Everybody responds to God’s love and grace, one way or another. But what about those who die before they get a chance to respond?
To pick an extreme example, what about those Palestinian children who perished last week and who presumably never heard the gospel, never heard that God loves them, and never heard about Jesus? What about Israeli children who have been killed by suicide bombers? And what about the children caught up in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan? What happens to them?
In a recent article I asked the question, “What happens to babies who die?” It should be a simple question, but religion makes it complicated. Religion says it depends on original sin, the age of accountability, being judged in the light of current revelation, and so on. Grace simply says it depends on Jesus. Religion says babies are hell-bound brats, but grace says babies are treasures from heaven.
In that article I gave three reasons why babies go to be with the Lord. (1) Because of the cross, no one is condemned on account of sin, (2) babies are not unbelievers, evildoers, or workers of iniquity, and (3) grace is for the helpless, and there is no one more helpless than a baby.
In this article I want to give you a fourth reason why babies and children who die go to be with Jesus. Here it is: Those who can’t take the test, can’t fail the test.
Allow me to explain.
The gospel test
The gospel has traditionally been portrayed as a kind of admissions test, as in, return the right answer and you’ll gain entrance into the kingdom. (What is the right answer? For some it’s raising your hand, coming forward, repeating a prayer, getting water baptized, joining a church, etc.) The implication is that if you don’t take the test – if you return a blank test sheet – you won’t get in.
Let’s think about that for a minute. What happens to those who are unable to take the “gospel test”?
I worked in academia for 20+ years and I sat on countless exam boards. In all that time I can’t recall ever failing a student who was incapable of taking a test. If someone didn’t show up for an exam, perhaps because of illness or a family crisis, we gave them another chance. And if they couldn’t take the retest, we bent over backwards to help them pass. I can recall spending hours on panels looking for excuses to pass students who, for legitimate reasons beyond their control, weren’t able to sit a test.
And we think God is less gracious than a college exam board?! What’s wrong with that picture?
Bad news from Timbuktu
How would you react if the University of Timbuktu sent you the following letter:
Our records show that you did not attend the exam on Monday. Consequently you have been given an F for this course. This failing grade will go on your permanent record which will be made available to prospective employers.
If you got this letter, you’d wonder, Who are these people? and What is this exam I’m supposed to have taken? You would probably think somebody was playing a joke on you and you’d laugh. You’d show the letter to your friends and they’d laugh too.
So why isn’t anybody laughing when religion sends the same message about those who’ve never heard the gospel?
Religion: Those who can’t take the test, fail the test.
Common sense: Those who can’t take the test, can’t fail the test.
Grace: Jesus passed the test for you!
Religion is not only ungracious, it’s unjust for it would condemn the innocent and helpless. Grace, in contrast, says “the kingdom is for such as these.”
To be fair, many theologians are like the university exam board; they are looking for excuses to pass those whom religion condemns. Their brains are saying one thing, but their hearts are saying another. Unhappily, the result is confusion and uncertainty. Grieving parents are given mixed messages and are left wondering what has happened to their deceased children.
Eternity in their hearts
You don’t need to go to an evangelistic rally to hear the gospel. Read Don Richardson’s book Eternity in their Hearts and you will learn how isolated tribes and “unreached” people groups have an awareness of God’s grace that is supernatural. Study the etymology of Chinese characters and you will see they knew the gospel long before western missionaries showed up.
But I am not talking about men who are without excuse; I’m talking about children who die young. What happens to them? I don’t exactly know, but there are two things I’m sure of: (1) God has this figured out, and (2) he has more grace than a college exam board!
On this subject I can’t quote scripture and verse and say “the Bible says this.” Actually, the Bible says very little about life after death and what happens to dead children. But the Bible does say an awful lot about the goodness of God and it is him that I trust.
Are we so faithless to doubt that God hasn’t got this figured out? Do we really believe he will condemn those who died before they had a chance to respond to his love and grace?
The most populated country: Heaven
Religion would condemn billions of children giving us the impression that hell is full and heaven is relatively empty. But when I read the scriptures I wonder if it isn’t the other way around:
I looked, and there was an enormous crowd – no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They called out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10, GNB)
It is a mistake to think that 95% of humanity is going to be lost. Don’t underestimate God.
Heaven will be full of people from every tribe and nation, including Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians, Iraqis, and all the tribes that make up Afghanistan. And it will be full of children who died before they got an opportunity to respond to the gospel. I’m absolutely certain of this.
If you have lost a baby or child, you can be certain too. Don’t put your faith in religious arguments, but trust in your heavenly Father who loves his kids even more than you love yours.