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What Happens To Children When They Die?
September 18, 2004
For reasons I cannot quite ascertain (though I am hoping they are not prophetic), I have been thinking a lot lately about the issue of whether children who die in infancy are automatically ushered into heaven. In other words, what happens to children when they die? I have heard various answers to this question, and none have been particularly satisfying. I will admit, though, that I have never studied this topic in depth and that is something I intend to do over the next few days (or weeks or however long it takes to get a few answers).
At this point I have no answers, but I do want to give an idea as to what my thoughts are right now. I hope that in a week or two, after I have done some hard research on the matter (mostly Biblical research) I will have a more solid idea of what I believe. But first, some thoughts on the arguments I have heard in the past. Please do not think these are the only arguments or even that my summaries provide an accurate assessment of them - I merely pass along what I have been taught by various people.
Do All Children Who Die In Infancy Go To Hell?
This would seem to be the most logical argument, wouldn’t it? God tells us that the only way to be saved is through faith in Jesus Christ. If one does not have faith, he must necessarily be condemned to hell. Children are incapable of having saving faith, therefore all children who die must go to hell.
We know, though, that this is not true. As we know from the life of King David, he had confidence that he would see his son again. He had assurance that his son was in heaven, for if this were not the case, God would not have included that verse in the Bible - a verse that has given so much hope to so many grieving parents. So we know that at least one baby in history has gone to heaven. Would God save only one child in the history of the world and then taunt the rest of us with that fact? No, I’m sure He would not. This argument does stand.
The Justice Argument
Another argument people make is that God could not possibly condemn a child to hell because that child has never had an opportunity to repent. It would be unfair for God to condemn such a child.
The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that it seems to presuppose that the child, however sweet and beautiful he may be, is somehow innocent in God’s eyes. The reality, of course, is that from the moment of conception that beautiful child is a sinful child and one who deserves punishment as much as you or I. It is a hard but unavoidable truth. Adam, as our first representative sinned, and his sin has been imputed to all his descendents. Not one of us is born innocent, for we are all born with Adam’s original sin counting against us. From the very moment of conception we are condemned sinners.
I believe, then, that the justice argument fails. If God saves infants, he must do it on a basis other than justice. Justice would usher them immediately into hell.
Age of Accountability
Many people speak of an age of accountability, a time before which children are not considered accountable for their sins simply because they are incapable of expressing faith necessary for salvation. With this line of reasoning we are led to believe that a child from conception to a certain age, which will vary from child-to-child is considered “safe” from condemnation. However, once that child reaches an age of accountability, he is considered culpable for his sins and no longer has a “free ride.”
I find this argument difficult to believe, primarily because it finds little Scriptural support. But also, it seems strange that a child could lose his salvation simply because his mental capacity increases to a certain extent. Logically I just do not see how this argument remains consistent.
We Can Have No Assurance
This is the view I was taught in my younger days. We are unable to have any true assurance of where our children have gone. As believers we can have more assurance that they have gone to heaven than if we were unbelievers, but not full assurance. We are not to take comfort in a (false) belief that our child is in heaven, but are to take comfort in the indisputable fact that God is in control and that this child died as part of His plan.
Now while that assurance should be enough for us, it is a pretty tough sell. Who wants to be told that their tiny baby might be in hell? And what do you say to the children of unbelievers? At the same time, there is a type of satisfying logic with this option.
The Grace Argument The final argument I have heard is that God, in His grace, chooses to save children who die in infancy. I remain uncertain as to what the criteria for this are. For example, at what point is a child considered too old to be covered by God’s special grace?
Those are the various arguments I have heard over the past years. Honestly I do not find any of them particularly convincing, for all of them seem to have at least one gaping hole. I am seeking a consistent, Biblical perspective on this issue. Perhaps there is not one and we are simply left having to take our best guess. I prefer to think there is a satisfying, Biblical, logical answer. And I hope to find it. I will report in on my progress.
If you would like to suggest some resources that might help me, feel free to post a comment.