The truth about babies going to heaven
The death of an infant or child is profoundly painful – perhaps the greatest grief a parent is called to bear (personally, it tops my list). For Christian parents, most are comforted some in the knowledge that God is in control and a belief that their babies are in heaven!
Yet, for most Christians and non-believers alike, this belief is built upon hearsay alone. From a child we have heard said, “God is love, and how could God send a little, innocent baby to Hell”. More specifically, I have personally asked believers their reason for believing their sons or daughters went to heaven, and got answers like: “Of course they are, they’re now watching over us as angels”, or “they did nothing wrong, they didn’t commit any sins” and “God would never send a child to Hell!” Still, other responses might include “everyone goes to heaven” (a pluralists) or “all elect babies go to heaven” (Calvinist). Many people respond to this question purely from fear, sentimentality or ignorance.
Do you know for certain what the bible says about these children? This very question demands a careful biblical study and theological reflection.
For preface we must agree the Bible reveals that we are born marked by original sin, and thus we can know that no one (no child) is born in innocence. Consequently, regardless what you would like to believe, children do not go to heaven because they are innocent! Too, the Bible teaches that “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Psalms 58:3), we are “brought forth in iniquity,” (Psalm 51:5) and therefore bear the stain of original sin from the point of conception (which btw, is when life begins). The Prophet Isaiah said, “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings” (Isaiah 7:16). It’s plain here that little children (infants, mentally impaired) do not have the capacity to make moral decisions nor take responsibility for their sins.
Therefore, we must acknowledge that God is absolutely, and unequivocally sovereign in salvation. No one, regardless of their age, deserves salvation and can do nothing to earn salvation, it is all of grace. The Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior, and that salvation comes only on the basis of His blood atonement (Romans 3:23, Titus 3:5, John 3:16, John 14:6). And lastly, whether you agree with me or not, the Bible teaches a dual eternal destiny – the redeemed to a literal Heaven, the unredeemed to a literal Hell. There was a time when you were not, but there will never again be a time when you are not.
Now, let’s delve into the Word to answer this question:
First, the Bible teaches that we are to be judged on the basis of our deeds committed “in the body (II Corinthians 5:10).” That is, we will face the judgment seat (the ‘Bema Seat’) of Christ and be judged (Romans 14:10-12, I Corinthians 9:4-27), not on the basis of original sin, but for our sins committed during our own lifetimes. Each of us will answer “according to what he has done,” (Ibid) and not for the sin of Adam. The imputation of Adam’s sin (Romans 5) and guilt explains our inability to respond to God without regeneration (“salvation”), but the Bible does not teach that we will answer for Adam’s sin.
So, what about infants? What about those small children? What about those mentally impaired? Are they going to heaven?
One biblical text is particularly helpful in answering these questions. After the children of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, God sentenced that generation to die in the wilderness after forty (my study shows 38½) years of wandering. “Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers” ( Deuteronomy 1:35). But there is more! God specifically exempted young children and infants from this sentence, and God explained why: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good and evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it” ( Ibid). The key issue here is that God specifically excused from the judgment those who “have no knowledge of good or evil” because of their [mental capacity or] age. These “little ones” would inherit the Promised Land and not judged on the sins of their fathers.
Noticeably, this passage teaches that infants and the some mentally impaired are blameless, that the accomplished work of Christ has removed the stain of original sin from those who die before “having the knowledge of good or evil”. Knowing neither good nor evil means that young children or those without the mental capacity to discern differently, are incapable of committing sins in the body – and die secure in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. (He who has an ear, let him hear; this is not identifying an age per se (i.e., 18, 21 years old), besides, it is parents duty to teach their children about Christ (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).
Still another text bolsters my belief; “For what can be known about God is plain to them [that is, to mankind] because God has shown it to them. For his 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. Therefore, they are without excuse”. (Romans 1:19-20) The “therefore” seems to provide for an excuse if they had not seen clearly in nature what God is like. So, being that I do not think babies nor the mentally impaired can process nature and make conclusions about God’s grace, glory or justice, it seems they would fall into the category of still having an excuse.
The Lord himself declares, “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16).
In Mark’s gospel Jesus instructed his disciples that they should “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”(Mark 10:14). I believe that God graciously receives all those who die in infancy – not on the basis of their innocence or worthiness or age – but by his grace (Ephesians 2:8), made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross (Romans 3:25).
The next time you look into the casket of a baby, a child, one who’s mental capacity prevented them from committing sins in the body, do not place your hope and trust in the false promises of an unbiblical theology, in the instability of sentimentalism, nor in the conventional wisdoms of men. And, be forewarned, never presume upon God’s goodness and mercy.
Finally, I want to offer some clarity to my study so as not to be a stumbling block or to offer one a false hope.
- These aforementioned infants, children, and mentally impaired are not “saved”. In order to be “saved” one must have ‘the knowledge of good or evil’, recognize their own transgressions, and ask God to forgive them their sins. These had no need for, nor the capacity to, repent of their sins, and are therefore “safe” in the grace of God. The people in heaven will have gotten there through Christ alone, all through grace alone, and none because of their own goodness or deeds.
- The capacity to ‘have the knowledge of good or evil’ happens before most parents give credit, this doesn’t mean the child understands Christ’s propitiation, the kenosis, or where Adam got his wife. Rather, they become conscience of right and wrong (Romans 2:15), I consider this to be the “dawn of conscience”, their own consciences accusing them that they’ve done something wrong.
- My eldest son, was diagnosed at age 18 with paranoid schizophrenia and made a lot of bad choices the last few years of his life. When he died in 2009, he was not safe because he had a mental illness, prior to the onset of that illness he knew right from wrong. Fortunately, he was taught about God and responded to God’s call on his heart when he was fifteen.
“While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).
(Clearly, David believed that he would be reunited with his child in the next life).
a bondservant of Christ and eternal brother to you,