A Theology of Disability

Posted on May 4, 2011 by Kelly Simpson

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I sit here as a myriad of medical terms flow effortlessly through my fingertips onto the screen. I compose an in-depth handout to share my expertise about Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. I attempt to answer many questions. To explain what proprioception and vestibular input are and how they can help. To condense six years of practice into a one page handout. To explain something as complicated as sensory integration in just thirty minutes. Such a task is daunting enough, but as I read what I’ve written, and list the numerous questions I’ve answered… one question still remains.

Why does disability exist?

What purposes does a good God have in developmental delays, in uncoordinated bodies, and non-fluid thoughts? This question is far more daunting than any I learned about in Occupational Therapy school. In one sense it is the age old question: Why is this life so hard? Why do I experience pain? We must begin with a knowledge of God. Knowing that He is good, compassionate, merciful, gracious, and faithful. He does not waste pain. Though we don’t always understand it’s purpose now, we must know that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good and that he does not waste pain.

But narrowing our thinking from trials and pain in general, what are we confronted with specifically as we think about disability? In this life, anything we have can go wrong. We often feel uncomfortable when confronted with disability because it serves to remind us of something broken in the world. Brokenness in bodies, minds, and even sensory processing serves to remind us of the brokenness we experience in our souls because of sin. In this way, we are all disabled. We are all helpless, dependent, and needy. We must have Someone to step into our condition, be compassionate, and heal our sickness. We need the Great Physician. Dealing with physical and mental disabilities reminds us of the depths our spiritual disability.

Disability provides the opportunity to show compassion like none other. The Bible is replete with examples of God stepping in and protecting and providing for those who could not protect or provide for themselves. I have always loved the story of David and Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, David’s bosom buddy. He was lame, crippled in the legs from previous trauma. David intentionally seeks out Mephibosheth and shows him mercy because of the promise he made to Jonathan. David invites Mephibosheth into his house, to eat at his table, and live in peace, without fear of retribution. “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons…So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.” (II Samuel 9:11b,13) What a juxtaposition! Mephibosheth who was viewed by his culture as unproductive, dispensable, and unable to provide for himself, is lavishly provided for by the king.

This is our story as well. We are Mephibosheth, but we are lame not in our feet, but in our souls. Unable to walk under the weight of our guilt. But we are sought out, invited in, and loved by the King. In this spirit, let us care for and love those with disabilities and be ever thankful to the Great Physician who can heal both body and soul.

A copy of my handout on Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder can be found here. Titus II Moms Talk.  One of my co-workers, a Speech and Language Pathologist prepared a reference guide to assist with communication. It can be downloaded here. Pediatric Motor Speech Disorders

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4 Responses to “A Theology of Disability”

  1. Pastor Curt
    May 04, 2011

    A helpful treatment, Kel. Pray tonight helps all concerned.

  2. I am looking for materials that will help churches understand sensory processing challenges and how faith communities can be more welcoming and inclusive of people who live with SPD. Thanks for your handout and your reflections here. Do you know of other good resources written with a church audience in mind?

  3. Kathy Herrbach
    May 28, 2011

    Thank you for the excellent session at Titus 2 Moms Kelly. Your time was personal, professional, perceptive to the needs and downright energetic! You spurred us on to be more aware of all our disabilities and our need to rely on Him for healing of body and soul. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  4. Kelly
    Jun 04, 2011

    Christine, I would recommend several books: “The Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder” by Carol Kranowitz. It’s sequel, “The out of Sync Child Has Fun” (same author). And “Sensory Integration and the Child” by A. Jean Ayres, an Occupational Therapist and the pioneer in SPD. The books are written to parents and have both checklists (to determine if your child’s needs lie outside of the typical boundaries for sensory processing disorder) and ideas for intervention.

    I don’t know of any resources specifically directed to church settings, but I think that is coming as we have children with disabilities who are easily overwhelmed by numerous other kids and activities in Sunday School and Church services, or who need extra assistance transitioning into and out of childcare, or maintaining a steady internal state from which to engage.

    Hope that helps!

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