When I discovered early in my pregnancy that my baby would be born with an extra chromosome, the diagnosis of Down syndrome frightened me so much that I dared not discuss my pregnancy for many months. All I could seem to muster was a calling out to God to prepare my heart for what was ahead. My prayers were answered beyond my shallow understanding of what true joy could be. Yes, raising a child with special needs is a unique challenge, and there’s still fear about my son Trig’s future because of health and social challenges; and certainly some days are much more difficult than if I had a “normal” child.My parents didn't have a special-needs child, but I grew up with one such in our home. His name was Eddie. He was a teenager when he came to our farm to work for my Dad. He could read at about the third grade level. In a sense, he was always my little brother. He was a ward of the state and remained as my parents' ward until he died in his middle fifties.
Eddie is the source for Orville, one of my favorite characters in the three novels I've written. I touched on this in an earlier Blog: Caring For Mentally Challenged People. You can also read there a brief article about mental retardation and Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, now known as Bethesda Lutheran Communities.
In searching for what others have written about the mentally retarded—better 'special-needs'—I came across a most tragic answer to a parent's question about her 20-year old son, with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy with cortical blindness, epilepsy and mental retardation. Since he is cognitively less than a year old, she worries he cannot make a decision for Jesus. So she asks, "Will he go to be with the Lord forever?"
The author responds, "Perhaps one of the most damaging doctrines to parents is the one that says children are sinful from birth. The scriptures seem to teach otherwise."
Our sons (the author also has a mentally retarded child of 26 years), incapable of understanding right from wrong, are not guilty of sin, and will not be excluded from heaven. Someone once phrased it that they are "not saved, but safe" . . .You do not need to say the 'sinner's prayer' for Elijah (her son). If he needed salvation, which he does not, it would have to be his own decision; you couldn't do it for him.How sad. What an incomplete and non-biblical answer to a very critical question. This is the blind alley down which one must go if you are caught up in a theology that makes salvation in Jesus dependent upon your decision!
What will you do with Bible verses like the following?
For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. - Rom 2:11-12 ESV
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. - Ecc 7:20 ESVI suppose you might say, as did the author quoted above, that the challenged are not men, that they are not capable of making decisions to sin. But you still have the problem with other teachings such as,
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. - Psa 51:5 ESV
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. - Psa 58:3 ESV
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. - Jhn 3:5-6 ESVAll the fears and doubts about our mentally challenged, special needs children go away when you understand that salvation is a pure gift of God's grace. It does not and it never has needed anyone's decision, be they young, old, brilliant, retarded, challenged, difficult or anything else. The Apostle, following our Lord's comments above to Nicodemus, writes,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Eph 2:8-9 ESVThat includes, by the way, the work of making a decision. The challenged share their parents' sinful nature, as do we all. We cannot be separated one from the other. We are all children of Adam and Eve. By Adam's sin we all died (1 Cor. 15:22). But the blessed good news is that in Christ we shall all be made alive. In truth, all who are buried with Christ in baptism already share in His life. When the waters of Holy Baptism are poured upon us we have His Word that He has taken us with Him into death and from death to life. If this is so, then we, including the special-needs, will certainly be united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).
If you are a Christian, born anew by the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, and are troubled about your retarded or special-needs child's salvation, fear no longer. Bring her or him to the waters of Holy Baptism. Let Jesus speak to you and to your child the comforting words of the Gospel. Listen as Jesus joins your child to His baptism. There are not many, many baptisms! There is no such thing as making a decision to be baptized! There is but one baptism, the baptism of Jesus.
There is but one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Eph 4:5-6 ESVAnd rejoice. You and your baptized child will be with Jesus forever. You have His Word!