by Matt Slick
When we ask what benefit handicapped people are to society, we have to realize there are different ways of answering the question because the question itself is not very specific. We have to ask what it means to be a "benefit." What benefits one person may not benefit another. Also, are we talking about benefits that relate to society, economics, or family? Answering the question becomes more difficult when we realize there are different kinds of handicaps. There are physical as well as mental handicaps, and within those categories are a wide variety of manifestations. So, the question is not so easily answered. Nevertheless, this does not mean we can't try to answer the question.
Biblical view of people
The Biblical view of people is that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Therefore, they are worthy of honor and respect since they reflect God's image. However, this image is not one of physical appearance. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Therefore, "the image of God" is referring to such things as the ability to love, hate, show compassion, to forgive, be rational, to worship, to adore, be just, etc. This "image" is within every person. However, this does not mean that those who hold to a Biblical view properly exhibit the respect and honor due to all people in this regard. Unfortunately, many Christians have failed to hold this view and have supported things like slavery, child labor, etc., and have improperly used the Bible to justify them. We cannot deny that there have been great inconsistencies between what the Bible says and what Christians have done. Nevertheless, back to the topic at hand.
Physically Handicapped People
Physical handicaps can be the result of accidents and birth defects. Of course, there are handicapped people who are very functional within society and contribute greatly to family, work, the arts, etc. Just because someone is missing an arm or leg, does not mean he or she cannot run a business, hold a job, or drive a car. But, what do we do with those who have a handicap that prevents them from contributing to society in an economic sense and must rely on others for their subsistence? Do we kill them because they are not making money or because they don't produce? Does the value of a person depend on his or her ability to add economic value? If that is the case, then children should be universally wiped out because they are obvious economic drains on families and resources. Of course, who would advocate such a terrible thing?
Mentally Handicapped People
There are, of course, people who are so mentally handicapped that they're not able to function on their own in society and are completely dependent upon others for their well-being. It is obvious that they are a drain on society in different ways. Does being a drain on society justify getting rid of them as they did in Nazi Germany? If so, then human worth is based upon productivity and not a person's humanity. If such a view were upheld, then there would be justification to kill the elderly when they no longer are self-sufficient. But, this, too, is wrong. Biblically speaking, the Bible says we are not to murder (Exodus 20:13). So, killing the elderly is not an option.
There are benefits derived from the Handicapped
There are benefits to society, as a whole, that are the result of having to deal with physically or mentally handicapped people who cannot take care of themselves. Let's take a look.
Benefit of Character Improvement
Often times when we see someone who does not look like us or is handicapped or is of a lower financial class, we can easily become prideful and judgmental. In such cases, we are enabled to recognize in ourselves those things which are ungodly. This way, we can see more of the quality of our character when we realize our own bigotry, hatred, judgment, condemnation, etc., in response to the handicapped. We would, hopefully, then be made aware of our own shortcomings--our own mental and emotional "handicaps"--and make an effort to correct them.
Benefit of Increased Compassion
Would anyone say that compassion is an evil quality? I know of no one who would make such an assertion. Compassion is a good thing. Therefore, it's good when people have compassion for those who are handicapped. Compassion is an aspect of love in that it is other-centered. John 3:16 says, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son . . . " That is the nature of love--to give. Compassion towards those who are handicapped is a kind of loving attitude since it, too, is focused on the condition and situation of someone else other than ourselves. Obviously, we need more compassion in the world. Therefore, handicapped people can help us to increase the attitude of compassion and love towards them and others.
Benefit of knowing that Human Value is not based on productivity
When we look at the benefit of the handicap to society, we must not restrict the analysis to productivity and monetary gain. Human value is not measured in such terms. If a man were in a severe automobile accident and lost both his arms and both his legs, is he less of a human being? Of course not. Humanity is not measured by arms and legs but by the internal nature of what it means to be "human." The human quality and essence is not determined by physical attributes. It's an innate quality that is experienced by each individual in his own awareness and his awareness of others. Because each person is human by nature and because each person, handicapped or not, is made in the image of God, then each person is worthy of honor. If such a value is seen in the handicapped as well as the non-handicapped, then more equitable treatment can be given to all.
Benefit of Knowing that Human Value is not Based upon Physical Ability
A person's worth is not based on how good he looks, how sexy her body is, how strong he is, how fast she is, or if a person has all his limbs. Human worth is not based on physical attributes. We can see from history that the Nazi regime based human worth on productivity, physical ability, and mental acuity. In other words, human value was determined by physical and mental characteristics that were deemed "beneficial" to society. The result of this aberrant view of human value was the murder of millions of Jews as well as the handicapped. This, of course, was an evil that the whole world has recognized as an atrocity.
Benefit as a guard against evil
When the value of a handicapped person is recognized due to the nature of being human and even though the person is "defective," it stabilizes society's views on other people by recognizing the value of humanity as something independent of circumstance and physique. This attitude will carry over into areas such as the care of children, the elderly, the financially destitute, the homeless, etc. In this, the handicapped can help us through compassion and love for them to extend these beneficial qualities to others in less fortunate circumstances.
Benefit of appreciation of what you have yourself
Those who work with the handicapped often have an increase in appreciation of their own blessings. I remember visiting the Philippines shortly after the world's largest typhoon hit one of their islands. The devastation was immense, and the Filipino population was suffering. I was immediately more appreciative of what I had back home. When I volunteered to work at an organization that helped the blind, I was thankful for something as simple as being able to see. Likewise, when I encounter the handicapped, I am grateful for the blessings I have physically and mentally, and I don't judge them. In other words, I am humbled and grateful. How about you?
There are many benefits to the handicapped living among us. If we open our hearts and our minds and leave our judgmental attitudes behind, we can see the good that can come out of our relationships with them. But, let's not talk about them as though they are "handicapped." To see them merely as that is to encase them in a judgment that has little value. Instead, when we encounter those who are not as fortunate as ourselves, we should be reminded that we have a blessing and that we should consider ourselves obligated to be loving, compassionate, and helpful to all people equally.
Finally, thanks to all of you who have carried their children across finish lines, who have endured with them through their difficulties, and who have raised children in the most dire circumstances. You all are commended and appreciated.