- Heaven will be a place unhindered fellowship with God. (A place where sin cannot molest)
- Heaven will be a place where we always do what pleases God.
- Heaven will be a place of unhindered fellowship with each other. (No more conflicts to resolve!)
- Heaven is eternal — no permanent partings in heaven. (No separations)
- Heaven is home to Jesus our Savior, the Holy Spirit our comforter and the Father of mercies.
- Heaven will be beautiful beyond comparison. (It’s architect and builder is God, see: Revelation 4:1-6).
- Heaven will be a place of unimaginable and undisturbed joy! (see: Psalm 16:11; Luke 15:10)
A university student once asked me about the salvation and eternal destiny of people with severe mental retardation. “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 asked. She worked in a home for children with profound mental disability and loved these kids. “I just want to be sure that they will go to heaven when they pass away.” she said.
The eternal destiny of those with mental disability is close to my heart. I had a mentally challenged cousin with whom I was close in my youth. Several years ago he passed away, causing me to reflect again on this question—a question with immense pastoral significance because it equally applies to young children who died before being able to exercise faith.
Those who believe in the universal salvation of humanity would say, “Of course these people will be in heaven!” “All people will be saved!” The problem with this explanation is that it has no basis beyond the wishful imagination of man. It might be emotionally appealing to accept this answer but we need a more reliable basis for our beliefs.
Others think God is obligated to give these people eternity in heaven. “After all,” it’s argued, “it wasn’t their fault that they were born this way!” This is very dangerous thinking because as mere humans, we’re in no place to obligate God to do anything. We sinners cannot hold God accountable to work things out on our understandings of justice. Our cry is, “Have mercy on us, O God.”
In some traditions, the answer is found in baptism—the washing away of original sin. This view, however, attaches more significance to baptism than warranted by Scripture. Baptism is not a requirement for salvation, nor does it impart saving grace.
Then there are those who can only say that it is a matter of election. If these folks were elected by God to eternal life, then they will be in heaven. If not, they will be under God’s eternal judgment in hell. Scripture does teach that God elects some people for salvation. For example, it says that, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Yet what should be said of those who were not able to believe?
Although scripture does not explicitly address the eternal destiny of those unable to respond to God’s offer of salvation, there are biblical truths that would lead us to believe that such people will be in heaven and will not come under God’s eternal judgment.The OT passage often applied to this subject comes from the life of King David. When David’s illegitimate 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” (II Samuel 12:23). This was more than David acknowledging that one day he too would die. David took courage about being reunited with the child.
Some find 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 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 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.
As an aside, one of my board-elders is a neurophysiologist. He informed me that the brain is not fully developed until age 20. I found it interesting that God allowed all who were 20 and under to enter the land. I am not trying to build a case for merging physiology and theology, I am just noting it with interest.
Since Scripture repeatedly appeals to people in a way that recognizes their moral responsibility for the choices they make, those incapable of making such choices have not reached an age of accountability. Although such people are born with an inherited sin nature, they never consciously choose to act upon that nature. Therefore, it’s reasonably concluded that through Christ’s sacrificial death, God can forgive and receive them to be with him in heaven (I John 2:2).