Salvation for the Mentally Handicapped

Does Scripture answer the question about the mentally handicapped and salvation? Are there provisions for saving people through Christ even if they don't have the mind to understand?
The question of salvation for the mentally handicapped is very similar to the question of salvation for those who die in infancy. In both cases, the infant or handicapped individual possesses some degree of inability to comprehend sin, culpability, or the requirements of righteousness. Because the question of infant death is so closely tied to this one, you might want to read the answer I wrote on that topic.

So then, if faith is the means of salvation, and faith requires understanding, then how can one without understanding possess faith? And if such a one cannot possess faith, how can that one be saved? The Bible does not address this question directly, but it does offer us ways to view the problem.

The example of John the Baptist leaping in the womb for joy at the news of Mary's pregnancy (Luke 1:44) is evidence that God sometimes gives even an unborn child an understanding that we would normally think impossible. This should not be too surprising, though. After all, even faith in adults is also the direct gift of God that would otherwise be impossible for fallen people. Simply put, the question of infant faith isn't really all that different from the question of adult faith - both require a miracle.

Moreover, Luke 1:44 also seems to indicate that the unborn John the Baptist understood the message that his mother received. Did he hear it? Maybe, but even then his understanding of language would have to have been miraculous. The point is that God can give even unborn infants the necessary content for their faith. Hearing is the normal means of learning this content (Rom. 10:17), but not the only means (i.e. printed word is also very common, God is able to communicate this content directly, etc.).

Scripture does not exclude the idea of faith in those for whom faith would normally be impossible - in fact it insists on it, both for infants and for adults. By extension, this idea also applies to the mentally handicapped: they have varying inabilities to comprehend the gospel, but God is able and willing to give them the necessary comprehension and faith (even if they can't express it).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.