Is there a spiritual reason for disabilities that children suffer before birth?

Q. In John 9, there was a man born blind. I believe every child is created perfect and is a gift from above. My question is: For the many children born with disabilities, is it spiritual? Jesus said, when asked if sin was the reason for this man’s blindness: “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” What happened? If disabilities occur in the womb, is there a spiritual reason for it? Thanks for your anticipated response.

Jesus made the statement that you quote in response to a question from his disciples: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples believed that illness and disability were punishments for sin. But they did not think it would be fair for God to punish a baby for his parents’ sins, and they did not see how the baby himself could have sinned before he was born. So they were confused and upset.

In response, Jesus changes the perspective. He does not address the reason why the man was born blind; he speaks of the potential result. It seems that Jesus is telling his disciples that there are some things whose reason we will simply never understand in this life, but nevertheless we can be looking for what God might want to do in those situations and how we can cooperate with him.

John says in his gospel that when Jesus healed this man who was born blind, this was one of the signs through which Jesus revealed his glory, that is, his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And this was indeed a great sign: As the man himself said when the religious leaders asked him about it, “Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

So whatever the reason for the man’s blindness from birth, the result that God brought from it was glory to the Savior. And we today can look for what God wants to do even through situations that we find troubling and perplexing. It may be that some people today will receive divine healing as this man did, and that will bring glory to God. Some may receive healing, or at least a much greater measure of health, through what we call “natural means,” doctors and medicines and therapies, but those too are really gifts from God, and we rejoice and thank God just as much when people are healed that way.

And I also believe that God is glorified when we take the perspective that you expressed: “I believe every child is created perfect and is a gift from above.” When we recognize that every person bears the image of God and so has inherent dignity and worth, and accordingly we become able to receive the many gifts that every person brings into this world, then God is glorified as we become more like the people he intends us to be—respectful, generous, loving.

So in every situation, even difficult and perplexing ones, God is at work. We can look, as Jesus always did, for how God is at work and how we can join him in that work. We may never understand the reasons for some things, but we can trust that God always wants to bring good results.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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