyne pushes for infanticide of disabled newborns. Mainstream culture rejects the idea that we are made in the image of God because they reject the idea of a sovereign God. When culture ceases to believe in God, they lose sight of intrinsic value as it necessitates a Maker. And as society gradually comes to the conclusion that humans are only instrumentally valuable, we strip the disabled of their value
From a Christian perspective, then, what determines human value? While no human will be whole on earth, wholeness does not equate value. Specific opportunities does not give people worth. IQ is not what gives people worth. Attractiveness is not what defines human worth. Economic contribution is not what gives people worth. Rather than the material ways in which we judge others by, the unseen and eternal is what determines value.
God’s image gives people value
Identity is what gives people worth. Being made in the image of God is what gives people worth. God is the Creator of all people, both with and without disabilities. For the Christian, there is undeniable value in simply being human.
Being created in God’s image is not similar to a scale. Either you are created in His image, or you’re not. Every human is created in God’s image, thus every human is of value. And humans can never lose their value, no matter what disabilities, illnesses, or impairments which might follow them throughout life. A human’s identity in their Creator’s image is what gives humans value and no disability can take that away.
Preeti Singh wrote, “I want to simply be accepted as I am… if my achievement is simply waking up in the morning, this makes me feel discriminated against, not celebrated.” Our culture of death doesn’t find a use for people with disabilities other than objects of pity or heroism. Our society does not think that the smiling child with down syndrome has intrinsic, human value. Our culture doesn’t see a child with autism as a valuable human, but rather as a disability. Culture only sees the disability. But our God values all people because they are made in His image. As Christians, we must lead our culture to view people with disabilities as fully human and fully valued, rather than only seeing their disability.
Christians know that people who are crippled, blind, deaf, and dumb, who only have the ability to exist and be taken care of are just as valuable as the most “successful” leaders of this world. Our response to the world’s view of disability must be contrasted with compassion and a constant search to find the beauty and value of the disabled. We need a cultural change, led by Christ-followers who will guide the world in valuing every life in society, from the very youngest to the very oldest, from the most successful to the most disabled. In our culture of death, we must hold tight to Christ, the Lifegiver - who gives value and meaning to our world and to all the people in it.