How do we rank the quality of life for a person with a disability? October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month—a good time to consider this question. And to be honest, I’m already familiar with some of the darker opinions on this front. As the parent of a child with Down syndrome, I am sensitive to representations of people with disabilities in entertainment and in real life. I note that many people are uncomfortable with or even afraid of disabilities. I see a direct correlation of that fear when people consider abortion. I hear the suggestions of a sort of secular immorality in bringing people like my daughter into the world.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
Using Disabilities for God’s Glory
I wonder how the people of Jesus’ time would have ranked the quality of life for the man born blind in John’s Gospel. Notably, John describes the man Jesus encounters with His disciples in chapter 9 as “a man blind from birth”—someone who has gone through life up to manhood with what many would consider a hefty disadvantage. This man probably relied fully on his parents, whom the chapter also mentions, and others.
Yet Jesus does not disdain the man in this account. He doesn’t write him off or pass him by as many others might. Rather, Jesus goes to the man, telling His disciples, “We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day. … As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4–5). Jesus fulfills His Father’s own good and gracious and powerful will through this humble vessel of low life-quality by granting the man a miracle: physical sight. And, as the chapter later tells us, Jesus also provided the man’s salvation from the darkness of unbelief as well.
This is not optional for Jesus. He came to do the Father’s will.
Jesus’ loving work knows no limitations. Through John 9 and other accounts in the Gospels, we know that human frailty and powerlessness are no obstacle for the Son of God.
They are His tools.
They’re His tools even now.
People with disabilities are often categorized as having a low quality of life. But who is anyone to say that, much less decide who God can and cannot work through? He has a habit of revealing His glory through people who others would describe as weak. After all, “My power is made perfect in weakness,” said the Lord to the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Ask that man born blind. Ask the paralytic and the lepers and the formerly demon-possessed. Ask my daughter if she has a poor quality of life. I guarantee she doesn’t think so. She just turned eight years old, and she’s come out stronger on the other side of numerous medical challenges and close calls, thanks be to God. To write her off because of her genetic makeup is to disregard the Lord’s action, mercy, and provision for her and our family. Her quality of life—anyone’s quality of life—does not lie in the eye of the beholder or collective societal opinion. It comes from Jesus alone.
The notion that disabilities reduce the value of a person is a dark one. We need the light of Christ to reveal that our discomfort with differences doesn’t determine worth. And just as God uses those with frailties to showcase His power, He calls His people to showcase His love by valuing all life—especially the lives of the vulnerable. He calls us to help and minister to those who are not like us. As Luther writes, “We have no other reason for living on earth than to be of help to others. … [God] permits us to live here in order that we may bring others to faith, just as He brought us” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 30 [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967], 11).
We Are God’s Tools
Because here’s the thing: we are all equally powerless in the eyes of God.
Has the mud washed away yet? Have the scales fallen off? Take a look: to God, none of us is unlike the other. God has dealt graciously with all of us. We are all His cherished children, vessels of the proof of His power.
And God means for us to connect with others—to be His light. It’s not optional for us. We are called to do the Father’s will.
We are His tools.
This October, may we all seek out and appreciate opportunities to interact with people like my daughter, through whom the mercy of God shines without question. May we, in turn, embrace and celebrate the differences of those who have been nudged toward the margins. May we share the love of our Lord without hesitation, knowing that we are all examples of God’s goodness and strength. And may we always point to the ultimate display of power in weakness: Jesus’ death for us all on the cross.
Throughout October, remember how God created you before you were born.