One of the bittersweet experiences of being connected together occurs when love leads us to feel and carry one another’s pain. Many in our church family recently tasted this when a little boy named Graham went home to be with the Lord. I cannot fathom a deeper pain. When a child dies, everything within us rises up to say, “It’s not supposed to be this way!” My wife, Tabatha, and I have never experienced the loss of a child, but this pain is personal to us because many in our church family have.
The realities of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, and the death of young children raise a significant question: What is the eternal fate of little ones who die before having had an opportunity to trust Christ? (The same question can also apply to those who live beyond infancy but, because of mental disability, are incapable of moral discernment or volition.) In order to equip us as a body and comfort the bereaved, I want to try to show what God has revealed in His Word.
Everyone Needs A Savior
A baby in the womb is the design of an infinitely wise God (Jeremiah 1:5), but ever since the Fall of mankind, each baby is also in spiritual need. I know they look so cute and innocent, but babies, even in the womb are embedded with the spiritual DNA to grow up and sin against God. How did this happen?
God created Adam, the first man, and said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:17). When Adam and Eve later broke this command, primary guilt fell to Adam because God gave him the responsibility to lead (Romans 5:12-19). Suddenly, sin distorted his nature. Adam’s sin nature, like DNA, has been passed to every person ever born. This is why David confessed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). So every baby conceived has a sin nature and needs a Savior.
Jesus Is The Only Savior
Just as God promised, Jesus came to rescue us. Jesus lived a righteous life. He died on a cross to pay for our sin. He was buried and then rose from the dead! Whereas sin brought death, Jesus brought life for all who believe upon Him (Romans 5:15). Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Either we go to the Father in heaven through Jesus, or we do not go at all. In other words, every person in heaven will most gladly confess, “The only reason I am here is because of Jesus!”
Now if we affirm the fallenness of mankind and the exclusive ability of Jesus to save, how is it possible for a little one to go to heaven if they die before believing in Christ? Believers have wrestled with this for ages. Let’s look at the biblical evidence that gives comfort to our soul.
1. INFANTS: WITH OR WITHOUT EXCUSE
The Bible tells us there is sufficient evidence in nature to establish moral accountability for all who witness it. “God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Since little ones can’t process nature and make conclusions about God’s grace, glory, or justice, it seems they would fall into the category of having an excuse.
2. BASIS FOR JUDGMENT
The Bible offers consistent testimony that we will be judged by God on the basis of sins committed consciously in the body. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
If we look at Deuteronomy 1:39, which tells us that young children “have no knowledge of good or evil,” then it seems that infants lack the capacity to make morally informed—and conscience—choices.
If indeed eternal judgment is always based on the conscious rejection of divine revelation and/or willful disobedience (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 20:11-12), and infants are capable of neither, it seems inappropriate to assume God would judge them as He would an adult.
You may have heard the phrase age of accountability, implying an age after which a person is held accountable for their sin and unbelief. The Bible never uses this term and never specifies an age. This makes sense though. As children mature at different paces, only God knows when each soul is accountable; when the rejection of faith has taken place; and when the love of sin resides in the heart.
3. A CUSTOM-BUILT KINGDOM FOR KIDS
In Luke 18:15-16, we find an account where parents were bringing their infants to Jesus so that He might touch them. When the disciples rebuked them, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Not only did Jesus welcome children on earth, He said that His eternal kingdom in heaven was custom-built for kids to be with Him forever. The image of Jesus holding our children on his lap in his eternal kingdom may be the most comforting image that can come to a bereaved parent.
4. A BEREAVED HEAVEN-BOUND DAD
In 2 Samuel 12:15-23, we read about the tragic death of David’s infant son. For seven days, David fasted and prayed for him. Yet following the child’s death, David ate and worshipped. When asked why, David said, “Since he has died, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”David was a man of whom it was said by God, “Here is a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). David was commended in Hebrews 11 among those who believed God and were counted righteous. David believed he would go to heaven. Therefore, his words, “I shall go to him”, confess anticipation that he and his son would be reunited in heaven.
5. A FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST
In Hebrews 4:15, we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Before Jesus became a man, He became a baby in his mother’s womb. Jesus knows life as a baby. Jesus identifies with our humanity at every stage of human development. Jesus has empathy and insight for both the baby and those who love the baby. This should give us hope.
In addition to these biblical truths, let me conclude with one thought that is subjective, yet driven by Scripture. Given our understanding of God’s character, does he appear as the kind of God who would eternally condemn infants unjustly? God the Father is gracious and wise. The same Father who sought us and saved us is the same Father we are trusting to do what is right with our little ones.
For this reason, I believe in the salvation of those dying in infancy. I affirm this not on the basis of their merit, but on the basis that God would have sovereignly chosen them for eternal life, regenerated their souls, and applied the saving benefits of the blood of Christ to them apart from conscious faith. In the end, I trust Him. I trust Him completely. We worship a Father who seeks spiritual children, who brings life where there is death, and who is righteous in all of His deeds. For those who grieve the loss of a child, remember that God loves you, and He loves your child.