What happens to babies who die in babyhood before reaching an age of moral and intellectual development that would make it possible for them to respond to and understand the revelation of God in the gospel and creation? If babies don’t know salvation through Jesus, will they still go to heaven?
This question also applies to those who develop into adulthood suffering such severe mental impairment that they’re capable of deliberation, moral discernment, or rational decision-making. If human nature is guilty and corrupt from conception, the consequence of Adam’s transgression, as detailed in Psalm 51:5, are those who die as infants lost? Here are some things that’ll help us respond to the challenging issue of where a baby’s soul goes after death.
Some babies never sinned.
Some people have used 1 Corinthians 7:14-16 to argue that infants or children of believing parents are, for that reason, given special salvific privileges in God’s kingdom. This view is only as convincing as that particular interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. A related viewpoint advocated by several reformed theologians is that some who die in babyhood are elect and therefore saved, while others are non-elect and condemned.
If we believe everyone will be saved, babies will be saved too.
Another perspective simply says that all will be saved, including those who died in infancy, and none will suffer eternal condemnation. God’s saving grace and mercy extend to the entire human race. However, countless texts could be cited to disprove this idea, including Luke 16:23-28 and Matthew 7:13-14.
Babies who are part of a Christian family are automatically saved.
Some biblical texts seem to suggest that those dying in infancy are saved. In Romans 1:20, Paul describes those who receive a general revelation as being “without excuse.” That is to say, they can’t blame their unbelief on lack of evidence. There’s sufficient revelation of God’s existence in the natural world to establish the moral accountability of those who witness it. Does this mean that those who aren’t recipients of general revelation, infants, for example, are therefore not held responsible by God or subject to anger? In other words, wouldn’t those who die in infancy have an excuse in that they didn’t receive general revelation or have the ability to respond to it?
Some believe baptism sends babies to heaven.
We must consider the story of David’s son in 2 Samuel 12:15-23. David and Bathsheba’s firstborn child was struck by the Lord and died. In the week before his death, David prayed and fasted, hoping that God would be gracious to him and that the child would live. After his death, David ate food, washed himself, and worshipped. When asked why he responded that way, David said his child died, so why would he fast? That wouldn’t bring the child back. David could go to him, but the child wouldn’t return.
Still, what did David mean by saying he shall go to him? If this refers to death or the grave, in the sense that David, too, shall die and be buried one day, one must wonder why he would say something so obvious. Also, it seems that David draws some comfort from knowing that he will “go to him.” It’s why David resumes his routine. It seems to be why David stops his outward grief display, and it seems to be a truth from which David receives encouragement and comfort.
How could this be true if David simply died like his son? Therefore, it would appear that David thought he would be reunited with his deceased infant. Does this imply that at least one specific infant was saved? Perhaps, but if so, are we justified in building a doctrine affirming the salvation of all who die in infancy?
We’re not judged for involuntary sins.
There’s also the consistent biblical testimony that people are judged based on sins voluntarily and consciously committed in the body, as detailed in 2 Corinthians 5:10. In other words, eternal judgment is typically based on the conscious rejection of divine revelation, whether in conscience, creation or Christ, and willful disobedience. Are infants capable of either? There’s no explicit account in the Bible of any other judgment based on other grounds. Thus, those who die in infancy are saved because they don’t or can’t satisfy the conditions for divine judgment.
Some babies in the Bible are saved before birth.
We have what seems to be clear biblical evidence, specifically in Luke 1:15 and Jeremiah 1:5, that at least some babies are regenerated in the womb, such that if they died in their babyhood, they would be saved. This at least gives a theoretical basis for considering whether the same can be said for all who die in infancy.
Consider how Jesus interacted with children.
Some have looked to Matthew 19:13-15, where Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Is He saying that if one wishes to be saved, they must be as trusting as children or devoid of arrogance and skepticism? In other words, is Jesus defining the people who enter the kingdom, or is He saying these children are recipients of saving grace? Still, if the latter were true, it would imply that Jesus knew that the children He was receiving would all die in their infancy, but is that credible?
God wouldn’t condemn infants.
This last comment is entirely subjective and, therefore, of questionable evidential value. We must consider the question: With our understanding of God’s character as presented in the Bible, does He seem to be the kind of God who would eternally condemn babies on no other ground than that of Adam’s transgression? Admittedly, this is a subjective and perhaps sentimental question, but it deserves an answer.
The biblical evidence isn’t as explicit or pervasive as we might hope, but we should believe in the salvation of those who die in infancy. However, their salvation isn’t because they’re innocent or because they’ve merited God’s forgiveness but because God has chosen them for eternal life, regenerated souls, and applied the saving benefits of Jesus’ blood to them apart from conscious faith.