Heaven or Hell for Infants Who Die?

This post is spawned by a post written by Tim Challies dealing with the issue of where children go when they die.  Tim recieved a comment by a woman who lost two babies (perhaps by abortion, though it’s not clear) and she found comfort in the hope that they were in heaven–that is, until she read Tim’s article on original sin.  Tim, in his article, holds the position that Scripture is not clear on this issue, and given the doctrine of original sin, the child dies in guilt and perhaps ends up in Hell. She writes to Tim:

I found your two columns on the doctrine of original sin. I’ve been on the verge of tears ever since last night. The idea staggers me. I’m not writing to argue the point. I understand it’s what you believe and, for all I know, you may be right. Meanwhile, all the years of peace that I enjoyed seem to have evaporated. You may be doctrinally accurate, but I am utterly miserable. I feel like I’m back at the edge of the religious hell hole I crawled out of some years ago. Not a good place to be. I will have to do some serious thinking and praying.

I’m not trying to single out Tim, because he’s far from being alone in this.  What I find alarming are many of the comments which assume the Bible is totally silent on the issue, and that those who believe differently appeal only to sentimentality or pragmatism, not Scripture.

There seem to be three positions to the question of what happens to children who die before an “age of accountability.”

Position 1: They all go to hell, because they were conceived with original sin, and to suggest that they don’t go to hell is to do violence to the doctrine of original sin.

Position 2: The Bible is unclear, so we don’t really know.  We hope they do go to heaven, but it seems that the doctrine of original sin suggests they go to hell.

Position 3: There is a covenant reality to this question, and children of Christians are in that covenant, so children of believers go to heaven, and all the rest go to hell.

Position 4: All children who die go to heaven instantly.

Those who hold the “death for dead children” view focus on the lack of innocence a fetus has before a holy God.  And the issue comes down entirely on that status, which is true of all of us.  There is little dealing with the grace and mercy of God.  These children have never heard the name Jesus or ever had the conscious understanding of their sinfulness.

Is Scripture unclear about this issue?  Is there any biblical basis to conclude that God extends an intervention of grace to children?  At one point in my life I would have agreed with Tim.  What changed my mind was a book by John MacArthur called ‘Safe in the Arms of God‘.

There are those who have called it a “terrible” book that denies original sin, but don’t believe them. This is a solid and useful book to check your arguments against if you hold to the other positions.

There are also two sermons MacArthur preached that deal in detail with many of the issues raised in this book.

What Happens to Babies Who Die >>>

7 thoughts on “Heaven or Hell for Infants Who Die?

  1. Todd,

    Can you please explain how a person can be born guilty and sinful, yet at the same time not be held guilty if they die prior to reaching a certain age whereby they do become accountable?

    MacArthur teaches that people go to hell only for the sins that they personally commit. If that is true, then why was Esau hated before he had done anything good or bad? If he had died prior to reaching this magical age that MacArthur espouses, would he still have been hated by God?

    Paul is clear that when Adam sinned, ALL sinned. Adam represented the whole human race, and that means that I was a sinner before I was ever born. So, reaching some age before which I am not condemned clearly goes against Scripture.

    I truly hope all infants who die in infancy go to heaven, but the Bible is clear that there is only one means by which that happens – faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Now, can God do that with an infant? I believe He can. But it will be on the basis of election and not on the basis of one’s spiritual age.

    Finally (and no one has yet to address this satisfactorily), IF it is true that all babies who die go directly to heaven, then THE MOST LOVING THING that can be done for them is to make sure they never leave the womb alive and/or never reach this mysterious age that MacArthur talks about whereby they become accountable. IF my children could be guaranteed a place in paradise if they have not reached this “age”, what kind of father would I be to let them reach that age and then have their eternal destiny fall into doubt?

    That issue, my friend, is one you cannot answer, because you know in your heart that if these babies automatically get entrance into heaven, then making sure they get that automatic entrance would be the most loving thing we could ever do.

    Grace and Peace to you and yours,

  2. Brian,
    The issue is not guilt or innocence. Everyone is born in sin. We’ll never make any progress on this issue until we can get past this red herring of guilt. The issue is God choosing to extend grace. God chooses to extend grace to all he saves, not on the basis of anything we do. What saved you? Your choice or God’s? If God chooses to save infants, He’s really doing nothing different than He did when He chose you or any other adult. We would all be in hell apart from God’s choice. The issue is not guilt, it’s grace. Nobody argues that you are born innocent and then at some age you become guilty.

    God says in Ezekiel “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…or anyone who dies. Therefore repent and live!” How can an infant repent? So, do we have a God who says He takes no pleasure in condemning people to hell, oh, except for the children. Children and infants are unsaveable? Don’t die as a child because you will go to hell! God extends grace to them.

    As for Esau, he was chosen, as you say, on the basis of election. No argument there. But Esau did not die, so it doesn’t matter hypothetically if he did die as a child–by God’s sovereign choice he lived. So there’s no argument about God’s choosing him for condemnation. We are all chosen before our birth.

    In answer to your last point, the most loving thing to do is NOT to kill children before an age of accountability. That’ s a humanistic argument, not a theological one, and certainly not a morally responsible one. God says, “Do not kill”, and you would be hating God by murdering your children out of some supposed act of fatherly love. We honor God by obedience and defer to his sovereignty in the lives of our children. The kind of father you would be is a father who allows them to live because you trust a big God, and you worship Him – not your children. And I believe God never says in Scripture clearly that children go straight to heaven because many kooks would kill children as a “loving” act. So, I think I’ve answered your question.

    God shows grace to man. That is why we live, in fact, the only reason we have breath. And in his design of procreation I believe He extends that grace to those who have yet to reach an age of “accountability” — of being morally accountable for their actions before God. Jesus called the children in the NT the “innocents”, not that they were without original sin, but that in the eyes of God (aka Jesus) they were not morally accountable by God’s grace — not their deservedness. Why would Jesus call them the ‘innocents’? And I believe David understood this. How else would David know that his dead son would be waiting for him in heaven?

    Grace & Peace Brother!

  3. Todd,
    Thank you for posting this article with the links to Challies and MacArthur. I lost my 9-day old daughter in June of 2008. I have searched scriptures and wished God would have added a doctrine to explain what would happen to our children who die. I have read Ligon Duncan’s Fear Not book that deals w/ #3 on your list. Al Mohler’s article that deals with election of children that deals w/#4 on your list. I have listened to this sermon as well.
    Genesis 25:19-28 – Election and Dying Infants.

    Paul Schafer

  4. DOES THE BIBLE TEACH THAT EVERY UNBORN CHILD that dies goes directly to hell? And does the bible teach that every infit that lives one year and then dies goes directly to hell? And how do we know if that infit was’nt chosen before the foundations of the world!

  5. Congratulations for your willingness to deal with an extremely difficult topic. My opinion is that it happens according to divine election. This means that it is not automatically heaven because of being before the age of accountability, it is not automatically the lake of fire because of original sin, and it is not “and children of Christians are in that covenant, so children of believers go to heaven, and all the rest go to hell.” The latter position in particular is merely part of the same doctrinal system that is used to justify church-states (where one is a Christian by virtue of parentage and nationality, not by personal faith exhibited by a confession and living a Christian life) and infant baptism.

    I will say that positions 1, 2, and 4 have Biblical support. Meanwhile, there is no Biblical support whatsoever for position 3, just as there is none for church-states, membership in a church by nationality or birth, or infant baptism.

    The idea that the eternal fate of infants who die is determined by divine election is best shown in the incident with the child of Jeroboam. (By the way, as Jeroboam was exceedingly wicked, it precludes the idea that a child’s fate is based on the fate of the parents.) So please read 1 Kings 14. Why more is not made of this passage and its implcations astounds me.

  6. It is true, that even babies were born into sin, and if there is an age of accountability, I think, God brings the BABYS into heaven. It amazes me, where does the term fetus come from. To me, this is a very nasty word. I dont think God came up with this word. If doctors did, who are they to call it a fetus. I feel God just told me, they know its a baby, but they call it a fetus so they can justify what they do to it..If a pastor calls a baby a fetus, I hope God deals with that pastor,.

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