What do you say to the parents of a deceased baby? What would you say to the families of the 80 children who died on flight MH17 last week? I’m not sure what you should say but I know what you shouldn’t say. Don’t ever tell them their children are in hell.
“Paul, I would never say such an awful thing.”
But you might if you have been taught that heaven belongs only to those who confess Jesus as Lord. So what about babies, young children, the mentally handicapped, and the mute who confess nothing? Are they hell bound?
According to some theologians, they are.
Apparently babies are born bad to the bone and destined for the lake of fire. Augustine said unbaptized infants “share the common misery of the damned,” and John Calvin allegedly said, “There are babies a span long in hell.”
I hope this offends you. As a father of four – including a newborn baby – this sort of thinking upsets me deeply. I get furious when I hear people speaking evil things over children. Children are a gift from the Lord. They are heaven-made treasures, not hell-bound brats.
Do babies go to hell? This question has led to much confusion and hand-wringing. It has caused some to abandon the faith and others to embrace universalism. It has convinced the atheist that God is cruel for condemning the innocent. Bad questions always lead to bad places.
So how does the gospel of grace deal with this question? What would Jesus say if he was asked about babies and young children? He would say this: “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). There you go. Jesus said it, I believe it, that settles it.
4 reasons why babies go to heaven
However, some of us have been fed religious mumbo-jumbo for so long that we doubt whether the kingdom really does belong to such as these.
To kill the doubt, let’s address four fictions: (1) God condemns sinners, (2) faith is a work, (3) children are known for their great faith, and (4) those who don’t get a chance to respond to the gospel are lost.
(i) No one is condemned on account of sin
Why would Augustine, Calvin, and others entertain the possibility that babies go to hell? Because they’re natural-born sinners, of course, and sinners go to hell. But is this true?
Jesus died for sinners (Rom 5:8). Because of his perfect, redemptive work, we can say that all sin – even the future sin of little children – has been dealt with once and for all on the cross (Heb 9:26). Even if it were true that your children were sinners, their sin does not condemn them any more than your sin condemns you.
“Paul, I think you are referring to a ‘grace period’ known as the age of accountability.” Actually, I’m not. The age of accountability myth was invented by rule-keepers who had painted themselves into a corner. It’s not in the Bible.
Under law, it makes sense to not hold children accountable for their behavior, but under grace the issue is irrelevant. Under grace, not even adults are accountable for their behavior. Sin certainly has bad consequences. Sin can hurt you and others, and our sin grieves the Holy Spirit. But under grace you are neither qualified by your good behavior nor disqualified by your bad behavior.
Do you see? Because of Jesus, sin has been removed from the equation. No one is condemned on account of Adam’s sin, their parent’s sin, or even their own sin. The only thing that can condemn us is unbelief (John 3:18).
“Aha! Paul you have skewered yourself. Since babies are too young to believe, they must be lost!”
(ii) Babies are not unbelievers
Some say that babies will be judged according to the light of their revelation. This is silly. I can tell you that my six-week-old baby doesn’t have a lot of revelation beyond milk, nappies, and cuddles. What about a miscarried baby? How much revelation do they have?
Others say God looks into the baby’s future and judges them for what they would’ve done. This is ridiculous. The baby died. The baby didn’t do anything. How can a just God judge them for what they didn’t do?
The problem with these silly scenarios is they define faith as something you must do, so unbelief is doing nothing. Since babies do nothing, they must be unbelievers. But this is back to front.
In the Bible unbelief is described as a work. An unbeliever is someone who has rejected Jesus (John 3:36) and denied him as Lord (Jude 1:4). They have thrust away the word of God (Acts 13:46), suppressed the truth (Rom 1:18), and delighted in wickedness (2 Th 2:12). They have turned away (Heb 12:25), gone astray (2 Pet 2:15), and trampled the Son of God underfoot (Heb 10:29). Babies have done none of these things.
How does Jesus describe unbelievers? As evil-doers and workers of iniquity (Mat 7:23). Babies aren’t doers or workers of anything and they haven’t rejected Christ. Sure, they haven’t received him either, but it would be unjust to condemn someone for something they haven’t done.
Religion defines faith as a work, but true faith is a rest. And one thing babies are good at is resting! (When was the last time you saw a baby striving to be saved or sanctified?)
(iii) Grace is for the helpless
Jesus said that unless we become like little children we shall never enter the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18:17). What did he mean? Let’s look at his words in context:
People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:15-16)
Who were the children that Jesus called to himself? They weren’t well-behaved Sunday School kids who could recite the Ten Commandments. Nor were they children who had learned how to trust. They were babies. This is significant.
What is the defining characteristic of a human baby? What is the one thing that sets human babies apart from animal babies? It’s helplessness. We are spectacularly helpless when we are born. We can’t walk, swim, climb, hunt, stay warm, order pizza, or do anything on our own. A baby without help will surely die, no exceptions.
God made us this way to teach us something, which is this: We need help and he is our very great Helper. Grace is not for those who help themselves. Grace is for the helpless, and no one is more helpless than a baby. A baby is so helpless he can’t even ask for help! He can’t say the sinner’s prayer. He can’t respond to an altar call and say, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
If grace is for the helpless, then grace is for babies.
Jesus said you must change and become like a little child. We have been told this means “have childlike faith.” But babies don’t have a lot of faith, at least not that I can see. But what babies do have is the ability to receive. In fact, a baby is perfectly suited to receiving the one-way love that God gives. “Be like that,” says Jesus. “Humble yourself like a child and receive my Father’s unconditional love.”
What happens to babies and young children who die?
I will address the fourth fiction – those who don’t get a chance to respond to the gospel are lost – in my next article. But we now have enough revelation to answer the question above. What happens to babies and young children who die? Answer: They go to be with Jesus, every single one.
If you have lost an infant or child, I want you to be 100% certain about this. Don’t listen to those who would say your child is lost, but trust the One who said his kingdom belonged to such as these.
If we could see heaven right now we would find that it is full of the lost children of earth – deceased babies, HIV babies, aborted babies, miscarried babies, along with all the children who died on that plane last week. I don’t know what age they are in heaven, but I do know they are there.
How do I know? Because if grace is for anyone, it is for babies and children such as these.