As a Christian doctor whose specialism was orthopaedic surgery it is so easy to understand disability as a physical condition or constraint on what a person should be like and be able to do. In fact there is nothing wrong with that understanding as far as it goes, but sadly most stop at that point. A similar perspective is common in relation to the passage for this week:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)
We all suffer from time to time, but those with a disability much more so and often seemingly without any remedy. At first glance this passage might seem to be an exhortation to those with such a disability to keep going, to endure their difficulties because that will produce a strong character and somehow, one day, everything will be all-right because God loves us. Maybe I overstate to make a point, but the reality is that if we focus solely on the physical we will miss, in the context of the passage, the nature of the suffering and the real disability.
We live in the time of a global pandemic with millions infected, many left with ongoing difficulties and with tens of thousands dying. Most evenings we see the outpouring of grief for deceased loved ones on our television screens. The words used are of lost ones, those taken from us. The sense of loss and despair is almost palpable for in our “modern culture” where it is taught, and we are encouraged to believe, that mankind has evolved, the result of pure chance, and there is nothing after death; then, truly all is lost! Such is the blindness of our age. For these, there is indeed no hope. This is a disability far beyond any loss of vision from the eyes in our head. Yes, physical blindness is distressing, it does cause many difficulties in life but it is limited to this life. Spiritual blindness has eternal consequences. It is an understanding of these consequences, and the fate from which the believer in Jesus as Saviour has been delivered, that produces the rejoicing in the face of any earthly distress caused by our circumstances for we know, really know, the glorious future that awaits us. The knowledge of this is described as our ‘hope’, but this English word can carry a weak meaning, as if it were a wish that you're not fully sure will happen. NO! Rather, it is the eager expectation, the anticipation of what awaits us. If we KNOW this, then any distress caused by our circumstances because of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord will produce endurance, which produces the ‘mindset of one tested and approved’ (the Greek word translated “character” is difficult to translate into English), which results in the anticipation of what awaits us in Jesus – in that we rejoice.
This is why we are Medical Missionary News. We seek to relieve the distress caused by physical disability, sickness and poverty but we do not stop there. We also seek to open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf and the minds of those who do not know the good news of life eternal through Jesus Christ – these are the most severely disabled of all.
Written by Peter Gill, MMN Trustee