Does God understand those who have a mental disability? Can they too be saved?
The Omniscient God
God must understand and allow for mental illness for He is the Creator and knew full well what would happen to His creatures after the fall in the Garden of Eden. The curse brought about by sin is widely implicated in the many illnesses, sicknesses, death and disease in the world. We are fallen creatures and we got hurt in the fall. Our mind was corrupted by the sinfulness of sin. Our bodies are fallen, inching ever closer to death every second. Our own worst enemy is often the one looking at us in the mirror. Even so, God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm103:13) so God knows all and this includes those with debilitating mental illnesses and that is very good news as we will later read.
The Ability to be Accountable
We don’t know when children are accountable for hearing and understanding the gospel. For some it may come very early and for others, into young adulthood. The phrase “the age of accountability” is not in the Bible. It is purely a guessing game to know who is and who isn’t saved and who can and who can’t be saved at a certain age. God alone knows the heart and whether someone knows enough to be saved and by receiving the gospel or rejecting it. Even though we don’t know, God does know if they are at a mental maturity level to be able to understand what it means to repent and believe and therefore, responsible for what they know. Obviously infants and young babies cannot know what it means to repent and believe for they have no idea what sin is, even though they, like all of us, were born into and even conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). For someone to be saved, they must know what it is they are being saved from.
The Fate of the Mentally Ill
No one knows for sure whether someone who has a mental illness can understand the gospel enough to repent and believe in Christ but for those with severe mental illness, it would seem unfair for God to judge them for rejecting Christ when they didn’t have the capacity to understand it. There are some clues in the Bible that might be helpful like in Deuteronomy 1:39 where only the children of those who died in the wilderness could go into the Promised Land for they weren’t responsible for their disbelieving and rebelling against God. Moses wrote “And as 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) which indicates that they did not yet have the mental ability to have the “knowledge of good or evil” so their “little ones…shall go in there in.”
Since we are not sure of the age or the mental maturity level it takes for someone to understand the gospel and therefore be responsible for rejecting it (if they do) then “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer” (2nd Cor 5:16) meaning we can’t judge whether someone is mature enough or has the ability to know what it takes to be saved. Until someone sees that they are not a good person (Rom 3:10-12) and that they fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) then they cannot see the need for the Savior. Until sin is fully understood the Savior cannot be fully appreciated.
There are some things where the Bible is silent. All we can do is trust God for those things He hasn’t revealed to us and if He’s chosen to not reveal them to us, we have no business spouting hypothesis or theories. This does not glorify God and we can easily misjudge someone who is saved as being a lost sinner. God can handle those things that we don’t know about. In God’s infinite wisdom, there are some things He knows that it’s best for us not to know. This I do know: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Duet 29:29).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.