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Loving Those with Physical Challenges

They're our neighbors, too.

The Law and Life (4)

“You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19.14

A mixed blessing

The making of public policy in America today is, of course, a mixed blessing. Good laws often result, though they can become cumbersome, if not onerous, when governments try to do more than they should.

For example, one could argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) goes too far in requiring concessions in the workplace and public places for those who are physically challenged. I feel quite certain that Act could be improved, if only to lessen the grip of regulations on business owners and communities.

But the principle is valid: Communities and people need to pay special attention to valuing the lives of those who are physically challenged, both as a way of loving our neighbors and to help them invest their lives in fruitful and productive endeavors.

In our text the idea of “cursing” a deaf person suggests an attitude of scorn and contempt. They despise the deaf who consider them a nuisance to be loathed rather than a neighbor to be loved. The same is true of those who refuse to show neighbor-love to those in their community who must make their way in life despite being deaf or blind or having other physical needs.

The Law of God could not cleanse the heart, of course. People might defer to the deaf, blind, or otherwise physically challenged and still hate them. The Law cannot save us. Jesus must do that. But observing the Law can bring a measure of outward respect for others, even though inward love may be lacking (Ps. 81.15).

Government not the only source
We may put stumbling blocks before those with physical challenges either consciously or unconsciously. Neither is acceptable to the Lord. This statute does not specifically address a requirement of government; it speaks first to individuals and how they express God’s love to their neighbors.

Thus, it reminds us that government is not the only source for public policies that encourage neighbor-love. “Tunnels to Towers”, various private hospitals, certain foundations, and many other similar efforts, including many Christian efforts, such as “Joni and Friends”, are excellent examples of private enterprise focused on helping those with physical challenges to lead meaningful, enjoyable, and productive lives. And they demonstrate how public policy can be shaped by non-governmental means.

Churches and caring agencies have long been at the forefront of making life better and easier for those who are physically challenged. Churches and charitable agencies can set public policy by example, if not by statute.

Susie and I, like many of you, have seen “The Hiding Place”, the story of the Ten Boom family’s effort to rescue persecuted Jews in World War II Holland. The film offers a wonderful reminder of the role Christians played in helping those whose only crime was to have been born with a different genetic heritage than their oppressors. Being Jewish is not, of course, a physical liability or disability, even though it was certainly regarded as such by the Nazis. Nevertheless, these were people who needed their neighbors to love them, and the Ten Booms, like many other Christian families during that period, understood their duty to show such love to their persecuted neighbors.

Many fine ministries and secular works exist to help those with physical challenges enjoy full and fruitful lives. Government programs—such as the many excellent programs for assisting autistic children—also demonstrate the usefulness of Biblical laws promoting love for our neighbors.

Jesus’ own ministry of healing and restoring those with various forms of disability both affirms the teaching of God’s Law and challenges His followers to make such efforts a priority in their lives and ministries.

The requirement of neighbor-love
Neighbor-love requires that we take seriously our responsibility to pursue—by private initiative, government statute, and personal example—policies which demonstrate the love of God to those in our communities who must make their way in life under the additional burden of physical challenges.

God daily has compassions for our weaknesses, frailties, and failings. Therefore, we must always have similar regard for one another. And especially is this so, as the Law of God reminds us, when it comes to those whose lot in life requires them to make the best use of their opportunities despite physical limitations or disabilities. We must not begrudge efforts to consider the physically-challenged—special parking places, entry ramps, and so forth. We should thank God for our neighbors who soldier on in life despite their challenges, and do whatever we can to ease their burden and emulate their resolve. We may find, one day, that we need such assistance ourselves. By appreciating their struggles, and sharing in them as we are able, we help to ensure that such services will be available for years to come.

Those for whom the Law of God is regarded as a thing to be despised or ignored do well to consider such statutes as these, for they remind us of the heart of love behind the Law and the economy of love it seeks to foster and sustain.

For reflection
1. How many different ways can you identify that your community considers the special needs of those who are physically-challenged?

2. What about your church? Does your church do anything to serve the physically-challenged—including elderly people—in your community?

3. What does the existence of this statute and of non-religious and governmental efforts to provide for the physically-challenged tell us about the heart of human beings (Rom. 2.14, 15)?

Next steps—Preparation: Make it a point to pray for the physically-challenged in your community and for those agencies that seek to help them.

T. M. Moore

What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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