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DISABLED AND POWERFUL

IN GOD 

For many, disability is associated with inability and stigma. A brief overview of the story of Moses will show that God does not view a person's disability as a hindrance to His ability to use them .

In the book of Exodus 3-4, we see the dramatic incident of God appearing to a Hebrew man named Moses. Moses was a shepherd who was tending to flock one day in a place called Horeb, which was referred to as the mountain of God. There Moses witnessed a strange and frightening phenomenon - a bush that burned but miraculously was not consumed by the fire. At some point he then heard the voice of God speak to him from this bush who identified Himself by saying, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' (Exodus 3:6)

God went on to explain to Moses that He had heard the anguished cries of the children of Israel, who were enslaved in Egypt and suffering under oppressive conditions. God decided that it was time to act and He appeared to Moses that day to send him on a mission. God appointed Moses to set the children of Israel free so that they could live and flourish in a land that He designated for them. Specifically, God told Moses that He was sending him to Pharaoh, the Egyptian leader, to petition him for their release.

 

Moses's Excuses

Understandably, Moses was in shock. Frankly, it would be reasonable for anyone in his shoes to be overwhelmed and overawed by what he was seeing and hearing. It is one thing to see a burning bush that isn't consumed and even another to hear a voice emerging from that bush telling him to undertake a seemingly impossible challenge! The excuses Moses gave to God therefore seemed reasonable, the first of which was, '“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”' Moses saw himself as a nobody in the face of a national ruler. He believed that he had no authority to approach Pharaoh and to make stipulations. But God's response was, '“But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”' (Exodus 3:11-12). Yet, Moses was still unable to see himself the way that God saw him. 

Moses's next excuse was, '“But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (Exodus 4:1). Of course, if Moses did not believe that God could use him for such a feat, he did not imagine others believing that God could use him either. Nevertheless, God was undeterred. He supernaturally empowered Moses to demonstrate miracles in order to prove to Pharaoh that he had been sent by the Most High God. (Exodus 4:1-9). Still not convinced, Moses's next comments appear to reveal what was at the heart of his self-doubt:

'But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”' Exodus 4:10

Moses's Disability

There is wide consensus among scholars that Moses was referring to a specific speech impediment that he had. He later refers to it again in Exodus 6:12 and 6:30 as the reasons why Pharaoh and the children of Israel were failing to take him seriously. Perhaps the greatest indication that this was a disability was God's response to Moses on the issue: 

 

'Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?' Exodus 4:11

 

God replies to Moses by identifying other traits (i.e., 'mute', 'deaf', 'blind') that are widely understood as disabilities, thereby grouping Moses's speech impediment with them. There are a few things to note from this response. Firstly, God takes ownership of disabled people - without shame or scorn - and refers to them as His creation, listing them equally among the non-disabled (i.e., the 'seeing'). He does not treat them as a freak or mistake of nature. Here God is saying to Moses that He is as much Moses's God as He is the God of the non-disabled, and He is just as desirous to use Moses as He would be to use anyone else. He intentionally handpicked Moses for the purpose of delivering the children of Israel; Moses's disability was irrelevant to Him.

 

We also see clearly that God is not denying that Moses is disabled. There is a school of thought that to remove the stigma of disability, we should reframe it as a 'gift' or a 'superpower.' There is nothing wrong with a person choosing to adopt this outlook if they wish. However, it remains a fact that while many chronic conditions can give rise to remarkable abilities and benefits, they can simultaneously cause severe deficits and life-impacting impairments. By denying these disadvantages, we can deny the need for support and protection that disabled individuals require, both of which in the UK are legally enshrined in the Equality Act 2010.

It can also be argued that denying disability may unintentionally feed into the very stigma that such denial seeks to avoid. This is because denial implies that disability is negative and should be erased. While this approach may be well meaning, it is important to recognise that such views at their worst fuelled extermination of disabled people during Germany's Nazi regime. Approximately 250,000 disabled people were murdered because they were perceived negatively as flawed and unfit, a burden to society. In addition, around 360,000 people were sterilised to prevent the birth of disabled children. This is sadly no different from today's attempts to eradicate disabled people by aborting babies in utero and/or denying medical interventions for children on the basis of their disability, as we have seen in many high profile cases in the media. These types of practices arise from the view that disability is always something negative to be fixed or removed.

 

God's approach to disability was far more balanced. He did not view Moses's slowness of speech and tongue as an obstruction to the mission. He simply said to Moses - 

 

'"Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” Exodus 4:12

While refusing to view Moses as unworthy or incapable, God acknowledged his disability by providing him with supernatural help and, as we will see later, human assistance. This gives us a wonderful model that we can learn from where we destigmatise disability by acceptance, acknowledging disabled people's God-given intrinsic value and strengths while also recognising their need for support as required. 

 

Despite God's assurances, Moses continued to beg God not to send him to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:13). This brings us to a further notable aspect of this exchange. 

The Holy Spirit

God's promise to speak through Moses is almost identical to Jesus's promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would empower them to speak when they were brought before the authorities:

'"And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”' Luke 12:11-12

We see here that, whether disabled or non-disabled, it is the power of God that works through God's people to fulfil His purposes. None of us are successful in our God-assigned mission because of our human capability. We are ALL reliant on God to supernaturally complete what He has given us to do: 

'"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”' Acts 1:8 

The verse above was spoken by Jesus Christ, who instructed His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them in Jerusalem so that they could be empowered to be His witnesses. There is no mention of any of the disciples being disabled, which means that despite their human abilities they still needed God's power to operate through them. Let's now revisit the story of Moses. 

Powerful in God's Hands

In Exodus 4:14 following Moses's protestations, God actually became angry. He was frustrated that Moses continued to see himself as incapable despite God's promises to empower him. God even agreed to provide human assistance in the form of Moses's brother Aaron as Moses's mouthpiece to articulate his words as he received them from God. 

 

God would not allow Moses to write himself off as unworthy because of his disability. In Exodus 12-14, we see the dramatic deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt under Moses's leadership. God fulfilled His desire of setting His people free and nothing - including Moses's speech impediment and lack of confidence - stopped it from happening.

 

It is true of all of us, as Jesus said, that we may be willing in spirit to do good, but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Therefore, no matter our disability status, we must have confidence in God that He is powerful enough to compensate for our weaknesses - whether they arise from disability or simply the frailty of being human. 

'But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.' II Corinthians 12:9

 

God didn't heal Moses of his disability in order to use Him. He used him exactly as he was, lovingly sending him the support he needed to do the work. Disabled individuals should take comfort that God's power is no less present in their lives than in their non-disabled counterparts' lives. His desire to use disabled individuals is just as strong. No matter who we are, He can complete the work He wants to accomplish through our lives if we trust Him to do so:

'Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ...' Philippians 1:6

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