What happens when a baby dies?
The weight of that question is simply crushing. With it comes the acknowledgement that many parents have felt the heartbreak of losing a child. While it is not an easy thing to consider, it is well worth our time to understand how the Bible speaks to this issue.
Millions of babies have been aborted. Others have been miscarried. Still others have died in infancy. What happens to these? What happens to the children (or adults) who are mentally disabled and unable to function in a way where they can express faith in Jesus Christ? Where will their eternal destiny be?
We have basically been given two answers to this question: (1) do something to remove the child’s original guilt or else (2) say the child is innocent and not yet accountable. The Catholic Church takes the first approach. The thought is since everyone is born in sin and with a sin nature, that original stain must be removed. In 1951, Pope Pius XII stated, “…no other way besides baptism is seen as imparting the life of Christ to little children.” Therefore, babies are Christened in an attempt to remove the original sin passed down from Adam.
The second attempt to answer this question is how many Protestants deal with the issue. This approach advocates an “Age of Accountability”. The thought here is that a child is innocent (or at least safe) until he reaches the age where he understands his sin and actions. While the “Age of Accountability” isn’t a phrase used in the Bible, the thought comes from such Scriptures as Isaiah 7:16, “For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.” This passage clearly shows that there is a point in which a child does not yet know how to refuse evil and choose good. Other passages such as Deuteronomy 1:35-39 show that the little ones and children of Israel do not have knowledge of good and evil. Because of this, they got to go into the Promised Land while those adults who willfully sinned were not allowed.
The problem with both of these attempts is that they each offer a second way of salvation that the Bible does not allow. The Bible is crystal clear that there is only one way to be saved: by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. The only name by which anyone can be saved is the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). There is absolutely no one who can come to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). One must be born again if he is to even see the Kingdom (John 3:3). The Bible simply does not allow any other way to be saved besides coming through Jesus. And the only way to come through Jesus is by way of repentance and faith. There is no second option.
This is at the very heart of the difficulty in answering the question, “What happens to babies when they die?” It is so hard because we know that the Bible is clear that there is only one way to heaven, and we know that babies or those with mental disabilities are unable to meet that standard. So what do we do?
Here’s what I encourage you to do: take heart and have hope. You don’t need christening or the Age of Accountability to give you hope. The Bible offers something much greater: the marvelous grace of God.
Understand this key truth: a baby’s salvation is just as much by grace as your salvation. In the same way that an adult’s salvation is never based upon his works, baptism, ability to think and reason, intellect, walking an aisle, praying a prayer, church attendance, giving percentage or any other ability the person has, neither is the baby’s salvation based on any of those abilities, either. Your salvation is 100% of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). If that is true, guess what else is true? The salvation of a baby or mentally disabled person is also 100% God’s grace. In fact, if anyone is to be saved, it is never dependent upon that person’s ability and always dependent upon God’s ability!
While that is encouraging to some of you, others are thinking, “Yes, salvation is by God’s grace. But God doesn’t save everyone.” That is true. But when it comes to children, understand that the Bible gives us every reason to have hope that they go to heaven and no reason to believe that they go to hell.
When King David lost his 7 day old son (2 Samuel 12:15-23), two things happened that show us what he believed about the issue. First, his weeping, fasting, and mourning was before the child died. After the child died, David had a confidence in the situation that allowed him to get up, worship God, and get something to eat. This is a drastically different response than when his rebellious adult son Absalom died (2 Samuel 18:32-33) and the weeping and wailing happened after his death.
Second, David explained the reason for his ability to function and go on with life after his baby died. His hope was in the fact that, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23). Where was David going? David was confident that he was going to heaven! He knew that he would see his child again there. In the same way, if you are saved and on your way to heaven, you can have the same confidence that David had. You will see your child again.
This is a great hope. In fact, the Bible only offers hope when considering what happens to babies when they die. John MacArthur in his book Safe in the Arms of God said,
In no place does Scripture teach infant damnation. Rather, every biblical reference – whether oblique or direct – to the issue of infants and children who die gives us reason to believe they go immediately into the eternal presence of God.
I believe he’s right. After all, consider what the Bible says:
- Matthew 19:14, “But Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'”
- In Job 3:16-17, Job states that miscarried or stillborn children are better off than those living. King Solomon made a similar statement in Ecclesiastes 6:3-6.
- God knew and sanctified Jeremiah while he was still in the womb (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
- John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born. Here is a good example of being born again before even being physically born! (Luke 1:15-16)
- In Revelation 13:8, we see that those who have their names written in the Book of Life have them written there before the foundation of the world.
- Ephesians 1:4 shows that those who are saved are chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world.
If you are the parent of a child who has gone on to heaven, have hope today. Don’t base your hope on a baptism ceremony or a hope that the child was still innocent. Base your hope on something much greater and much more firm: the grace of God. Christian parent: take heart and have hope that the words of David can be your words too, “I will go to him.”