Do all who die in infancy go to heaven?


Dawn Eden links to an interview about the Roman Church's view of the salvation of infants who die without baptism. In that system of doctrine, baptism is required for the washing away of original sin, and that has led their theologians to theorize variously that those dying without benefit of baptism are doomed to hell or consigned to limbo. The article reports that in October Pope John Paul II commissioned an in-depth study of the issue.

Plenty of Protestants have wrestled with this issue as well. I have wondered why it is that, given the higher rates of infant mortality that must have prevailed in Bible times, the Scriptures never deal directly with the fate of children dying in infancy or in the womb.

In looking at what great thinkers and preachers in the Reformed tradition have had to say about the subject, they consistently affirm that those dying in infancy are among God's elect, and by the saving work of Christ on the cross, they are welcomed into the presence of God. Some examples:

  • A sermon by Charles Spurgeon.
  • A section from Lorraine Boettner's Reformed Doctrine of Predesitination.
  • Thoughts from Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper.

Perhaps the clearest and most satisfying answer I've seen is this one by Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His answer seems to hinge on a key difference in the Catholic and Reformed understandings of the effects of original sin. Original sin is present in all of Adam's descendants, making us mortal and making us "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil." (That's from chapter 6 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. That link will take you to the annotated text with proofs from Scripture.) But when the Bible speaks of eternal judgment, we will be judged according to our deeds:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Although they share in the common corruption of the human race, that corruption has not come to fruition in those who die in infancy. On that ground, and on analogy with other scriptures, Mohler argues that these infants will be saved and therefore are evidently among the elect. This echoes a similar argument in a 1907 book, The Theology of Infant Salvation by R. A. Webb -- justice would not be satisfied if punishment were inflicted on one who could not understand the reason for punishment.

In the movie "Minority Report," the police determine who is going to commit a crime and arrest and punish the potential criminals before the crime is committed. God doesn't operate that way. He doesn't punish potential or likely or future disobedience, only actual disobedience. There's a passage -- can't remember exactly where at the moment -- that says that God waited until the wickedness of the Canaanites had reached its fullness before bringing the Israelites up from Egypt to conquer the land.

I've written more here than I intended, and less than I should to give this sensitive subject its due. To those who have lost a child in infancy, I offer this with a prayer that God will use these words to comfort you that your child is safe in His arms.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 20, 2004 1:08 AM.

Ohio ain't Ukraine was the previous entry in this blog.

Augustine v. Pelagius is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]