The trails around disability are tricky and slippery for sure, and we desperately need wisdom to chart a successful course. We must think rightly and not jump to rash assumptions or gross generalizations. The Wisdom Literature, consisting of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job, are given to us by God to help us navigate the complexities of this life. They are filled with counsel from the saints through the ages, who like you and me, sought to faithfully walk with God through this broken world. So let’s walk with them and learn.
The book of Proverbs is filled with practicalities to help navigate life’s intricate twists and turns. It is the heart of a father giving wise instruction on how to live the good life, avoiding pitfalls and snares. It speaks to relationships, finances, sexuality, spirituality, and so much more. It provides guardrails of sorts to stay on the straight and narrow, and it all begins with ‘the fear of the LORD’, a similar refrain we’ve heard from the books of Moses. In order to live good one must recognize only God is good, avoiding the temptation which Adam and Eve succumbed to back in the garden. Rather than fearing God, they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than trusting God knew best, that God knew what was good and what was evil, they threw wisdom to the wind and suffered the consequences. Proverbs seeks to remedy this natural bent towards evil, self-righteous autonomy. And throughout the book, you hear this light, bright, hopeful refrain, ‘do this and you will live.’
And then we get to Ecclesiastes, and we find painful, darker hues. The teacher tells us that living the good life isn’t really that satisfying. If I follow all the rules, and gain riches and wealth and influence, I’m still going to die and it never really satisfies. And actually, often the wicked prosper and the righteous don’t. So what’s the point? I thought Moses said that if we obey, we’d prosper and that if we disobey, we’d suffer. And if Proverbs echoes a similar refrain, urging me not to play the fool, but to be wise, and yet the fool ends up living a fat, happy, long life, why bother trying to stay on the straight and narrow? The book closes with many unanswered questions, but a call to again, “Remember your Creator…Fear God and keep his commandments…for God will bring every deed into judgment.” Even if things don’t go as you planned, trust God.
And then we are introduced to Job. Job was a wise man, a righteous man who obeyed God. He feared God and sought to keep his commandments and was living the good life. He wasn’t without sin, he saw the need for sacrifice and substitute, to atone for he and his family’s sins. And he faithfully sacrificed, trusting in God, and God credited Job with righteousness (as he did Abraham and Abraham’s offspring) because he feared God and trusted Him. And yet Job suffered miserably, losing the good life: first his productivity, then his progeny.
If you’ve read this story a bunch of times, it can sadly become familiar and rote. But slow down and place yourself in Job’s skin, at least before his skin begins to fester. Witness all that you’ve worked hard for, for a lifetime, obliterated in a single day. Oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants. Too agrarian for you to relate to? Ok, your career, your car, your growing business, your bank accounts, your stockpiled retirement, all of it, gone in a single day. And then, horror of horrors, your children: 10 beautiful children, 7 sons, 3 daughters, all of them dead, crushed, bloody, broken. Let that depravity sink in. I would be tempted to curse God and echo the sentiment of Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.” And yet, wise Job, cries out “The LORD gives and the LORD takes, blessed be the name of the LORD.” It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Next Job’s health is ripped, stripped from him; he wreaks, his body festers and boils. His wife despairs, “Curse God and die!” And yet again, he perseveres declaring, “Shall we accept only good from God and not adversity?” And when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Job’s friends come to comfort, yet their comfort drifts and the sympathy fades. A twisting blade of judgment and condemnation pierces his side. “Job, if you were truly righteous, God wouldn’t let this happen to you.” Sound familiar, ‘Who sinned?” ‘What did you do wrong for such a horrible thing to happen to you Job?’ Their view of God is insipid, a static, mechanic, transactional deity. If I do this, God will do this. If I don’t do this, God will do this. Since Job’s life royally sucks, then clearly Job is holding on to some secret dark sin. When life is filled with adversity all around, there’s nothing worse than friends picking at your scabs, calling you a fraud, a phony, weak in faith.
If you’ve been struck with disability, perhaps you’ve heard similar counsel, especially if you’re swimming in the pools of prosperity theology. ‘You just need to have more faith. Name it and claim it brother. You’re God’s kid, live your best life now.’ Yet if you’re fortunate enough to have evaded these sirens, I’m sure you’ve still heard the internal voices accusing you, condemning you, calling you cursed.
But take heart friends. Hold on, strong to the finish, and see the story to the end. God finally speaks, silencing the foolish counsel of Job’s friends and Job’s own nagging complaints. God quiets with a question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God asks Job to consider all that he has made and all that he sustains. He commands Job to trust his good, sovereign hand. And Job repents, “No plan of yours can be thwarted.”
The story ends with God blessing and restoring Job. Job prospered in his latter days more than he had before the scourge, and yet I’m sure even in the bounty that God restored to him, Job walked with a limp, fearing God more, loving God more, grateful that God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. “The LORD gives, the LORD takes away, blessed be the name of the LORD.”
As we wrestle with disability, this is a good place to be. “The LORD gives, the LORD takes away, blessed be the name of the LORD.” We must trust in God’s sovereign hand over all our lives. We must learn to see God’s good design in disability. We must view God rightly, a good sovereign who does all things well, working through the trials, troubles, and tragedies to accomplish his good, pleasing, and perfect will. No plan of God’s can be thwarted.
Everything we have is a gift from God. The beautiful and the broken, the triumphs and the tragedies, the comforts and the crushings, all things are ‘working together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” God’s word on disability is that everyone of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, made in the image of our holy, triune God. Each one of us is broken, none of us are truly able. God graces us all with weakness to showcase his massive mercy and amazing grace. God in Christ came to crush the curse of sin, death, and the devil. Through faith in Christ we are blessed, and as we follow Christ, we will walk through suffering, valleys and shadows, and as we deny ourselves and die, that kernel of wheat, that seed of faith will bring forth beautiful fruit in our lives, both in the here and the now, and on into the day of eternity. Until that glorious day, we walk with a limp brothers and sisters, we live these beautiful broken lives in the now, but not yet.