Will people have disabilities in heaven?

If you never thought about this question before, you probably think it is ridiculous even to ask it. Your answer may well be, “Of course not. When people first disobeyed God, all manner of difficulty entered into our world, including disabilities. Even Jesus said that the evidence of his coming into the world is that ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.'”

Strong evidence, but not convincing for everyone.

On a radio program in 2005, Ben Mattlin talked about his disability with pride. Then he asked, "Are there no wheelchairs in heaven? I'm not buying it. For me, if there is a heaven, it's not a place where I'll be able to walk. It's a place where it doesn't matter if you can't.”

I have talked with people who are deaf and whose first language is sign language. They have told me that they do not consider themselves to be disabled at all, just people who have a different language and subculture than most Americans. Why would God take from them an essential part of their identity when they go to heaven?

In his book, "Theology and Down Syndrome," Amos Yong argues that his brother Mark, who has Down Syndrome, is whole and complete as he is. Amos fully expects Mark to be the same person (including his Down Syndrome) in the new heaven and earth as he is today.

When she was a child, the late Nancy Eiesland, who lived with a congenital disability, was told that she would no longer have her disability in heaven. Horrified, she wondered, “...having been disabled from birth, I came to believe that in heaven I would be absolutely unknown to myself and perhaps to God. My disability has taught me who I am and who God is. What would it mean to be without this knowledge?” Like Eiesland, many other people consider their disability to be part of their identity. Take away their disability in heaven and they wonder who they would be.

Whether people will live with disability in heaven gets personal for me, because both my mother and my daughter live with severe disabilities. Mom’s abilities have declined significantly due to her dementia. She now refuses all food and most liquid. We don’t expect her to live more than a few weeks anymore. Her memory is so poor that she needs help with the basic tasks of daily living. She rarely remembers the names of her children, though she still knows that we are her children. Usually, “conversations” with her last for one exchange. Someone speaks to her or asks her a question and she responds. By that point, she forgets why she said what she did and that “conversation” ends.

Should I expect that Mom will be like this in the new heaven and earth too?

Our daughter Nicole seems to enjoy life at her group home and at school. She enjoys the people at our church on Sundays and she loves to worship. Someone looking on from the outside might pity her. She can’t speak or walk independently, the things that most adults consider to be important parts of a fulfilling life will never be available to her: work, marriage, children and so on. But if she could speak, I suspect that she would tell you that overall her life is good.

Still, all of us who love Nicole will never converse with her using words. I love words. I love talking with my wife and our other children. I talk to Nicole, but her responses cannot include words. Sometimes I feel sad that she can’t tell me how her day is going, what she is feeling, what she thinks about this or that. I wonder too whether she would like to be able to walk and use her hands and arms the way most people do.

Of all the things I long for in the new heaven and earth one of the deepest is this: To see Nicole come running up to me and say, “Hi Dad, let’s talk.”

Will people live with disabilities in heaven? What do you think?

Mark Stephenson served as pastor of two churches for a total of 17 years and is currently the Director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. This piece originally ran on The Network. A follow-up installment can be found here.

Mark Stephenson served as pastor of two churches for a total of 17 years and is currently the Director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. This piece originally ran on The Network. A follow-up installment can be found here.

Comments (14)

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Thank you for this sensitive post. Lots to ponder. I don't think we are capable in our present flawed condition of imagining heaven without bringing some of our limitations to that picture. I don't know if we're even capable of imagining ourselves unflawed. My husband is not a Christian. Two of my children do not identify themselves as believers. Do I even want to be in heaven without them? Nancy Eiesland might consider her disability to be part of her identity. An integral part of who I am, the deepest part, to which I've attached the most "identity," is wife and mother. How can I be that person in heaven if my family members aren't there? Painfully honest and hard questions.

I strive for a faith that trusts God to be with me today in my struggles and to be faithful enough himself to be trusted with my heavenly future. As soon as I start speculating, I lose ground. I have to keep it simple. Heaven is the promise of being "with God." I believe that, whatever that means, it will be more than enough and better than can be imagined.
Our adopted children both suffer from disabilities due to poor prenatal care. Their biggest disability comes from having their first experiences in this world teach them to trust only themselves as 'parents/adults' in their lives caused them pain. They are learning to trust, to allow God to fill that hole in their hearts, and to trust. The scriptures indicate that we will have a new body, and I believe that our darlins, in Heaven will be whole, filled with the love of God the way that He intended from the first.
I'm not sure I understand this post... diabetes isn't something someone chooses, therefore I'm not sure it could be labeled a sin. It is part of the curse of sin, but to say that people with disabilities can't get into heaven is ludicrous. Do people really think this?

Besides, if one reads the bible, one will notice the bible says our bodies will be made perfect, which one would assume means no one will have blemishes. Simple enough really.
Hi scballou. Just to clarify, nowhere in the post or in any of the comments is someone suggesting that people with disabilities can't get into heaven. The question is whether those disabilities will be part of their heavenly identity or not. Thanks
I wonder. Just what is a disability? Is it just being unable to walk? or to hear? or to see? Or is it more--a chronic disease that saps your energy, the inability to breathe without the aid of extra oxygen, a mind that is tortured by irrational thoughts? I know my father looks forward to breathing freely, and to hearing and seeing clearly when he gets to heaven. The end of the story of God is restoration, and to me that means bodies that function the way they were meant to in the beginning when God created humans.
Ben Matlin is sittting in a wheelchair today on a cursed planet with perfectly designed legs, muscles, bones, and nerves all fitted for upright bi-pedal motion that will not function as God intended. Jesus prayed that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and then he healed the paralytic to demonstrate that principle. We are all dying daily and need medication to prolong our days till death overtakes us. We will not take death, medication, crutches, brittle bones or minds riddled with alzheimers into heaven. I understand Ben’s desire to be valued today as “differently-abled” not “Dis-abled” but that is a sentiment appropriate for this age and body. As Paul teaches we will have new bodies which will functioned perfectly as they were designed. New physical laws will negate the power of sin, death and disease. We will all have abilities fit for our new existence. We are all fiercely proud of our tribal languages here as well. Bantu, Swahili, Farsi, English or Sign. Yet different languages were imposed to seperate us from one another and impede communication, as Genesis 11 indicates, it was not God’s original plan. My guess is that we will be able to converse in Swahili, English or even Sign if we so desire, but we will once again be restored to one mother tongue as we see by the heavenly songs sung in unison in the book of Revelation. Paul indicates that our personality resides in our soul which can take leave of our limited body so down’s syndrome people will still have a sweet disposition but will no longer be limited by failing eyes, failing hearts or brains that limit their comprehension.
This is really thought provoking, thank you. Someone recently told me the story of an acquaintance who had a "near death experience." After being resuscitated, the man told of seeing a friend who had unexpectedly died right around the same time (which he would have had no way of knowing about). When asked how the friend looked, the man said "in the prime of life."

I have thought about that quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. I believe that we will be "in the prime of life" in heaven, whatever that means for each of us. Will infants and children who die be the infants and children that I assume be in heaven? What about those who die before birth? A person who suffered a slow, debilitating death will not spend eternity in a debilitated condition, living without whatever abilities were lost. However, I think it's possible that a person whose "disabilities" were integral to who he or she was on earth might continue into eternity with them.

We should not forget that our resurrected bodies will be quite different from the ones we have now. My kids love the story about Jesus appearing in the locked upper room, and they can't wait until they are able to "walk through walls."

While it's obviously impossible to know the answer to this question, I think there is a great deal of value in thinking about it, so once again, thank you.
i think it's pretty cut and dry...there will no longer be any affects of the fall in heaven, therefore no disabilities. Yes, I have 2 disabled sons and for them to say, " I'd rather not be able to walk because it's who I am" is crazy. Yes, here on earth we deal with whatever ailments we have, but we will be restored to perfection in heaven.
What do I think? I think that some people have not read their Bible enough.

1 Corinthians 15:35-58
2 Corinthians 5:1-5

ESPECIALLY: Is 35:3-5
The worst part of being disabled is often dealing with how others treat you. In my opinion, disabilities that make communication with others more difficult are inconsistent with the kingdom, of god because loss of communication is a part of this fallen world. But those that are such that a person can still participate in the kingdom unhindered may survive. With that said, why did jesus heal paralysis and blindness if he would keep them later?

 

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