A Waste of a Life

Jason Forbes

Jason Forbes

Disability Advocate

Every so often, life with disability is perceived as a “waste of a life”. Or the comment is made that it is a “shame” that the person with a disability is unable to do things that would be expected of most people. To an extent, such perceptions are understandable, particularly in a culture that highly values individualism, success, and self-determination. Disability is often antithetical to life’s goals, and therefore disability can be seen as lacking purpose – a waste of a life.

But what if our life’s goals were different? What if we could foster a culture where individualism, success, and self-determination weren’t the most highly valued goals. How would this impact our view of disabilities and those who have them?

In 2 Corinthians 12:7–9, the Apostle Paul talks about a “thorn in the flesh” which he pleads to the Lord to have it removed. There has been much suggestion that Paul is referring to a physical ailment, and there is some support for this. Paul mentions that his complaint is “in the flesh” (v. 7). Elsewhere, Paul mentions a bodily ailment that brought him to preach the gospel to the Galatians (Gal 4:13). Other commentators have speculated that Paul had a physical ailment or some other disability. As much as these suggestions are possible, if this is what Paul had in mind it seems strange that he should continue to discuss circumstances that were outside of himself (2 Cor 12:10 – insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities).

Yet, this thorn in the flesh is also described as a weakness (vv. 9–10). Weakness, within Paul’s letters, is often a reference to low social status. Paul states, 

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.​

A Waste of a Life

In this verse, the weak things in the world are what is low and despised. So, when it comes to weakness, Paul has something more than physical ailments in mind. Paul begins this statement with a strong “but” to indicate the contrast to what he has said previously. Here, Paul mentions the wisdom, power, and nobility that the believers in Corinth often lacked when they came to faith (v. 25). Wisdom, power, and nobility were all markers of social status in the Corinthian culture. In Corinth, social status was everything, and it forms the catalyst for Paul’s correspondence to the church at Corinth. It’s key to understanding what Paul says to the Corinthians.

So, Paul’s use of “weakness” includes more than physical ailments. It includes anything that can render an individual low in social status. There is an example of this where Paul is being compared to so called “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:5–6) of which his experience as an Apostle must have seen at odds (vv. 23–29).

Yet, Paul is not ashamed of his low social status. He does not perceive his life to be a waste. Instead, he boasts about it, he celebrates it, and if it’s not an over-translation, he even brags about his low social status (12:9). Paul can do this because he has different life goals. Paul isn’t aiming to be wise, powerful, and noble as the Corinthians had desired. He’s not aiming to preserve his individuality, be successful and self-determined, as we might desire. Paul’s aim is for the grace of God to be overwhelmingly evident in his life.

The way God’s grace becomes evident and made a reality in the life of Paul is through weakness and a lack of social status. If Paul has nothing to boast of in himself, he can only boast in God’s grace. So, in the most counterintuitive way, by not having social status and experiencing hardship, Paul is achieving his life’s goals – making God’s grace known. Consider Christ: he was rejected, persecuted, and executed as among the worst of criminals, stripped of all dignity, and yet becomes the greatest testimony of God’s grace to us sinners. As Paul says, “For he was crucified in weakness” (13:4).

Disability, then, often incurs a loss of social status, and in this way, can be considered as part of Paul’s understanding of weakness. If God’s grace is made known through the weakness of his Son, then surely God can make his grace known through our weaknesses – both to ourselves and to others. We also have a basis for building a new culture with its goals not centred around individualism, success, and self-determination, but around making God’s grace known.

When this becomes life’s goal, life with disability is not a waste, and the inability to do the same things as most people is not a shame. Instead, a life with a disability that displays the grace of God is a redeemed life, and therefore, the experience of disability is to be boasted in. Conversely then, the one who preserves their individuality and achieves success and self-determination, and yet does not praise God – now that is a wasted life, and it ends in eternal shame.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ with disabilities should not be considered in relation to our cultural goals of individualism, success, and self-determination. Rather, consideration should be given to how God’s grace is being made known in their life, and what support can be given so that they can participate in God’s community. As Paul states,


From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Thats why the Presbyterian Church in NSW has a disability advocacy service. The role of this service is to equip and encourage the church to become more inclusive of people with disabilities. This is done through five workshops exploring various aspects of disability, sermons, discussion groups, and consultations. Disability advocacy is not about adding another church program. But it is about enhancing existing programs so that they become more inclusive.


By God’s grace, life with disability is never a waste.

Want to hear more from Jason?

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OR arrange for Jason to visit your church.

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