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Disability – The Bible and Perfection

2007 November 8
by Julie Clawson

To conclude my reflections on disability I want to focus on the issue that has been the biggest ongoing struggle for me to deal with, especially within the church. It is the concept of perfection – the idea of needing to be flawless before God. For most of my life, I thought that referred to spirituality, but I have recently been exposed to those who promote physical perfection as necessary for truly serving God.

To back up a bit, in our culture perfection (or at least the absence of any visible physical flaws) is worshipped. We all hear about the millions of dollars spent on cosmetic procedures and the obsession with having a sexy body. But beyond that such obvious flaws like missing a limb are becoming less and less tolerated. This of course ties in with the whole abortion issue. Parents are now bringing “wrongful life” lawsuits against doctors if the doctor doesn’t inform them with enough time to abort that their child will have a defect. Apparently giving a child with a defect a chance at life is just wrong in their eyes. I’ve had people argue to my face that abortion is needed in the case of birth defects. To one such person, I asked, “so are you saying I should have been aborted because I am missing my arm?” Her reply – “I wasn’t talking about you, you’re smart.” But the assumption by many in our society is that unless you are perfect you don’t even deserve to be born. I find it easy to disagree and fight that assumption in culture, but then I find it in scriptures and the church as well.

I had always heard the language of “pure and holy sacrifice” referring to the lambs led to slaughter. Then one day I read the stipulations for Priests making offerings to God -

Leviticus 21:16-23 “The LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the LORD by fire. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.”

Having been taught my whole life that “God made me this way” reading those words was hard. Missing a limb, being the way God intended a person to be, disqualified them from serving God. We weren’t perfect enough to for God. (granted women were automatically disqualified too, but that’s a different issue). Not only were we not perfect enough, we desecrate the sanctuary by our presence. Sure it could be assumed that after Christ came as a “perfect sacrifice for all” that such restrictions are lifted, but what really got to me was discovering that there are branches in the church that still promote these stipulations. In the Orthodox church you cannot be in church leadership if you have a physical defect (well except for the eye thing, they waive that one for people with glasses).

I honestly don’t get it. How does not being physically perfect disqualify a person from serving God? How does this make me any less holy than others? Sure there were tons of purity laws in the OT, all of which could be forgiven. But this was impurity for life. Reading passages like this and hearing about the policies of the Orthodox Church seem to me to fit more within the mindset of the Communists who sequester away the deformed children in Latvia or the parents who sue doctors for the “wrongful life” of their defected child. But while my worldview allowed me to accept such opinions from Communists and abortionists, I can’t seem to wrap my mind around how it fits in the Bible and the church. And so far I have yet to hear any interpretation of this passage that really makes sense. At best it just gets lumped in with all those other “Ancient Near-Eastern worldview” passages (like bashing babies’ heads against rocks) that basically just don’t make sense either.

So where does that leave me? I want my theology of disability to be that God made me to be me and uses me as I am. But the Bible seems to contradict that and tells me that I am unwanted and incapable of serving God because of my arm. I have chosen to just go ahead and serve God (as a disabled woman that obviously isn’t in the Orthodox church), but some days that choice can be hard to align with scripture.

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81 Responses leave one →
  1. Jaclyn permalink
    February 21, 2012

    P.S. I just saw your book! I am always interested in ways to improve the environment so I’m getting a copy right now! I’m so glad I found your page!

  2. February 29, 2012

    As someone with a physical challenge I too struggled with the concept of not being “normal”

    I used to–and sometimes, still do- ask myself how God could love a cripple? but even that question for my part denies what He has done for me.

    He first promised that He would never leave us. (Joshua 1:9)

    We also know that God is perfect; and that He declares everything–including us- that He created perfect.(Acts 10:15)

    He came into the world, to die for our sins (Isaiah 53:5, 2 Peter 2:24) so that we may get to God–now if God did not want you would He even bother?!

    and last He makes it known that we can use our for His Glory, and that if we do He will give us what we need. The fact that we are disabled(challenged) doesn’t mean we are useless and unwanted–that passage is talking about Aarons actual physical descendents, during that time–before Christs death and resurrection..

  3. Jamie Burton-Oare permalink
    March 3, 2012

    I applaud your honesty and I agree with your line of questioning that what innately seems right contradicts this Levitical passage.

    I would bet that tis passage pertained specifically to the Levitical priesthood. I don’t think we have all the information as to why it was said. But picture this; a Levitical body that perhaps saw themselves special or above reproach. Imagine that they imposed an impossible standard on the people that followed them. Suppose God was saying, ok, since you want to play that game, you bring me people only free of these “disabilities,” knowing they could not live up to it and thus proving a point about passing judegement. Now, how does this scripture look?

    Keep serving God and you will find many answers to these amazing questions. You are right, God uses you and me (eye disability) for His glory, if we allow Him to.

  4. chon permalink
    March 6, 2012

    Each one of us was created and design by God true wisdom. And its one of us is very unique to perform and fulfilled the unique purpose of God to glorify him. God heart beats is for all his children.

  5. Fluster permalink
    September 3, 2012

    The King James bible was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England. There were no original texts to translate. The oldest texts were written hundreds of years after the last apostle died. There are 8000 old manuscripts, with no two alike. King James translators didn’t use any of these anyway; they edited a previous translation for Royal and parliamentary approval.
    The book you’re looking for consistency in, is an edited 16th century translation of 8000 contradictory copies of 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.
    You may be asking too much!

    • Amanda permalink
      November 11, 2014

      But would God ever allow man’s imperfection to prevent His message from spreading?

  6. Derrick permalink
    September 23, 2012

    Hi Julie. I was doing my research this morning about the woman that was crippled by a spirit for 18 years (Luke 13:10-17) and began to ponder on imperfect people and those that have blemishes. I too, like you, was blown back by what was said in Leviticus dealing with those who were imperfect and the limitations and exclusions placed on them. I really enjoyed the write up.

  7. Michael Pima permalink
    October 14, 2012

    Traditionally women used to suffer almost similar derogatory situation in the past. With time however, technology and human brains’ growth and logical thinking dictated the reverse in this. Now days women serve in churches as priests and even bishops. Being the case, I am sure time will continue to unfold and separate God’s truth from man’s barbaric cultural heritage that managed to be inscribed in the Bible and other holy books.
    Thanks.

  8. October 22, 2012

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  9. Debbie Malone permalink
    April 20, 2013

    I just came across your page. I also applaud your honesty. I was also disturbed by this passage as well. I guess I never really looked at it closely before.

    What helps me deal with this verse is that there must have been something else going on that we are not yet aware of or God was speaking spiritually. After all, He used people with disabilities all through the Bible.

    God has revealed that this is the season for people with disabilities. Who but God would have a legally blind person (me) lead a dance ministry, make dance garments, and facilitate disability awareness/etiquette workshops? He has given me an opportunity to attend a training program to learn integrated dance to bring to the Kingdom.

    We are each God’s unique creation, His masterpiece, with gifts and talents to be used for His Glory. I just heard a saying this morning that I love. “All life is created by God and bears His autograph. Blessings to you…

  10. July 11, 2013

    It makes me very sad when people do not understand God’s word, and this misunderstanding cause sorrow.

    Leviticus 21:16-23 is not saying that He does not accept people with disabilities. On the contrary, if one is familiary at all with God’s feelings about us and His teachings, you will know,then, that we all are His children and Jesus died to save all of us. The invitations to accept Jesus as our Savior and to walk eternally with Him is lovingly open to all of us.

    These verses are interpreted out of context in this post. Leviticus 21:16-23 is part of the set of rules God communicated through Moses as conduct for priests. He set the limitations on certain physical disabilities only if they interfered with a priest being able to perform his duties. Some skin conditions were limited at the time, as well, because of the perception of cleanliness. Although God Himself knows that these things were not unclean, He also knows humans well enough to know that they would create barriers for sharing Jesus with others and for people coming to worship. This is due to human limitations, not God’s. God also blesses those who are weak, and commands that those of us who are stronger to care for those who are weak or who cannot stand on their own. Our Heavenly Father is very clear that physical limitations are not cause for rejection–if anything, they should be cause for more compassion and love, allowing for His glory to shine.

    I am very sad that you have felt pain because of this. Please read the whole chapter, and read some reliable commentaries or study notes on it, to confirm what I have just shared with you. He loves you, and wants you closer, not farther away. You are in my prayers.

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  12. Dr. Timothy E. Pickering permalink
    August 12, 2013

    The major problem I see first of all is that you fail to recognize that we are no longer under the Old Testament Law!!!!! EVERYTHING changed at the cross! We no longer go to a temple to worship, but God is living in the believer as His temple. Are you acceptable to Him to receive salvation? Are you capable of believing that Jesus died for you, paid your sin debt and set you free(from that LAW)? Have you made Jesus LORD of your life? Did you receive the Holy Spirit (whether you accept the gifts or not)? If so then GOD lives IN you!
    I have never been a perfect human specimen, physically, mentally, or spiritually; but God has used me to deliver the message of His grace to hundreds of thousands, to lay hands on the sick and see miraculous healings, to deliver many from demonic bondage; to do the same things Jesus is doing. NOTHING disqualifies anyone from acceptance by the LORD, nothing!!! If you are in a “church” that does, you are in a club, not a true church! RUN< RUN< RUN, to God, not man's teaching about God. I have a book, NEW COVENANT: THE FULLNESS OF GRACE that explains the difference in the Old and the New! May God richly bless you and His grace guide you to truth.

    • Dwight permalink
      March 11, 2014

      Totally agree. Another good resource for this absolutely correct view of the Old and New Testaments is Dr. Andrew Farley’s “The Naked Gospel”. We need to understand that we do not follow the laws of the Old Testament if we are truly made new in Christ.

  13. September 11, 2013

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  14. Missymitsi permalink
    October 21, 2013

    Hello, Julie. I am a pastor’s daughter and a worship leader. My firstborn was diagnosed with
    Down’s Syndrome. She is now 5months old and i still struggle with
    questions on disability. In my readings, I have came across this paper which
    explains the passage in Leviticus (which also caused me a whole lot of
    distress because I still pray for God to call my daughter into ministry leadership).

    The paper answered some of my questions and I hope it would enlighten you
    as well.

    http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_downloads/pp_disabilities.pdf

  15. Michael DeBell permalink
    December 10, 2013

    You’re fine. We are not sacrificing at that alter any longer. See Hebrews. It is spiritual. (see Romans, I think around chapter 3 or 4) The biggest problem with the church today- well not exactly the biggest but very close- is that they have become fleshly and carnal. (The biggest is that many confess Christ but really don’t believe Him).

  16. Taniya permalink
    February 8, 2014

    Hi Julie :)
    Was just reading through some passages from the Bible that really helped me–hoping they help you, and anyone else, see how much God loves everyone, and how He has made you perfectly.

    Psalm 139:13-14: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

    John 9: 2-4: Jesus heals a Blind man: “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

    -Exodus 4:10-11: God calls Moses: ” 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.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or dead, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”

  17. Meagen Heronemus permalink
    February 27, 2014

    I came across this passage in Leviticus this morning, and I’m actually online looking up information on it because it disturbed me as well. The Bible is such a fascinating book, and it doesn’t sugar-coat things or try to spoon-feed us a fantasy that is all rainbows and butterflies. And the truth is, sometimes things we read are hard to digest. I like to go by the rule, when you don’t understand what God does, trust that you know His heart. Over and over again, through the pages of the Word, we see a God who loves us enough that He would die for us. Who is intimately involved with us. When Jesus walked among us, He didn’t shy away from the sick or the disabled. He didn’t shun women and foreigners. He touched them, he spoke tenderly to them. Words of healing and life. He gave them back their dignity.

    I’m not a Bible scholar, and I don’t understand why God gave many of the instructions He gave the Israelites… but the best I can figure, is that sin has so disfigured the world that it is only a shadow of what God originally created it to be. I do believe that all disease and pain, including physical deformities, are a result of sin in the world. It is an affliction we all share, in one way or another. When I read the rest of this chapter, talking about all the things that made a priest unclean, it’s almost funny because they would have practically had to shut themselves in solitary confinement to avoid touching any of these things. I think the point is that we are all so inherently sinful and disfigured, both inside and out, that we could never come close to God’s standard. And the law God gave was so cumbersome that it was unbearable…which only proved our need for a Savior. We could never hope to be acceptable to God in our own efforts.

    But in His amazing grace, He made a way. That those who are imperfect (ahem, EVERYONE), marred by sin and disease…hopelessly unable to save ourselves…can be made perfect, set apart as holy and pure and without blemish. And it is because of His great love for you and me, that He looked down on this world and had compassion on the disfigured, both physically and mostly spiritually…and gave His life to open the door for us.

    We are dearly loved by our heavenly Father.

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  19. Courtney Deagon permalink
    July 13, 2014

    Hi Julie :),

    Thank you so much for your post – it’s so important as Christians to talk about these things. I have to say I agree with many of the rest of the comments – the passage you’ve quoted from was specifically referring to a priest’s conduct in holy service.
    Also, if you look at any instruction God has given to us – whether it affects us morally (such as the commandments and laws) or physically (limitations on who can serve), we fall short either way, due to sin being the cause of our inward and outward affliction.

    I was born with birth defects, and reading this passage was definitely a struggle. But at the same time I am so glad that not only do I serve and love a holy, just God – but one who is also merciful and loving, so much so that He sent His Son to die on the cross!!

    Also, a good counter-passage for this verse (even though it’s specifically directed to priest’s) is Luke 14, where Jesus is talking about throwing a banquet:
    “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[b] or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

    To me, these words are so refreshing. They remind me that Jesus really is the way for ALL people to come to the Father and be in right relationship with Him. It also encourages me, as an expectant mother, that choosing to have a baby with a disability (if it happens) is the right decision, is God-honouring and glorifying, and my choice will not be in vain.

    I hope Jesus’ words encourage you too :)
    Courtney

  20. July 25, 2014

    After 57 years of life I never seen that in the
    bible That is so good to know .I receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost at the age of 41. I have a defect as well , grand children as well now they can talk and i am healing so he has receive us by Acts 2:38 Which fulfilled Lev 21-16-23 Thanks again

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  23. Amanda permalink
    November 11, 2014

    I read this the other morning and it was troubling for me, too. God made these people this way; He formed them, and He never makes mistakes. Their deformities are intentional and can be used to bring glory to the Lord. I just couldn’t reconcile in my mind why God would create these people just to turn them away from His sanctuary. How would one of His creations desecrate His sanctuary? But I agree that it could be because this physical limitations may have prevented them from serving properly as priests. With all the sacrifices they had to perform and the precision with which they had to perform them, it’s understandable that a physical limitation would have prevented them from serving the Lord in that capacity. Of course, they didn’t have to be priests to serve God. We can serve God in our daily lives by being obedient to His will.

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