In 2008, Kelly Knox was an unknown credit controller from Enfield, North London. By the end of that year, she had won Britain’s Missing Top Model and appeared on the cover of Marie Claire. What made this particularly notable was not her previous anonymity, but the fact the Knox was born without her left arm.
Knox represents a particular perspective on living with a disability. She hails from a family that refused to allow her to feel inferior to other children or surrender to the notion that her life was somehow limited. As Knox herself has said, “I've never actually thought of myself as disabled …I've never sat down and fretted about my arm, or even wondered what life might have been like if I'd been born with two.”
Kevin Lopez has a different perspective. Like Knox, Lopez was also born missing a limb. He recently made news by seeking out a controversial hand transplant. In an interview with NPR, Lopez said, "I think I would just be able to project a very strong sense of confidence, just walking boldly with two hands. I would be able to have higher self-esteem."
As a man born without the unique attributes of either Lopez or Knox, I am well aware that I have a limited perspective on the issue of disability. Hearing these stories, however, I was reminded that within the pages of Scripture we find a third viewpoint concerning physical limitations. Both Lopez and Knox, in their own ways, want to simply be “normal.” But what if being unique is exactly what God has in mind for us?
Cynthia Bauer is a childhood friend of mine who, like Knox and Lopez, was born without two hands. Despite the unceasing prayers of her late father, a miraculous healing never came. Instead, Cynthia came to learn how the absence of a hand would shape her life in a powerful way. In the book An Unlikely Gift, Lauren Boswell Blair details Cynthia’s story, including her founding of Kupenda for the Children, a ministry to children with disabilities in east Africa. The ministry wouldn’t exist if Cynthia had been born with two hands.
Jesus defends His Father’s ability to create without mistakes.
Cynthia’s story, and her friendship, has taught me an all-important third perspective on this topic. It is the viewpoint offered to us by Jesus as He passes a man “blind from birth” in the Gospel of John. Approaching him, Jesus’ disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Despite a less than ideal bedside manner, the disciples ask an honest question, reflected within the culture at large. Theologically they are correct to affirm that a broken world produces broken people. But as pastor and author John Piper observes, the followers of Jesus are “asking for the explanation in the categories of cause …he gives them an explanation in the category of purpose.”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Far from simply spiritualizing the problem of human suffering, Jesus turns it upside down and casts it in an eternal light. In essence, Jesus defends His Father’s ability to create without mistakes.
As followers of Christ, we would do well to offer His response into the current cultural conversation. While we honor the self-determination of someone like Kelly Knox and the longing of someone like Kevin Lopez, let us not forget that Jesus doesn’t necessarily see their disabilities as a curse. Sometimes disabilities, which we think of as weaknesses, find their ultimate purpose when we allow them to be redeemed in the service of the King, “so that the works of God might be displayed.”