Weekly Devotional 8-2-21 (In collaboration with Oscar Leske)
What Happens to Infants or Children When They Die?
The Bible teaches that we are sinners from the moment of conception (Psalms 51:1-5). We are not sinners merely by virtue of what we do; we are also sinners by virtue of what we are. In fact, the reason we commit sin is because we are sinners! We do what we do because of what we are, not vice versa. According to Jesus, a man is not corrupted by what he does outwardly; rather He said, corruption comes from the heart (Matthew 15:16-20).
Adam, the first human transgressor, stands as the head of the human race – that is, when he chose to disobey God in the Garden of Eden and fell into sin, the entire human race (that is, all his descendants) fell with him. The fact is that we are all born into this world with a sinful nature – that we are all sinners in need of salvation.
So, if everyone is born a sinner then that statement begs the question: “What happens to babies and young children when they die?” An infant or young child cannot place his or her faith and trust in Christ. They cannot make a conscious commitment to obey Christ. In the Bible, only believers who have placed their faith in Christ are saved. Does that mean that babies or young children who die cannot go to heaven? Absolutely not! God is a God of love, and He is also a God of justice and mercy. He knows that an infant or young child cannot make a conscious commitment to Christ.
Here is the good news: most evangelical theologians believe there is a provision for the salvation of babies, mentally handicapped people, and others who simply do not have the capacity to understand the Gospel and consciously place their faith and trust in Christ Jesus. King David, for instance, was heartbroken when his infant son died but he said he had confidence that he would see his child in heaven someday (2 Samuel 12:23).
Concerning this, let us look at what the Bible has to say. The Bible tells us that, even if an infant or child has not committed personal sin, all people, including infants and children, are guilty before God because of inherited and imputed sin. Inherited sin is that which is passed on from our parents. In Psalm 51-5, David wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David recognized that even at inception he was a sinner. The incredibly sad fact that infants sometimes die demonstrates that even infants are impacted by Adam’s sin, since physical and spiritual death were the results of Adam’s original sin.
Salvation is an individual choice. So, what about babies and young children who never attained the ability to make this individual choice? Jewish custom (Bar Mitzvah) holds that there is an age “age of accountability” where children are not held accountable by God for their sins until they reach a certain age, and that if a child dies before reaching the “age of accountability,” that child will, by the grace and mercy of God, be granted entrance into heaven. This I believe fits the character of God. He is just, righteous, and loving, to prevent a child or a mentally incapacitated person from entering heaven would be outside of His person.
Thirteen is the most common age suggested for the age of accountability, based on the Jewish custom that a child becomes an adult at the age of 13. However, the Bible gives no direct support to the age of 13 always being the age of accountability. It likely varies from child to child. A child has passed the age of accountability once he or she is capable of making a faith decision for or against Christ. God’s applying Christ’s atoning sacrifice to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with His love and mercy.
Because God is loving, holy, merciful, just, and gracious. Whatever God does is always right and good, and He loves children even more than we do. Apparently, children have guardian angels. “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones (children), for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven…. It is the will of God that not one of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:10; 14).”
I believe that the Bible teaches that all children (under the age of accountability) who die are in the special care of God. In Mark 10, verse 16 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” In the Old Testament we read where babies were offered to pagan gods where they were burned in the fire as human sacrifices and God called them “the innocents.” Now, we are not talking about baptized babies nor Jewish babies or about a baby whose parents are born again believers, but a gentle pagan child and they are determined by God to be innocent. From God’s declaration of innocence it is obvious that ALL children up to a certain age and regardless of background and circumstances are in the special care of God when they die.
Luke 18:16 supports this belief. In that passage mothers crowded around the Lord Jesus with their children in order that they might receive blessings from Him. Jesus called the little children to Himself, saying, “….Of such is the kingdom of God.” Verse 16 answers the question, “What happens to little children when they die?” The answer is that they go to heaven. The Lord clearly said, “of such is the kingdom of God.” From these passages it seems clear that little children belong to and are kept by the Lord until that time when they reach the “age of accountability” – where they are capable of making a faith decision for or against Christ.
BOTTOM LINE: The great news is that billions upon billions of little ones throughout the history of mankind that were lost due to injury or disease, starvation, natural disasters, or war are in heaven. Then added to that, there are also all those millions upon millions that were conceived in the womb but were aborted or like in the case of our family; one that was stillborn. You, yourself, may have known children or someone who has lost a child – the grief and sadness that accompanies these parents must be horrific. But, for them there is great news – what joy it must bring those parents hearing and knowing that according to Scripture their child is in heaven with the Lord.
Now, a far greater question arises for the parents of these children. Each parent must ask themselves, “Am I going to be in heaven with my child?” A question that only they can answer and do something about.
Transforming Power; the Work of God on Behalf of Man