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.