Daniel Akin has rewritten the article that he and Albert Mohler wrote on where infants go when they die (HT: Denny Burk). It’s entitled,”Why I Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven.” In his brief essay, he gives six biblical reasons why we can know that infants and those who die before the “age of accountability” die in the Lord. Here they are:
- The grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 John 4:8)
- When the baby boy who was born to David and Bathsheba died, David spoke as one who trusted that he would see this child again in the presence of God. (2 Samuel 12:15-18)
- Those who know sin and choose to do it are held accountable; those who do not know the difference are not. At the judgment seat, it is our sins done in the body that will be judged. (Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; James 4:17; Revelation 20:11–15)
- When Jesus speaks of the kingdom, he seems to indicate the presence of children in heaven. (Luke 18:15–17)
- Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great. This points to the fact that those who die as children will be received into heaven. (Revelation 7:9)
- Some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb. (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15)
Interestingly, just days before I came across President Akin’s update, I wrote my own essay for our church. Some of my arguments stem from his earlier essay; some come from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. Altogether, I pray they may encourage and assist you (or someone you love) as you grieve the loss of a child who has been called home by King Jesus.
Where Do Infants Go When They Die?
In Mark 10:14 Jesus said to his disciples “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for such belong to the kingdom of God.” In typical fashion, Jesus acted against misguided customs. At a time when children were treated as nuisances and families were anything but children-centered, Jesus invited the children to come to him.
By relating children to the kingdom of God he went further, though. Highlighting their absolute dependence on others, Jesus indicated the kind of attitude we must have towards God if we are to enter his kingdom.
Still another application from his words may be the fact that sometimes Jesus calls his children home when everyone else would keep them from him. What I mean is that sometimes Jesus brings his children to heaven before those on earth are ready.
When this happens hearts are crushed on earth, but I believe the angels rejoice in heaven. For whenever an infant dies that child dies in the Lord, and like Jesus with the children that little one is given a place in the kingdom. But is this just wishful thinking? I don’t think so. Though Scripture doesn’t give us explicit testimony to what happens on the other side of the grave, there are enough markers for us to rest assured that when infants die they go to heaven.
Putting Death in Its Proper Place
When Adam sinned he brought death into the world (Rom 5:12, 18–19). For all of us born in Adam, death has become too terrifyingly normal. And worse, it not only takes the life of those who have lived long on earth; it also steals the life of those who have whole lives yet to live.
In both cases, death produces deep sorrow, but for some reason, the death of a young child is worse. In such cases, the pain of his or her death is coupled with the unanswered question: Why?
In the face of such pain, we do well to rehearse the storyline of the Bible. God made the world good—very good Genesis 1:31 says. God created humanity in his image to live forever. He set eternity in our hearts, because he intended for us to live, not die (Ecc 3:11). Yet, he warned: “If you eat of this tree, you will surely die” (Gen 2:17).
Tragically, Adam and Eve ate. And as a result, they died. As did everyone of their children.
Death, therefore, in all its forms, is a product of the fall: the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). God did not create us to die, but when we sinned, we died. The whole human race now sits under the condemnation of death: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). Today, far removed from Eden, it is easy to think that death is the normal, natural way of life. But praise be to God, God sent his Son to die on the Cross to save us from death and one day to make death extinct.
Until that day, death remains an all too present enemy. And it leads to all kinds of questions, like, What should we say about the eternal destiny of a child who dies after just a few days, weeks, or months of life? Various logical deductions could be made from certain systems of doctrine, but the best answer is always to see what Scripture itself says.
What Does the Bible Say?
As with any gospel presentation, we must begin with the bad news. All death comes from sin. And Scripture indicates that sin goes back to conception: “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5). Paul says we are objects of wrath by our human nature (Eph 2:3). For some, this leads them to believe that without faith, a child cannot be saved. For others, they assume the infant has faith. I don’t think either is right, because it fails to consider the rest of the Bible.
While no child is innocent by nature or deserving of glory without grace, Scripture shows that God treats little ones differently than those who grow up and harden themselves against God. Young children are twice described as not knowing right or wrong. In Deuteronomy 1:39, Moses says that the younger generation “who did not know right or wrong” could enter the land and not suffer the fate of their wicked parents. The point being made is that their ethical immaturity precluded them from God’s judgment. The same idea (“before the boy knows how to refuse evil and choose the good”) occurs in Isaiah 7:15–16. From both passages we find evidence that God takes in account the age and understanding of those who will stand before him.
Add to this the way that the Bible refers to judgment “in the body.” Paul says, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that we may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (v. 10). In other words, judgment concerns works done in the body. This idea is echoed often (Matt 16:27; Rom 2:6; 14:12; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 2:23; 20:12–13). By implication, it is inconsistent for God to condemn infants who lack such deeds.
On the other side of the equation, we find God to be graciously disposed towards children. While not ignoring their sin natures, we know that God desires that all would come to a saving knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). Jesus spoke tenderly to children and used them as typological models of the kingdom (Matt 18:1–6). And David, when his son died as an infant, perceived that he would see him again in heaven (2 Sam 12:15–18). Moreover, the kingdom of God is portrayed as having children running in its streets (Amos 8:5). In all these ways, the Scripture has a positive outlook on children, even as it never says that someone is saved just because they are young.
A Hope Unlike the World
What can we say then? I am comfortable affirming that Infants (and those who haven’t reach the age or ability to ‘know right from wrong,’ a reality only known by God) are not subject to such eternal judgment. Rather, in God’s goodness, they are recipients of grace. Like all the redeemed, those who die as infants die in the Lord (Rev 14:13) because of the grace given to them before the foundation of the world (cf. 2 Tim 1:9). What a thought!
Though we do not know the personality of the one who died at such a young age; God does. And just as he planned salvation for those who would come to faith in time, so he granted grace to these little ones. As to election then, it seems best to understand all little ones to be included in the number of elect, even as we find evidence that some saints were individually chosen before they were conceived (see Jer 1:5 and Gal 1:15).
In the end, we can be assured of the justice and mercy of God. That he who numbered the days of these little ones before time began (Ps 139:16), marked them out as children he would call quickly to himself.
Though we would bring them back to earth if we could, John Newton was right when he said that such children have been spared countless miseries and worldly afflictions. In this way, premature deaths remind us of two gospel truths: we still live in an accursed world, and we await the day when Christ returns to kill death once and for all, but also (and this concerns the question at hand) there are times when Jesus bids his little children to come to him, just like those in Mark’s Gospel. And when that happens we are right to grieve over their deaths, but for those who know the Lord, we do not grieve as the world (1 Thess 4:17). In fact, we can rejoice in the sorrow that these blessed children are safe with the Lord.
And with that in mind, we can say with Job, who lost ten children of his own: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21).
For Further Reading
For more instruction and pastoral encouragement on this subject, see:
“Why I Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven” by Daniel L. Akin
“The Salvation of the ‘Little Ones’: Do Infants Who Die Go to Heaven?” by R. Albert Mohler and Daniel L. Akin
“Infant Salvation,” a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon
Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of a Child by John MacArthur
When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents by Ronald H. Nash
“Unwomb the World” in Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl (DVD) by N. D. Wilson