Do Babies Go To Heaven When They Die?
I just discovered your website, and as a believer, teacher, and advisor for the philosophy club at my school, I found your site valuable.
One way to heaven: Salvation provided by God, through Jesus, to the repentant, believing sinner (John 3:16)
- Man has a sin nature.
- Without salvation from his sin nature (see #1), he will go to Hell.
- Upon salvation from his sin nature, he will go to heaven (after death or rapture)
- Man's life begins at conception. (We use this to argue abortion)
- Therefore, at man's conception, he has a sin nature.
- Therefore, aborted or miscarriaged babies do not go to heaven.
I don't like this conclusion; I don't think anyone does! However, I can find no Biblical argument to the contrary. Many try to formulate an "age of accountability" which I cannot find Biblical support for. Some say, the Grace of God covers there yet un-repented for sin nature, yet I can find no Biblical support for this. Any argument that seems to save these unborn children from Hell, also seems to argue a second way for salvation, or a compromise of some Biblical truth.
Can you help? I asked the wisest person I know, and wisely, he said, "I don't know, I guess I'll know when I get to heaven."
There is probably no more plaguing difficulty to the doctrine of original sin, what is referred to as a "sin nature", than the one you outline in your letter. How can God, who is all-loving, condemn babies to hell? We bristle at the conclusion - it doesn't seem to be in keeping with what we'd expect.
Naturally, because this is a controversial topic, there are different schools of thought here depending on how you understand the concept of original sin. Different churches understand the doctrine differently. So before we go further, I'd like to look at the main passages from where this doctrine stems.
The Basis for Belief in Original Sin
- Romans 5:12, 19 - "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (...) For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
Here Paul states that the sin of one man (Adam) has caused us all to be sinners. Paul here links death and sin together and argues that we share in Adam's death because we share in Adam's sin.
- Psalm 51:5 - "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."
Here we see the Psalmist noting that even at his birth he was considered sinful. This idea is reinforced by the command in Leviticus 12:7 for a sin offering after having a baby.
St. Augustine brought the doctrine of original sin to prominence in his writings against the Pelagians and their heresies. The Pelagians held that "every human being is by nature as pure as Adam was before he sinned."(1) Augustine argued against the Pelagians to show original sin existed in every person.(2) His argument can be summarized as follows:
- Death is a consequent of Adam's sin (see Genesis 3:19, 1 Cor. 15:21)
- All men are Adam's progeny, inheriting Adam's conditions.
- All men are mortal, prone to die.
- Therefore, all men share in the consequent of Adam's sin.
- Therefore, all men have inherited Adam's sin.
The Meaning of Original Sin
So the doctrine of original sin seems well established, but we haven't really said what original sin is exactly, or what it means to us. Some denominations maintain that original sin is merely a proclivity towards doing sinful things, not necessarily being in sin. While I agree that we do have a proclivity towards sin (what Wayne Grudem terms "inherited corruption" )(3) I also see the Scriptures teaching that sin is an individual, spiritual condition. Romans 5 goes on to explain this in verses 18-19. There Paul writes, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One many will be made righteous."
In this way we are directly imputed with Adam's sin. Adam was the representative for all mankind and his sin is imputed to us directly as if we had done it ourselves. However, as Dr. Grudem points out(4), 'if we think that it's unfair for us to be represented by Adam, then we should also think it is unfair for us to be represented by Christ and have his righteousness imputed to us by God." And this is the key point in my answer as to your question.
Before I go farther, I must say that one of the reasons this question is so difficult is that we are not explicitly told that the pre-born, infants, those with serious mental impairments who cannot understand the Gospel will be held accountable because they did not accept it. Again, this strikes us as unfair and not what we'd expect from a just God. The Bible does give us an account of David's infant son dying (2 Samuel 12:23). There, David makes the claim that he will join his son after death — and David was a strong believer who did rest in God for his salvation (Psalm 62:7). Also, we read in the Gospel of Luke that John the Baptist was "filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). From these passages we can at least deduce that it is possible to be saved as a pre-born infant.
How God Can Save an Infant
In your argument you make an explicit statement that salvation is "provided by God, through Jesus, to the repentant believing sinner". This statement is true. However, it also must be noted that the Old Testament saints were saved although they did not have a complete knowledge of the salvation act (see 1 Peter 1:10-11). So it is possible to be saved by God through Christ even if you don't understand all the facts of the Gospel(5).
Wayne Grudem supports this view as well. He writes "God is able to save infants in an unusual way, apart from their hearing and understanding the Gospel, by bringing regeneration to them very early, sometimes even before birth. This regeneration is probably also followed at once by a nascent, intuitive awareness of God and trust in him at an extremely early age, but this is something we simply cannot understand".(6)
Grudem continues, "How many infants does God save in this way? Scripture does not tell us, so we simply cannot know. Where Scripture is silent, it is unwise for us to make definitive pronouncements. However, we should recognize that it is God's frequent pattern throughout Scripture to save the children of those who believe in him."(7)
The salvation of those who cannot cognitively understand their sinful condition or God's cure is a mystery. It is not clearly revealed to us. But we have shown above that it is possible and has happened with at least David's son. Beyond that, we must trust the fact that God is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance. Part of God's nature is mercy and He bestows His mercy and His grace on whom He will. Since God is all-knowing, He knows which babies will not have a chance at life outside the womb and if he wishes He can save them like David's son.
I hope that this has shed a little light on a difficult issue. I pray that God will continue to bless you as you seek to not only know Him, but teach His truth to others.
1. Sin, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary Merrill F. Unger, Ed.
Moody Bible Institute, Chicago Ill. 1988
2. Augustine from "A Treatise On The Merits And
Forgiveness Of Sins, And On The Baptism Of Infants"
3. Grudem, Wayne Systematic Theology
Zondervan Publishing and Inter-Varsity Press Grand Rapids, MI 1994 p.496
4. Ibid p.495
5. Granted, it is much harder to be saved when not all of the facts of the Gospel are presented to you and I would never recommend this approach. I note it only as a matter of reference to support the idea that God can save in this way.
6. Grudem Op. Cit. p.499