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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