Disability: Whose Fault Is It?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)

Fifteen years ago, my wife and I were standing in the kitchen of the old farmhouse we had planned to renovate. She said, with tears streaming down her face, “What did I do wrong? Was it something I ate during my pregnancy? Or was it something I failed to eat? Is God punishing our daughter for something I’ve done? Am I the cause of our precious little Kayte being born deaf?” As I held my wife, her heart did not agonize alone. I was also asking questions, though only inwardly: “Lord, I’ve given my whole life to your service, and been willing to sacrifice everything earthly. Is that not good enough? What more must I do to earn your favor? Is it my fault our daughter is cognitively disabled? Are you angry at me?”

Let me be clear. My wife and I would never choose a different life— that is, life without the blessings of disability. But as we’ve walked this journey together with the Lord for over three decades there have been times when, in our weakness, we’ve struggled with doubts like anyone else.

Perhaps you’ve asked similar questions. For you or your family it may not be deafness or autism, but some other physical or developmental disability. Perhaps it’s Down syndrome, a life-debilitating accident or stroke, spina bifida, an unnamed disease, an untraceable learning disability, a growth hormone deficiency, or _________ (you fill in the blank). Whatever it is, it’s now part of your life. I understand how you may feel.

When unanticipated suffering enters our personal world it’s not unusual for our knee-jerk reaction to be one of wanting to identify the cause. We want to know why. When the mystery hits close to home the search for answers about disease, disorder, and disability can become more intense. The realization that your loved one or you yourself may have to live out your remaining days on earth with a malady for which there is no cure may lead to more provocative questions, like: Who is being punished by the Almighty? Is God really good? When disability hits home, our tendency as humans is to be driven by emotional reactions, rather than by truth. That is, we tend to let our emotions drive the car instead of our will governed by biblical truth. That’s why we need a theological guide, or framework of thinking, that is built upon the Scriptures alone.

A Trifold Framework for Thinking about the Works of God

Is how we think about God governed by how he has already revealed himself in Scripture, or have we invented our own theology? Have we created God in our own image instead of seeking to better understand what it means to be created in his image and for the purpose of bringing him glory?

To begin to answer questions like these it’s essential to understand that sound theology begins and ends with doxology. That is to say, everything that God does will bring him glory in the end, and when we entrust ourselves to his kind and gracious care, our hearts will respond in praise to him.

Any attempt to formulate a theology of suffering that is sturdy enough to embrace disability must begin and end with God. Romans 11: 36 sums up theology with this doxology: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” The first word, “For,” signals a response to the glorious truths the apostle has taught thus far in his letter, and the doxology acknowledges his sovereignty over all:

  • All things are from God.
  • All things live through God.
  • And all things are to God— that is, to the praise of his glory.

We will return to this trifold framework, but for now it suffices to say that these three statements form an interpretive grid through which we can filter all of life’s experiences.

Excerpted from When Disability Hits Home: How God Magnifies His Grace in Our Weakness and Suffering by Paul Tautges with Joni Eareckson Tada.

Shepherd Press