Question: Can children (or adults) with severe disabilities be saved?
Presumably, the question has to do with people whose rational thought processes are profoundly impaired. Prime examples would be a person in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, an accident victim suffering severe brain trauma, or a person born with an IQ below 30.
Can individuals with acute brain disorders understand the Gospel and respond in faith? The answer lies in the nature of faith and in the power of God.
Jesus made this statement regarding salvation:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Notice that salvation applies to every human being who believes in Jesus. No person is exempt. The ability to save rests with God, not us, and flows from His immeasurable love for the world He created. According to Jesus, then, God is pouring out His love through Jesus upon all humanity, providing salvation and eternal life for everyone, and all we need to do to receive it is to believe it.
What constitutes “belief?”
The word “belief” in John 3:16 translates the Greek word “pistis.” In many Christian circles today the concept of belief or faith in Jesus is presented as the ability of a person to verbally agree with a doctrinal statement:
Rom. 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9 is directed toward people who are mentally and physically capable of comprehending and communicating their faith in Jesus. The word pistis, however, does not require the intellectual ability to comprehend ideas like “lordship,” nor does it require the physical ability of a person to put the concepts of lordship and resurrection into words. If that were the case then people unable to speak would be excluded from John 3:16. God’s love and salvation would not apply to them.
Thankfully, that is not the case! To “believe” (pistis) fundamentally means to trust. Trust is much more a function of the human heart than the brain. That’s why Jesus said to his disciples:
Mk. 10:15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Infants learn to trust the voice and the hands of a loving parent long before they can intellectually understand it or explain it. In fact, it is only after children begin to develop reasoning ability and communication skills that they also begin to question their parents’ love and begin to question how much they are willing to trust their parents. The greater a person’s intellectual ability, the greater is the challenge to trust without reservation.
People with severely diminished mental function are still quite able to love and trust completely those who give them love—perhaps better than the rest of us! When that loving trust is placed in Jesus, even if they can’t communicate it, another soul has entered eternal life!