Do all infants
go to heaven if they die?
If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked the question, "Do all infants go to heaven, when they die?" or "Do all aborted babies go to heaven?" I'd be a thousandaire by now (ask me in another 20 years and I might say millionaire). Everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject but very few have a Biblical perspective or position. That's not to say that many of these individuals can't throw out a verse here or there, but this is a far cry from having a biblical understanding. Pulling a verse from context and using it to say something unsupported by that context or by the totality of Scriptures is a misuse of Scriptures. Unfortunately, regarding emotional and personal issues such as this, even individuals who would normally provide proper exegesis of Scriptures will sometimes slip into grasping at passages to defend what they want Scriptures to say in this regards.
A friend of mine has an expression for what has infected the church of today: the ESSIES (Exaggerated Sense of Self Importance). In this view, people are the most important thing to God, so important that God virtually takes a back seat to the "rights" of man. According to those holding these beliefs, (implicitly or explicitly) God has abdicated his Sovereignty to the will of man or the professed innate rights of man.
One innate right of humankind is held to stem from our very existence: Since we exist, we have a right to exist. This has translated into the belief that we alone are masters of our spiritual destiny, not only that God has to give everyone a chance for salvation, but that everyone has the innate ability within themselves to choose right or to overrule the will of God with their rejection.
The spiritual state of mankind is a primary issue that must be understood. The Bible is clear that following after our first parents, Adam and Eve, all their descendants have been born into sin. Spiritually dead, our natural inclination is to sin, to choose the wrong, to seek after anything but God. In fact, apart from God's common (restraining) grace, the whole human race would be as evil as it could be, all the time.
We who are dead in sins have to be made alive, or regenerated, to be able to make "alive" decisions. Left alone we will always make "dead" decisions. Scriptures is clear that it is God who chooses to raise to life. It is His decision alone who He chooses. Upon making them alive in Christ and enabling them to see the truth, all these now willingly embrace Him as their Lord and Savior.
This makes salvation completely of God, by God, and for God, to His praise and glory alone. No merit or innate goodness can ever be in view as dead men don't have any life left! Ezekiel chapter 37 visually portrays the regeneration necessary in salvation perhaps better than any other passage.
Notice that God's word was preached to whom He wanted it preached. God having chosen then made the bones alive (dead men don't ask to be made alive). Once alive they were strengthened and prepared for service (and alive men don't ask to be dead again, having been raised to life!).
The bottom line is that dead (or corrupt) things don't go to heaven. Only Someone greater than those who are dead can make them alive once having chosen to do so. To live forever in eternity, even our bodies have to be regenerated to match our spiritual state as believers.
Since regeneration (being made alive) is necessary for any human being to go to heaven, some questions arise concerning infants (and subsequently young children).
Before answering these questions, we must consider the most quoted passage offered in support of the idea that all infants go to heaven.
Because God declared David righteous (a man after his own heart, 1 Samuel 13:14), his salvation and eternal destiny is clear. Some then take David's words that He would go to his dead son as proof that this son was in heaven. This is not as clear from the text as some make it out to be. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, general statements regarding "resting with one's fathers" or going to the grave abound. Even the unrighteous are said to rest with their fathers, meaning that they both ended up in the grave. No one (I hope!) tries to misuse those passages to say that the unrighteous would be with the righteous in heaven. For example consider Ahaz (who was wicked) and his son Hezekiah (who was righteous)...
David's words regarding his son could equally be taken, in their general sense, to mean that he would be going to the grave where his son was. This is reasonable as it follows David's question "Can I bring him back [to life] again?" It is not valid to build an entire doctrine around this one passage without other supporting and definitive passages.
If the account regarding David could be taken to support that his child was in heaven, the account does nothing towards answering the questions regarding regeneration that we left unanswered earlier.
In this regards, David clearly understood mankind's natural condition, so he certainly understood that it couldn't be any innate goodness in himself, his son, or anyone else that would enable (or cause) God to save him. Considering himself, David said this...
Understanding that scripturally (as well as medically) that life begins at conception, David's words that He was sinful from the time of his conception are right to the point. Herein, no one can claim that an infant is not sinful (born or unborn). As for all wicked going astray from birth, we've already seen that Scriptures declares each of us wicked (not doing right) prior to regeneration. It keeps coming back to regeneration. If there's even a chance that David's son went to heaven, the question has to be, "How was he regenerated?" as it is obvious that he was in need of it as one who was sinful.
Some would protest here that God would not put someone spiritually to death for the sins of their father, perhaps citing this principle in Deuteronomy.
Consider that God did put to death David's son for the sin of his father, so obviously this precept of the law was in regards to governmental punishment and not to divine justice. The better passage that would pertain to this matter is instead found in Ezekiel.
While we have all inherited Adam's sin (Romans 5:12), we are not put to death (spiritually) for his sin. We are accountable for our own sin, the sin that infects our mind and being from the very beginning, the sin that David clearly said we all have while still in our mother's womb.
Some have tried to misuse other passages to say that infants are spiritually innocent. For example:
In both cases above, the term innocent is being used to describe those not legally deserving of death. Specifically, they were innocent of any crime where God had mandated capital punishment. This innocence cannot be stretched to saying that they were sinless, in opposition to all other Scriptures. In regards to sin, no one is innocent. Even infants, though naïve, they are in no way innocent of sin.
Seeing that an infant would need to be regenerated to go to heaven, does God regenerate infants? While there is little in Scriptures that would definitively say so, on the basis of a few passages I believe we can answer "yes!"
What these passages do not do: (1) they do not declare or imply that this is the normative; rather they merely say that it's possible. (2) They don't constitute a guarantee that God will save any infant or child, and (3) they do not show any innate merit in the child that would demand that God must save them.
Understand that Scriptures reveals God's sovereignty over all and acknowledges that God chooses whom He will...
... God accomplishes completely all He has purposed to do,...
... and God gives the gift of saving faith (apart from any works or merit of the recipient.
Since it is clear that salvation is all about God, from beginning to end, it is clear that God has every right to save whom He will, including an infant or even someone with a severe mental defect.
But, be very clear on this, there is no guarantee or something in the child that demands it of God. If anything in us could place a demand on God it would make salvation no longer a gift (or by grace), rather it would be an obligation.
The perfect assurance we have for any parent is that God is good, and everything He does is good... We must rest fully in His goodness! The Judge of all the earth always does right (cf Gen 18:25)... in mercy and grace or even in judgment.
One passage that is often used to say that God has chosen all children is as follows:
Consider what Jesus was saying to the people in this brief encounter. Beyond implying that childlike faith was necessary for them to believe in Him, Jesus was showing them that it was necessary someone bring them to Him, even as the Father draws us to His Son. The "such as these" in the passage cannot be stretched to say that all children are saved. Clearly, following the context of a few verses earlier in Mark, the focus was on children who believe.
Some believe that all who die in infancy are automatically among the elect (i.e. God chose all of them). While a potentially comforting thought, the question still remains whether or not it can be supported with good Biblical exegesis. The best sounding quotation I could find regarding this matter, primarily because it does at least appeal to Scriptures for support, is as follows...
Albert Mohler's idea certainly sounds good, until it is examined more closely. Even if we move past the concept implicit in it that all people need a second fall to be guilty before a Holy God - something not found in Scriptures - there are many other clear contradictions to Scriptures.
Mohler cannot randomly choose to ignore the death that we all inherited from Adam, something that is very clearly taught in Scriptures. His application of a physical example from the Old Testament to support a spiritual premise must be clearly supportable by other passages - not to mention the totality of the Old Testament account itself. Here's where his good-sounding argument falls apart. Consider his key passage again...
Now fill in some details regarding this event that Mohler has chosen, willfully or out of ignorance, to ignore...
If a person can claim that this occurrence provides spiritual proof that God doesn't count sin again infants, enabling them to spiritually enter into His rest, then you would have to say that the same applies to everyone up to the age of 20. Now that's an incredible age of accountability! And one that no one tries to claim. In reality, all this Old Testament passages shows is that God had mercy on all He wanted to have mercy, which included the young children and infants.
The usage of phraseology of not knowing good from bad, which appears in a few other Bible passages as well, is not meant to be a technical description of spiritual ability. For example, two other occurrences...
All these are loosely descriptive terms commonly applied to infants, or very young children, in much the same way as we describe them as being "innocent." As the passage in Jonah implies, the young children are much like livestock acting only on fallen human instinct, having not yet learned to mentally understand what's good and bad.
Mohlers' usage of passages, about sins committed "in the body", are equally invalid. As every pro-life advocate will tell you, biblically life "in the body" begins at conception. The "me first" attitude that is the heart of rebellion, not to mention the ability to lie, are present right from the very beginning. While they may not understand it, inadvertent sin and sin of omission is still sin committed in the body. This is the very reason that sacrifice was required, under the law, for more than willful sins alone.
The entire idea that infants and young children are held guiltless, or automatically elect, by God raises a dangerous proposition. For example, consider the case of the Apostle Paul, who said...
If Paul knew all infants to automatically be elect, wouldn't the way to fulfill his expressed desire be to murder every Israeli child as an infant and thus assure their eternal state? Or take it to the next step - evangelism by abortion (heaven forbid!).
Could all infants be elect? Possibly, but I don't think it can be proven definitively from Scriptures. Maybe God wanted it that way so that someone wouldn't decide to act on the proposition I raised concerning Paul.
The whole idea of an "age of accountability" is an extra-biblical, non-provable concept, used to express the wish that all infants and young children have a different standard. It is safe to say that those who reject or minimize God's sovereignty in salvation are the chief proponents of this belief. They need to. If salvation is all about man, as it's now made to be, then people need an age of accountability to buy time to give them the universal "choice" that they demand God must give to everyone. As we have already seen from Scriptures, by nature we could all have unlimited choices and, apart from God intervening, we would always make the wrong choice. Therefore it still comes down to being all about God and His choices.
As an aside: Rather than an age of accountability, I do believe that there is an age of eternity awakening. This is the point where a person understands that there is something beyond them, something beyond the here and now. It is at this point that we can mentally respond to God. Left to ourselves this knowledge is useless as we will seek to satisfy this understanding with false gods (including self; consider Romans 3:11 again). But for the elect, God uses this knowledge as part of what draws us to Him; having been made alive and capable of now choosing the right. I believe this eternity awakening can happen at a very young age. As such, none of this pertains to the issue of infant salvation or an age of accountability. It still remains that for an infant or mentally infirm person, God would have to step beyond the norm given in Scriptures, having regenerated and given the gift of faith, to not need the mental assent and outward confession that would normally follow.
Many others have wrestled with this in the past, knowing of God's sovereignty and His perfect goodness, yet also knowing that they could not go beyond what is written. I have to agree, wholeheartedly, with the conclusion of the writers of these two great confessions of faith in this regards.
Isn't it great to know that our God is sovereign over all, and that He chooses, and that He is good?!
End Note: Some have tried to make Baptism the means of regeneration for infants or young children, thereby making their salvation the result of the will of man, or a father, in complete opposition to John 1:12-13. Beyond the Roman Catholic error in this regards, the Protestant misuse of what is called "covenantal theology" could be an article of its own.
(c) 2005 Brent J.
MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries