by David Morstad
Why did this happen? Did God do this? Or, at least, allow it to happen?
We often struggle to make sense of the presence of disability in the world. This much is certain: There are wide ranging perspectives, each built on a framework of love and caring, and each offering a bit of insight into those attempting to answer the question.
“God sent this to make your faith stronger,” you might hear; or, it’s close companion, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” The statements assume that, at least to some extent, God is in the business of making mischief in people’s lives (albeit toward a positive outcome). While there may be theological and practical problems with that point of view, the real problem may not be in the answers but in the question itself. Why would we ask why?
One story of healing in the Gospel of John provides an interesting interaction. “As he walked 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?” (John 9:1-2 NRSV)
The assumption the disciples are making is not completely out of character with what people might ask today. Tell us, Jesus, what went wrong. Tell us who is to blame? Tell us how this might have been avoided? This man has our pity, but we’d like a few answers, if you don’t mind. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned;” Jesus told them, “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Jesus doesn’t so much give an answer as he does a response. As I read the words, I can almost hear him say, “You’re focusing too much on the past and it’s making you lose sight of the real issue.” Stuff happens. And it happens so that the works of God might be revealed. Taken a step further, there is perhaps another more important question.
When people are struck by great tragedy – fire, flood, the sudden loss of a loved one – it is not unusual to hear them cry in some way, “Why, God, why?” I have often wondered, though about people who are suddenly and richly blessed in some wonderful way. Perhaps they have just won the lottery. How much time do they spend looking up to heaven crying, “Why, God, why? Why has this happened to me?!” Not much, I imagine, but maybe they should. Instead of asking, “Why was a person with a disability born like that?” we might be better off asking, “Why was I born like this?” My limbs are intact, I have five functional senses, and my IQ lies within the typical range. I have won the human development lottery! “Why, God, why?”
If we are bold enough to ask that question, we may discover that Jesus’ answer is unchanged. This happened that the works of God might be revealed. In me. Today.