Last week, someone left a comment regarding the salvation of a Down’s Syndrome child.
First of all, I want to applaud the courage and diligence of families and teachers who work with these precious children. You are taught by the Lord to see our children not as the rest of the world sees, to value the gifts unappreciated by the rest of society. God has a plan for these special children, just as He has a plan for each one of us and He uses these special children to teach the rest of us lessons about ourselves, about giving, about the value of life.
I believe Scripture teaches that people come to Christ at an age of accountability. We cannot repent of sin if we don’t know what sin is. Many theological concepts are abstract ideas; a child is basically a concrete thinker until about age nine or ten. If children accept Christ at a younger age, they usually have a very rudimentary understanding. Both my girls accepted Christ at age eight. We had taught them and reviewed with them how someone becomes a Christian since they were six. For both of them, it took a personal recognition that they had done something wrong, they were responsible and that was not the way God wanted them to live.
When dealing with children with learning difficulties, we need to take their learning capabilities into consideration. They may be 14 years old chronologically, yet what is their mental age? Would you expect a mentally disabled child with the mind of a six year old to make decisions and use judgment normally shown in 14 year olds? No.
So, if a child never advances beyond the mentality of a six year old, what happens to their salvation? It’s an agonizing question many parents have asked and even more parents who have lost young children to death have asked as well. Remember, our God is a gracious and merciful God. He cares deeply about the little ones. I believe that God holds these precious children innocent. If a child dies before reaching that age (or mental age of accountability), I believe they will go to Heaven.
If you do discuss salvation with your child, do so in the most simplistic terms, appropriate for his or her mental age level. Answer questions simply. Don’t push salvation. Talk freely and often of Jesus’ love and constant presence. If your child shows signs of rebelliousness, they may be able to then understand the concepts of sin and repentance and the need to follow Jesus. However, analyze the behavior. Are they being rebellious because they are mimicking the behavior of others? Are they doing the actions in ignorance? Are they acting out of frustration and anger at their limitations?
Our special children may surprise us. We think so much in terms of what children understand mentally that we forget to consider what the spirit understands. I love the story of Tim, a savant who plays the piano brilliantly yet probably has the capacity of an eight year old. Tim was playing the piano at a cafeteria for pay. He played only hymns. The manager asked him to play some secular music, that customers were getting tired of all that religious stuff. Tim stood up, shut the piano lid, and said, “If I can’t play for Jesus, I’m not playing at all,” and walked out the door.
So my advice to this mom who is concerned about the salvation of her Down’s syndrome child is this: Be patient. Keep loving your child. Talk about the things he can understand. Heaven and hell are pretty abstract concepts that are tough for most 14 year olds, much more so for a Down’s syndrome child. In time, God will speak to the spirit of your child; in the meantime, God loves your boy very much and in His mercy and graciousness will not let him perish.
Two resources to consider:
“Extraordinary Kids” by Cheri Fuller
“Exceptional Teaching” by Jim Pierson
Also check out the ministry of Joni and Friends. They may have resources on children with Down’s Syndrome.