We hope for the resurrection of our body. We will shed our body of death and be enfleshed in a spiritual body, one lacking mortality and corruption. Put another way, we put on immortality and incorruptibility.
Given that we have this hope, how should we speak to people with disabilities? Should we tell them to place their hope in a new body? Or would we be ableist?
The answer to this question is important because it concerns the pastoral duty of Christians as well as the spiritual vitality of people with disabilities. It really is the question of: How should we counsel people with disabilities?
Here are three guidelines to help us avoid ableism and to judge rightly.
Preach the Resurrection
All Christians hope in the resurrection because all people live in dying and corrupt bodies. To receive Christ’s righteousness and die would only be a partial salvation. We must be both righteous and immortal to enjoy communion with God forever.
Nothing here particularly points to the inferiority of disabled persons (i.e., ableism). We all share incorruptibility to one degree or another. We must therefore not shy away from the clear proclamation fo the resurrection.
Don’t Just According to the Flesh
I think the real issue is that we sometimes judge according to the flesh, not the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16). What this means is that we see disabled persons as deficient humans, as those lacking what would otherwise make a body good. (None of us would say this explicitly but it simmers underneath the hood)
And yet: is this actually the case? Certainly, disabilities create challenges for many. We ought not to gloss over these challenges. Those without disabilities should have compassion and understanding. But we can also affirm that all of us live in corrupted bodies.
We are all deteriorating. Someone with a vision disability shares in the same lot with someone with a heart condition. To some degree, we all experience corruption. After all, everyone dies.
So, if we cannot judge someone by the flesh. How should we judge?
Glory in Weakness
Paul suffered from a disability, what he calls a thorn in the flesh. He doesn’t specify what this thorn was. Yet he certainly did not want it. He says:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
To make Paul holy, God made him weak. To make Paul whole, God took away a piece. Why? Because God judges spiritually, not according to the flesh. He perfects us through weakness. “For when I am weak,” Paul says, “then I am strong.”
People with disabilities truly struggle. We need to have compassion. And yet we must not think, Ah, this person has a weakness, a disability that prevents them from being whole. God perfects precisely through human weakness, through the mystery of victory in weakness.
So preach the resurrection. Do not judge according to the flesh. And glory in weakness. And if we do that, I think we will rightly shed the sin of ableism. We will learn that we are all weak, corrupt, and dying and that God uses our weakness to triumph over the enemy.