The destiny of those unable to believe

images-99A university student from our Church worked in a home for children with profound mental disability. One day she asked me about, “the eternal salvation of those with severe mental handicaps.” She asked,

  • “How much can they understand about their need for forgiveness and salvation?”
  • ”Will God hold them accountable for the things they don’t understand?”

She said, “I love these children and hope they will go to heaven when they pass away.” Her concern is close to my heart because I had a cousin with similar problems whom I loved. When he passed away, I reflected on these question.

Her concern is also a matter of deep pastoral significance because it applies to babies and young children who died before being able to exercise faith.

Four suggested answers

  1. Those who believe in the universal salvation of humanity would say, “Of course these people will be in heaven!” “All people will be saved!” But the problem with this explanation is that it has no basis beyond the imagination of man. This is one of those things we might like to believe because it’s emotionally appealing, but we need a more reliable basis than emotions.
  2. Others would consider God obligated to the grant these people eternity in heaven. “After all,” it is argued, “it wasn’t their fault that they were born this way!” This might sound like a matter of justice but sinners are in no position to tell the Judge of  all the earth what He is obligated to do. When approaching the Holy God of the universe, we should be asking for mercy not justice.
  3. In other traditions, the answer is found in baptism — the washing away of original sin. This view, however, attaches more significance to baptism than warranted in Scripture. Baptism is not a requirement for salvation nor does it impart any saving grace. Baptism is an outward display of the inner reality of what God did for us in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
  4. Then there are those who can only say that it is a matter of election. Here the point is that these people will be in heaven of they were chosen by God for eternal life. If they are not chosen, they will be under God’s eternal judgment. Of course, Scripture does teach that, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). But what about those who were not able to believe?

Although Scripture does not explicitly address the eternal destiny of those who unable to respond to God’s offer of salvation, there are biblical truths that would lead us to believe that these people will have a place in heaven.

The OT passage often applied to this subject comes from the life of King David. When David’s baby became seriously ill, he was grief stricken. When the baby died, David took heart and said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).

This was more than David acknowledging that one day he too would die. David was speaking about being reunited with the child in a way that brought him comfort.

In the NT, some see an answer in Jesus’ invitation for the children to come to him, and his subsequent statement that, “…of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14-15).

Jesus also said that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child simply will not enter it (see Luke 18:16-17).

More significantly, in three different places scripture indicates that there is an age of accountability (Deuteronomy 1:39;Isaiah 7:15-16;Jonah 4:11). Although an exact age is not established, it would be a time when a person is capable of being held morally accountable before God for rejecting God’s provision of salvation.

Since scripture repeatedly appeals to people in a way that recognizes their accountability for their choices, those who are incapable of responding have not reached an age of accountability.

Although such people are born with an inherited sin nature, they never choose to act on that nature in a way that knowingly rejects the rule of their Creator.

Without getting into the deeper theological discussion (see: here), it seems right in light of what we know about God to concluded that through Christ’s sacrificial death, God will receive into heaven those who are unable to believe. them to be with him in heaven.

Steve Cornell

This entry was posted in Death, Elect, Encouragement, Eternal life, Eternal security, God's Heart, Heaven, Heaven for mentally disabled, Life, Loss, Salvation, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The destiny of those unable to believe

  1. DCorpus says:

    I agree with your view that God would save young children, babies, or those with mental disabilities. I am of the opinion that babies are not born with an inherited sin nature, but rather they are born with the tendency to sin. I would absoutely disagree wiith those who believe that God has elected some to salvation and others to damnation. I think that teaching is very dangerous to teach and I do not believe it is scriptural. I actually have couple relatives who are mentally disabled. I have two cousins who has down syndrome and cannot function on their own.

    • Paul Raisley says:

      It is not uncommon for people to not believe in predestination, which is really no different than election. The study of predestination goes deep and is just within our ability to understand I believe, regardless like many biblical doctrines many will disagree, but thank God the gospel for most remains the same. I work with people with severe mental illness and am assisting with a funeral today and thanks to posts like this to validate my belief that the seriously mentally ill, intellectually disabled and brain damaged don’t have the capacity to accept Christ and work out their salvation, they are not accountable and by the mercy and grace of God must be admitted into heaven and be saved. As a born again believer I do not think that a loving, just God could committ someone who does not have the God given capacity to know him to go to hell.

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