Tag Archives: healing

The Bible and Disability

August 2018 Credo

Secular scholars who write on disability are often critical of religious accounts mostly because of the latter’s allegedly negative approaches. They point out that in Christianity – for example – disability is often associated with sin and divine punishment.

To be sure, there are passages in the Bible that speak of God inflicting disabilities such as blindness as punishment for sin and disobedience. For example, we find in Leviticus clear warnings that disease and disability are some of the dire consequences of idolatry: ‘I will bring upon sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain your life away’ (26: 16).

In similar vein, the Deuteronomist lists insanity and blindness as possible punishment for disobedience: ‘The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness’ (Deuteronomy 28:28-29).

Not only does the Bible associate disability with sin, it even appears to exclude people of disabilities from participating in the worship of God in the temple.

For example, in Leviticus we read: ‘And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand …’ (Leviticus 21: 16-19).

Judith Adams succinctly summarises this passage thus: ‘In the most perfect of places – that is, the temple – in the presence of the most perfect entity – that is, God – only the perfect of persons, someone of unblemished priestly lineage and perfect physical form, may offer up sacrifices (which must also be unblemished)’.

Christian authors like Nancy Eiseland have eschewed traditional interpretations of these passages and advanced a new hermeneutic – in her case, liberationist – in order to make sense of them. To Eiseland, traditional hermeneutics must be rejected because it is in subtle ways complicit in the unjust discrimination and ostracization of people with disabilities.

‘The history of the church’s interaction with the disabled’, she writes rather despairingly in Disabled God, ‘is at best an ambiguous one. Rather than being a structure for empowerment, the church has more often supported the societal structures and attitudes that have treated people with disabilities as objects of pity and paternalism’.

However, to focus only on what some passages have to say about disabilities and neglect the others is to fail to appreciate the Bible’s nuanced and complex treatment of the issue.

For example, alongside the passage in Leviticus cited above we have this remarkable injunction: ‘You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord’ (Leviticus 19:14).

The juxtaposition of such passages should give pause to any reader who is inclined to conclude, all too hastily, that the Bible puts disabled people in a negative light or that it encourages their oppression.

The careful reader of the Old Testament cannot fail to notice that in the remarkable passages that speak of the restoration of Israel, the inclusion of people with disabilities are repeatedly (and quite deliberately) mentioned.

An example of such a passage is Jeremiah 31 where God reassures his exiled people that they will return to a restored Jerusalem: ‘Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest part of the earth, among them the blind and the lame’ (v 8).

In similar vein, in Micah we read: ‘In that day, declares the Lord, I will assemble the lame … and the lame will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation’ (4:6, 7).

Scripture does not only speak of the inclusion of disabled people, but their healing and restoration as well.

‘In that day’, Isaiah writes, ‘the deaf will hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see’ (29: 18). And again: ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy’ (35:5-6).

These passages about restoration and healing in the OT surely anticipate the ministry of Jesus himself, who in inaugurating God’s kingdom healed the sick and people with disabilities. The healing miracles of Jesus are signs of the divine kingdom that will be consummated when Jesus returns, a new heavens and a new earth free from sin, disease and disabilities.

To understand what the Bible has to say about disabilities, one must therefore go beyond the exegesis of individual texts and get a sense of the profound and comprehensive picture it presents – of creation, human beings as bearers of the divine image, the fall and redemption.

Most significantly, we have to glean what the Bible has to say about the eschaton, the consummation of the kingdom of God, the universal resurrection and the transfiguration of this sin-marred world into the new creation.

However, this eschatological vision – found in Scripture and taught by the Church – is seen by some theologians writing on disability not as a testimony of hope but rather as the basis for discrimination. This is truly regrettable.

But this stupendous vision of the things to come is indispensable if we are to achieve a realistic appreciation of the world in which we live.

As Wolfhart Pannenberg has put it: ‘Only in the light of the eschatological consummation is the verdict justified that in the first creation story the Creator pronounced at the end of the sixth day when he had made the first human pair: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Only in the light of the eschatological consummation may this be said of our world as it is in all its confusion and pain’.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Designer Disability?

February 2017 Pulse

In 2002, the Washington Post Magazine published a story of an American lesbian couple, Sharon Duchesneau and Candy McCullough – both of whom are deaf – who had deliberately chosen to have a deaf baby. A friend of theirs, with five generations of deafness in his family, donated his sperm.

The couple succeeded: their child Gauvin McCullough has only a very slight amount of hearing in one ear.

Duchesneau and McCullough are not the only couple that has chosen to have a child with a disability. In 2008, BBC News reported that Tomato Lichy and his partner Paula Garfield also tried to have a disabled baby through IVF.

A survey conducted by Baruch, Kaufman and Hudson in 2006 showed that couples who deliberately choose to have children with conditions commonly seen as disabilities are not as uncommon as one would imagine.

The highly-publicised case of the American lesbian couple cited above has ignited a fierce debate in the popular press as well as in academic journals on medical ethics across the globe.

The responses have been extremely polarised. On one end of the spectrum, there are those who strongly condemn the couple for deliberately bringing a disabled child into the world. On the other end are those who applaud them for exercising their right and autonomy.

Should people with inherited disabilities be allowed to select children with the genetic disposition to have similar disabilities?

The answer to this question is made more complex by recent discourse on disability.

There are some who argue that a distinction must be made between disability and impairment. Disability, they insist, is a social construct that has resulted in discrimination against people with physical impairments.

For example, the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) maintains that “it is society which disables physically impaired people”. It asserts: “Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.”

According to those who espouse such a view, deafness is merely a physical impairment, not a disability.

This approach to the issue is, in my view, misguided. While concern about discrimination against disabled people in our society is justified, the theory that all disabilities are social constructs that have served as the basis for discrimination must be called into question.

Once this theory is set aside, the sharp distinction that UPIAS makes between disability and impairment would appear contrived and even absurd. Certain forms of physical impairment are in fact serious disabilities.

Physical disability may be defined as a condition that limits and incapacitates a person in such a way that it potentially, if not in actuality, reduces his ability to flourish. Seen in this way, blindness and deafness are disabilities.

While it is true that discrimination and social insensitivity (for example, the failure to alter the built environment for people with disabilities) would considerably further compromise the quality of life of disabled people, it does not change the fact that their disability itself is an impediment to their flourishing.

Thus, if we were to place a blind person on deserted island where there is no discrimination, his blindness would still be an impediment to his wellbeing.

In the Gospels we find Jesus healing the blind, the deaf and the mute (Mark 8:22-25; Mark 7:31-37). This shows that disabilities are not part of God’s plan when he created human beings, but the result of sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. The healing ministry of Jesus shows that salvation has to do with restoration of the wholeness that was compromised in the original Fall.

Whatever may be the philosophical rationale or emotional motivations, to deliberately bring a deaf child into the world is therefore surely at odds with God’s will and purpose for creation.

But what about those who wish to defend the autonomy of the couple – their freedom to choose?

In Christian ethics, freedom should always be exercised responsibly. The couple that exercises their right to deliberately bring a child with a disability into the world must ask themselves if they have acted responsibly. They must ask if they have acted in the best interest of their child, who will have to cope with this disability for the rest of his life.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article is first published in Methodist Message.

Caring for Our Ill Neighbour

January 2015 Feature Article

Many people have heard the familiar story about the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in answer to the lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbour?” It was in the context of the Great Commandment that Jesus declared – to love God and to love our neighbour.  That parable focused on an injured traveler who needed help, not unlike the many injured people on our roads today.  The priest and the Levite (recognized religious leaders) avoided the situation, but the Good Samaritan responded with compassion and care, thus defining the “neighbour” that Jesus meant in His Commandment (Luke 10:25-37).

It is significant that Jesus chose a healthcare scenario to explain Himself. It is a very natural and apt example with which to discuss the issue of human caring. Injury and illness are very real human needs that define our humanity (and mortality), and the true meaning of compassion and care as practical expressions of our God-inspired love.

Healthcare is a basic human need, and the way any society responds to it determines to a great extent the type of social compact that exists in that community. Caring for the sick and injured is something Christian ministry can easily identify with, and has a role to play. Jesus led the way for all of us, by showing compassion and healing of the blind, lepers, paralytics, deaf, mutes, the woman with a bleeding problem, and those with unknown illnesses such as fevers.

When a man with leprosy approached Jesus and pleaded, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” the response was very clear: “I am willing. Be clean!” (Matthew 8:1-3) Those of us called into the health profession would do well to heed the example of Jesus to serve willingly and with compassion. How then should we respond to healthcare needs of our people?

Perhaps the story of the Good Samaritan can give us some guidance. First, we must see the need. The Samaritan saw the injured man and “took pity on him”. The ones who were expected to respond, the religious leaders, didn’t. We have to see what we should see – a fellow human being suffering in need, and have the heart to want to help. We respond either as individual professionals or collectively as a community in the organization of services and programmes to help the sick, particularly needy sick.

Next, we must meet the need. The Samaritan went on to “bandage the wounds, pouring on oil and water” with whatever he had with him at that time. It would be proper for us to do our best in the circumstances, with skill and competence. In our response to health needs, we are reminded of the three important ingredients for a successful and meaningful result – the hardware (facilities and equipment), the software (the application of knowledge and skills), and the heartware (the compassion and care). It is also useful for us to recognize that the need for healthcare is often sudden and unexpected, and it can be great at that point in time. In financial terms, it is quite in order for the ‘haves’ to help the ‘have-nots’ and the well to help the sick.

Last but not least, have good follow-through. The Samaritan passed on the care to the innkeeper, promising to return and pay for the extra expenses. Patients need to be helped as they transit from acute hospitals to step-down care and finally home. The services of St Luke’s Hospital and Eldercare are in that direction – to support families in the recuperation and rehabilitation of their loved ones. So are the many Christian healthcare organizations in Singapore.

Christian involvement in the social development of Singapore began almost as soon as it was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Education came first, and then followed by Healthcare. Among the early pioneers was the Anglican Mission, which started a clinic for women and children in Bencoolen Street. This was the forerunner of the St Andrew’s Mission Hospital, which was reported by the Straits Times in 1923 in these words: “…the hospital would prove to be a light in a dark place, … ignorance would be replaced by knowledge and understanding; physical distress by comfort and healing.”

Since then, many other organizations have been established including the Anglican Community Services, Methodist Welfare Services, Presbyterian Community Services TOUCH Community Services and now St Luke’s (an interdenominational initiative). We must also not forget the groups that continue to be involved with drug rehabilitation and aftercare, thus making effective contributions to the control of drug addiction in Singapore.

A useful healthcare system is one that gives ready access to all people in need high quality of care at affordable charges to both individual and community. When it comes to costs, it is not about keeping them low at all cost, but giving good value for what we to have to spend. With our focus on holistic care that encompasses physical, emotional and spiritual health, it is a natural platform for Christian involvement at all levels.

We have a proud and credible heritage, which continues to flourish in modern Singapore. As the nation celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence, it would do well for us to celebrate with thanksgiving the many caring services and professionals who have served quietly and diligently the needs of the sick. Even as we move forward to make further progress in building an economically vibrant metropolis, let us never forget there are still many who need care with love and compassion.

The challenge is to continue to provide cost-effective healthcare at reasonable costs, generously enriched with love and compassion.  May God help us.

“Let us not become weary in doing good… Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” Galatians 6:9-10


Professor Philip Lee Hin Peng is Head of the Health Systems and Behavioural Sciences and Head of the Chronic Diseases Programme of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore. He is a member of Hebron Bible-Presbyterian Church. These are his personal views.