Do Mentally Handicapped People Go To Heaven?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Does the Bible tell us whether a person who is mentally handicapped can go to heaven when they die?  What Bible verses help us to believe this?

The Age of Accountability

No one knows the precise age of when a person is held responsible for knowing and willfully rejecting or believing in Jesus Christ as Savior.  This age is not listed in the Bible nor do two people, even at a young age, come to saving faith at the same age.  The vast majority of Christians today are saved before they reach 21 years of age but that doesn’t mean that everyone under the age of 21 is accountable.  Each person is different in their intellect and abilities to understand the Bible and what might come naturally to some may not come as easily to others.  There are so many factors:

  • were they raised in a Christian home or in a non-believer’s home
  • do they have access to a Bible or not
  • do they know other Christians or have they ever met a Christian at all?

These all factor in as to whether a person can or cannot fully comprehend the message of salvation; of repentance, confession of sin, and trust in Jesus Christ.  But what about those who, due to mental impairment, are unable to understand the gospel through no fault of their own?

Can the Mentally Handicapped Understand the Gospel?

There are various Scriptures that give us strong evidence that those who don’t have the ability to understand the gospel due to severe mental handicaps or impairments cannot be held responsible for rejecting it since they are unable to understand it.  Here are some Scriptures from Paul that give us an idea.

Romans 1:19-21 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Some things that stand out are that “what can be known about God is plain to them” but if a person doesn’t have the capability of understanding what seems plain to most people, can they really be held responsible for it?  God’s “invisible attributes…have been clearly perceived” to those who can understand but what about those who don’t have the mental capacity to perceive what most people can?  Can a person who isn’t even able to function in everyday tasks like bathing themselves or reading a book be accused of being “without excuse?”  It doesn’t seem fair to conclude that they are responsible for these things.  How can a person “acknowledge God” (Rom 1:28) if they are not able to comprehend Who God is and what sin is?  Is it really fair to say that they “have no excuse” (Rom 2:1)?

The threshold for accountability is not just the age of the person but their ability to understand or have the “knowledge of good or evil.”

The threshold for accountability is not just the age of the person but their ability to understand or have the “knowledge of good or evil.”

Accountability Equals Responsibility

Children that are of a very young age also cannot fully comprehend the gospel including the reasons that they need the Savior.  This is due to their inability to fully understand sin and why they need saving.  Similarly, someone who may have the mind of a child even at an older age cannot be held responsible because they cannot understand it.  When the Israelites disobeyed God in the Wilderness, God said that they would not cross over into the Promised Land but “for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it” (Duet 1:39).   The children were not responsible like the adults were because they knew better and yet grumbled, complained, and consistently disobeyed God.  As for the children God said that they “have no knowledge of good or evil” and so they could cross the River Jordan and enter the Promised Land.  The threshold for accountability is not just the age of the person but their ability to understand or have the “knowledge of good or evil.”

Response Ability

Those who are saved reached a point in their lives when they understood that they had the wrath of God on them because of their sins (Rom 5), that their sins had separated them from a holy God ,and that they needed to repent from their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and place their trust in Him (Rom 10:9-13) and since the one and only way to be saved is by Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12; 16:30-31) how can a mentally handicapped person respond if they don’t have the ability?  If they can’t respond due to a lack of mental ability then can they have responsibility for not responding to it?  We who were saved have no excuse (Rom 1) but they cannot know what their greatest need is if they don’t see the need in the first place, therefore it seems fitting that since they don’t even know what repentance and faith is, how can they repent and trust in Christ to be saved?  They might wonder; saved from what?  It seems to fit the character of God that He would not hold someone responsible for something that they cannot know due to the inability to understand it and then punish then for it anyway.

Conclusion

If you can read and understand this, then you are responsible for accepting or rejecting the message of salvation contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We have no excuse (Rom1:19-21).  I had to throw myself at His mercy, plead for forgiveness, repent of my sins and sinful lifestyle, and then put my trust in Christ to save me.  If you haven’t, there is a horrible future for you (Rev 20:11-15) for if you die without Christ then you will “awake…to shame and everlasting contempt” but if you trusted in Christ, then you “shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3).  You must choose and you must be held responsible.  It is not my responsibility to save you, I can only ask for myself to be saved.  It is your response as to whether or not you will be saved.  Respond today (2 Cor 6:2) and you will be saved (Rom 10:9-13).

Here is something to help you know how to be saved: Romans Road to Salvation

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Zack July 1, 2014 at 9:27 am

Jack!

Interesting argument! I am surprised no one has commented yet. I have some questions to pose for you on the matter.

I fully believe in the saving grace and love of Jesus Christ, but I also willingly accept the things that would seem cruel. In regards to that, if anyone who is mentally incapable goes to heaven based on that alone, wouldn’t one of the greatest evangelical tools be to impair children mentally so that they will automatically go to heaven? Why risk them going to hell or rejecting Christ when we could just impair them and guarantee salvation through our own works? Doesn’t it seem like we could play the part of God, and pick who goes to heaven?

What about babies? Doesn’t it seem like abortion would be in our favor for sending people to heaven?

Now obviously I would never under any circumstance advocate evil for any purpose as we are commanded against it. (Plus there is no stronger weapon for salvation than the truth of the gospel).

I am just curious because I have spoken to people about this. I also wish to know how this topic ties into election and probation? I know the “everyone goes to heaven” is the answer everyone wants to hear, but is it the truth? What if mentally handicap people are suffering the woes of sins. Why should they get a free pass? It just doesn’t add up in my mind. Jesus died on the cross, and that is far more than we deserve. To make it so that others have a loophole downplays His sacrifice.

We know that we can only enter heaven because God sees Jesus in us. Those without Christ, regardless of reason, does God see Christ in those who do not know Him?

I love your posts and read them excitedly because you are truly a boon of wisdom and truthful and kind! Truly an inspiration and a guiding light are you, Jack. God Bless and please don’t take any of my words harshly or sharply because although it seems defiant, it is meant in love and respect and is driven by hunger to know the Lord more. Thank you for your hard work and truths!

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Dee July 7, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Hey Zack,
That is a good question. However, it would only make sense that in order for God to be fair, we would have to choose between good and evil and understand our choice before being held accountable. For me, I believe that babies, small children, and mentally handicapped are not held accountable because they do not have a clear understanding between right and wrong. So they would go straight to heaven. Now about your comment on impairing children and abortion so that they could be saved, would in my mind be taking life away from one of god’s children, which is against one of the ten commandments. Therefore whoever was attempting to take away a baby’s life so it could be saved would be condemning themselves to violation of the commandments. But even if someone did attempt this act, it in no way changes their ultimate status before God, because they still remain pure before him.

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Jack Wellman July 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Dee…well put my friend. I so agree. God is soverign and only He can determine who lives and who dies and whatever state that they are born into. Thanks so much my friend in Christ.

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Mick July 7, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Hello Zack,
I had thoughts along the same lines as you mention. Seems that if we aborted all babies or somehow destroyed all the babies who would not grow up to be Christians, then we’d be doing good. But right out of the gate we’d be violating the 6th Commandment, so scratch that. God gave us rules to operate within and it’s our responsibility/obligation to honor God by following his rules. Remember in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” where the slave mother chose to drown her baby and herself rather than have her child grow up a slave? That was done in love and was a huge sacrifice. I don’t think many abortionists are operating with the goal of sending children to heaven to bring glory to God.
My gifted-to-me-by-God severely mentally and physically handicapped son Jeremiah (a son not by blood, but as I stated before, a gift from God) past away 3 years ago a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday. He was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome (http://www.cdlsusa.org/). I found 2 Samuel 21-23 comforting, and in my further search for answers I bought and read Jack’s book, “Do Babies Go To Heaven?” I asked Jack about the mentally challenged going to heaven at that time and found his Scripturally based comments to be reassuring. I know I will see Jeremiah again in heaven. A verse Jack refers to in “Do Babies Go To Heaven” is Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” I am so glad God makes the rules!!
A side note and I’m gone: In a writing by Jeff Spry, “A Biblical Look at the Death of Infants,” Mr. Spry uses the term “condition of accountability” rather than age of accountability so as to include mentally handicapped individuals at any age. I find that term very comforting in itself.
Best regards. I know we’re on the same side.
Mick

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Jack Wellman July 7, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Mick, what an encouragement you are my friend. Those who are saved reached a point in their lives when they understood that they had the wrath of God on them because of their sins (Rom 5). They could understand that their sins had separated them from a holy God and that they needed to repent from their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and place their trust in Him (Rom 10:9-13) and since the one and only way to be saved is by Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12; 16:30-31) how can a mentally disabled person respond if they don’t have the ability to do so? If they can’t respond due to a lack of mental ability then can they have responsibility for not responding to it? We who were saved and those who have not yet been saved have no excuse (Rom 1) but they cannot know what their greatest need is if they are not able to respond to the necessity of repentance and faith. Unless they are able to see their need in the first place, how can they repent and trust in Christ to be saved? It seems to fit the character of God that He would not hold someone responsible for something that they cannot know due to the inability to understand it and then punish then for it anyway.If you can read and understand this, then you are responsible for accepting or rejecting the message of salvation contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have no excuse (Rom1:19-21). I had to throw myself at His mercy, plead for forgiveness, repent of my sins and sinful lifestyle, and then put my trust in Christ to save me.

I will have to check out Mr. Spry’s writing. Is that on the Internet. I do like the “Condition of Accountability” more than the age of accountability because it is more accurate I believe.

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Zack July 8, 2014 at 10:23 am

Excellent replies, everyone!

My one question was left unanswered, however. In regards to election and reprobation, would it be fair to say perhaps the mentally handicapped and children who die young might not be part of the elect, but rather tools to show God’s great glory through His wrath on our sins? I recall when Paul says “Can the pot turn to the potter and say, ‘Why did you make me for this purpose?'” (I believe Romans 9). I’m just curious because as far as I can discern, age/accountability does not seem to be in the Bible as loopholes to salvation. I do believe Romans 3:23 is clear that even from conception we fall short of the glory of God. I just struggle to see if what is being said is being driven by self-hope, or honest scripture seeking. This is an incredibly touchy subject for many, and I pray you thay no one takes anything offensively. I, with the utmost sincerity, respect all of your words and appreciate your wisdom. I am also not saying anyone is wrong or that I am right, but I just desire to talk this out. Thank you everyone! 🙂

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Jack Wellman July 8, 2014 at 10:26 am

Well said Zack. These are such interesting things to consider. I can at least relax and take a deep breath that the potter is in charge and I am not. It is like Shirley McClain who was found running down a beach in California many years ago and saying “I am God, I am God.” Relax and be glad as I am that, thankfully, she is wrong! :>)

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Dee July 14, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Zack,
I commend you for your desire to search the truth. I think all of us should be desirous in seeking truth. God gives truth to those who sincerely seek it. And I think you have excellent questions. I may be able to help you resolve your question about age/accountability. It does not mention it in the bible but I believe it has been revealed through modern scripture which God has said to be 8 years of age. It is at 8 when children who grow up without mental challenges and who can comprehend right and wrong that they begin to take accountability for their sins. Zack, I hope this helps.

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Zack July 16, 2014 at 9:28 am

Dee,

Thank you for the information! It is really helpful! I do recall, when I was younger in my old church, the pastor saying that age of accountability was 13. I remember counting down the days saying, “God’s gonna start the tally of my sins now.” Lol it was like, I had splurged on sinning because I thought God wasn’t holding me accountable yet (which I think, in a sense, made me accountable lol). But you’re very insightful, and i’m grateful for your willingness to help me! God Bless you, Dee! 🙂

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Zack July 8, 2014 at 10:53 am

Very true! Wise words, Jack!

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DocReits July 12, 2014 at 1:57 am

Hi Zack,

You ask:

“…would it be fair to say perhaps the mentally handicapped and children who die young might not be part of the elect, but rather tools to show God’s great glory through His wrath on our sins?”

I would categorize your question as “academic”, because what practical or pragmatic application is there in the individual’s eternal outcome whether the answer to your question is yes or no? It is moot. So if you believe with all of your heart that children are flowers which bloom and then are gone(annihilation) or that they are destined for hell, then tell that to a grieving mother. WWJD?

Here is why your whole line of inquiry is moot:

1)If the answer is “Yes” these individuals are born destined for hell, well Ok, so what can we do about it?

2)If “No” well, that is great, so that’s that.

3)If “Maybe”, but only if they acknowledge Christ. Well, that is not going to happen, so this defaults back to number one above.

So again your question is “would it be fair?” Perhaps. The more important question is “Would it be right?”. The best thing to do is to err on the side mercy, for those who live on and grieve over their loved ones, and to proclaim that which we do know, that God is Love and Mercy and to firmly share, “Yes, your child or mentally challenged son, daughter, sister or brother is presently in the arms of Jesus.” That is, IMO, WJWD.

Blessings,

DocReits

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Zack July 12, 2014 at 4:29 pm

DocReits,

Very interesting and thought provoking-post. I completely understand where you are coming from. In regards to it being “academic”, I understand the answer to this question will not necessarily change anything, and it is a tertiary issue at best. However, I do seek the truth on the matter, and we all know the only absolute truth is God’s Word.

As far as it being moot, I’d have to disagree. When one is trying to learn more about God, it is never moot.

I do not believe in annihilationism because it is not biblical, so we can eliminate that right away.

In regards to it being “right”, we cannot say anything that God does is “wrong”. So if God decided to plainly tell us that those who die before Christ are going to hell (not saying that this is the case, but using it as a hypothetical) because they did not accept Him, who is to question or defy Him?

Many people say it is not right when God ordered Saul to destroy Amalekites, even saying to “destroy every single thing, leave nothing” [my paraphrase]. But you and I know God is just, and what may not seem right to us is simply because our sin distorts justice.

I do ask this to you, Doc, what are your views on election?

Zack

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DocReits July 14, 2014 at 1:09 am

Zack,

Unfortunately in this format we cannot just sit across a table and talk. If we could, a lot of what we say and how we say it, would save a lot of time and misunderstanding. Let’s try to make some common ground on what we are saying. You say,

” However, I do seek the truth on the matter, and we all know the only absolute truth is God’s Word.”

We agree that God’s Word is Truth. You also state that you seek The truth. That is commendable. You imply in your statement that by going to God’s Word you will “get the answer” you are seeking. Otherwise, why would you seek the answer? You further imply that this answer will be the “truth”.

There are many problems, IMO, with your reasoning. Yes we are to go to God in prayer and read His Word daily with adoration, thanksgiving, confession and petition, seeking His help, healing, direction and protection.

In knowing His Word, as Pastor Jack has stated, we need to first be born again, because the things of God are discerned by the Spirit of God who dwells within the believer(1Cor 2:15).

Going to God’s Word, just because it is the Truth will not necessarily give you the answer you are looking for, even with His Spirit’s help. Blasphemous? How about getting the answer to how the Trinity works? Do you think going to God’s Word will let you figure that one out? If you do let Christendom know. We have been in the dark there for over 2000 years…;-)

How about more mundane questions like who you should marry or whether you should quit your job and seek other employment? How about whether we should invite Uncle Billy to church next Sunday? We can of course pray for God’s direction and guidance in these matters but the literal answers are not in the Bible.

That is why I said your question is moot. Here is the definition:

“subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty, and typically not admitting of a final decision”

Look at the thousands of hours and books written by major theologians on both sides of the election question. Do you presume to be smarter than Calvin or Arminius? Do you think they did not have the same resources as you, between the Holy Spirit and the Bible or colleagues in heated debate and challenge on both sides of the issue, sharpening their knowledge. Do you think they did not agonize in hours and days of prayer and fasting seeking God’s Mind on the issue?

I certainly don’t think I hold a candle to any of those people. God’s Word is not definitive in the matter of election. It is debatable with no clear answer. Just look at Pastor Jack’s article on “predestination” by typing it into the search bar at the top of this home page. There is good debate replies on both sides of the question in the reply column, with no winners! Are we surprised? No.

You asked me what I believe. Not that I have the answer(trust me) but you asked. I think, contrary to popular belief that God’s foreknowledge which many call pre-determinism(I think that word leads to confusion) is not a different trait than His Omniscience. I think they are both complementary and at the same time inextricable one from the other.

I think you know where this is going. We cannot fathom completely, since we are time bound finite beings how God can both live outside of time and concomitantly be on both sides of it. It is the Trinity puzzle again. But, I believe He is, and so yes, He knows what we will do before we do it, not because He forces our hand but because He also exists at the end of time and knows what we decided.

He therefore for-knows our decisions. He chose us(a past tense idea, even though it is predicated upon His future “sight”)before the foundation of the earth, because He knew at that time our decision in the future. It is in that sense that He chose us before the foundation of the world…. because in His omniscience he for-knew our decision.

I like how the Phillips translation renders Titus 3:3-11:

“But when the kindness of God our saviour and his love towards man appeared, he saved us—not by virtue of any moral achievements of ours, but by the cleansing power of a new birth and the moral renewal of the Holy Spirit, which he gave us so generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. The result is that we are acquitted by his grace, and can look forward to inheriting life for evermore. This is solid truth.

8b-11 Subjects like this are always good and useful but mind you steer clear of stupid arguments, genealogies, controversies and quarrels over the Law. They settle nothing and lead nowhere.”

No matter how much you seek an answer Zack, the predestination argument will never be resolved on this side of the grave. Therefore, as I said, err on the side of mercy, and don’t be quick to suggest to a grieving parent that their deceased baby is in hell. Regardless of the election question and which side is right, my point I was trying to make to you(in my previous reply) is that, that would not be the right thing to do.

Blessings,

DocReits

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Zack July 16, 2014 at 9:49 am

Doc,

You’re right; being able to talk in person would alleviate the burden of having to wait for replies! But I’ll settle for this if it means learning from scholarly men like you and Jack, and women like Dee.

I’m sorry, I misspoke. I did not mean just because I look for the answer guarantees I obtain it. If that were the case, you’re right, I would be able to see the Trinity in its entirety, and be able to explain it. How I understand it right now is a triangle has three sides, but is one triangle. Without one side, it ceases to be a triangle. Also, the integral dance between the Trinity of loving one another and not self proves God as a god of love, because loving self only is not really love.

Once more, I do not think those questions are necessarily mundane due to the fact they correlate back to our faith. Those are valid questions, and although the Bible does not specifically talk about “Uncle Billy” (although at this point, I wish it had), we can still pull Scripture to lead us that pertains to the situation.

If there was a gap of space to illustrate the difference of faith and knowledge of the Word between Calvin and I, it might be safe to say that’s how the universe came into existence (just a joke lol). I am humbled by men like you, Jack, Calvin, and others who have devoted their entire life to God. I can only use you as inspiration.

“We cannot fathom completely, since we are time bound finite beings how God can both live outside of time and concomitantly be on both sides of it”

Yes, that sums it up pretty well for me! I cannot grasp the concept super well, which is on me. I understand that much!

Is it safe to say God elects us then? Not because He “knew” we would choose Him, because than that makes it seem like we earned our salvation by choosing Him. Ultimately, because we are sinful beings who rebel against God, who would, without the Holy Spirit’s conviction, walk away from God 100% of the time, we need God to elect us.

It was put to me in this example; “You’re in the ocean, drowning. Now, do you believe God throws down an inner-tube for you to grab hold on, and than to climb the rope, or do you believe you’ve sunk to the bottom and Jesus dived in and brought you to safety?”

The first shows us doing half the work for salvation. The second shows God completely taking care of us. I reflect on when God made His covenant with Abram and put him to sleep because God did not need Abram in the contract for it to be fulfilled. It was all on God, and in case of salvation, I still believe that to hold fast.

We know God works through us. Our faith, our wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and goodness all comes from the Lord alone. It has nothing to do with us (as shown in the Scripture you have given).

I guess I do not seek an answer per se, due to the fact that the debate continues on (although I have my belief based on what I have read in Scripture and have studied).

I would never tell anyone, “There’s a chance your baby is going to be in hell, so don’t think you’ll see him in heaven.” Like I said, just because I believe in election, does not mean that how I believe in it is true. As far as I know, it seems to be. I can only comfort that person best I know how, the same way someone says, “I know you’re looking down on me, grandpa!” when grandpa was never a believer. Obviously, grandpa is going to hell without Christ, but I won’t tell someone that because it is the wrong time and place.

I do agree we should err on the side of clemency, though. Our God is one of love, but also justice. So, I suppose realistically, if theologians could not come to an agreement on the election matter, you and I won’t have better luck, but I completely understand your perspective, and agree with a lot of it.

You are far wiser than I, DocReits, and I am grateful to be discussing these matters with someone of such knowledge! Thank you for taking time out of your life to inform and teach me!

Zack

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Truth Is August 27, 2018 at 8:39 am

Why shouldn’t they?

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