Do Infants Who Die Go to Heaven?
There are few things in life that hurt more than the loss of a young child. As someone who has experienced this personally, I’ve had to wrestle with the tough questions that come with that kind of experience. One of the questions that come up, especially for Bible-believing Christians, is what happens to babies who die? Do they automatically go to heaven?
It is a legitimate question, and one that can bring a great deal of comfort for grieving family members – provided, of course, that the answer is a favourable one.
The Bible doesn’t exactly have a go-to verse that answers this question directly, but it does give us some clues to help us sort it out.
Sinful at Birth
The Bible does seem to indicate that human beings are born sinful. What that means is that people are not born innocent and then later become guilty when they sin for the very first time, but rather that there is something of a sin nature that is inherited from a child’s parents. This seems to be the teaching in Romans 5, verses 12 and 18-19:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
In other words, the sin that Adam and Eve committed was not isolated. It had ripple effects, and those ripple effects are that the entire human race is born into sin. Similar ideas are conveyed elsewhere in Scripture. Psalm 51:5 is one prominent example.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
David, the author of this Psalm, is identifying himself as a sinner from birth. Therefore, we see that the consistent teaching of Scripture is that sin is less about what you do and more about who you are. It is not just an action, but a condition. And, it is a condition that is inherited in the womb.
More to the Story
If this is all the information that the Bible were to give us on this subject, the prospects would be less than encouraging. After all, sinners go to hell without salvation, and who is to say that infants are saved?
Thankfully, the Bible does give us a few clues that this might in fact be the case. For instance, consider what an angel says to Zechariah, when prophesying the birth of his son John the baptist in Luke chapter 1.
for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (vs. 14)
The consistent pattern of Scripture is that those who are filled with the Spirit are indeed children of God. They possess salvation, because the indwelling Holy Spirit is evidence of salvation in an individuals life (Ephesians 1:13, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 John 4:13). And, in this passage, we see an individual who possesses the Spirit even before being born.
However, it would be fair to ask the question, was this a one-time occurrence? Or is it a normative thing? Was it just for a special baby like John, or is it possible for other babies as well?
Unfortunately, we simply don’t know the answer for sure, because this is the only instance that Scripture makes clear where a pre-born child is Spirit-filled. However, there are at least two other instances in the Bible that seem to indicate that young children who pass away are indeed heaven-bound. One comes from the Old Testament, and one from the New.
King David’s Son
David famously (and rather sickeningly) slept with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and then had her husband murdered to try and cover it up. This twisted series of events gets only more disturbing when the son that Bathsheba bore David becomes ill and dies seven days later. Though it is unclear exactly how old the son is, the sequence as the text lays it out (with no gap in between stories) suggests that the boy is quite young, possibly still an infant.
What is significant about this story is David’s reaction to the death of his son. He says in 2 Samuel 12:23
“But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
The phrase “I shall go to him” implies a future reunion of some kind. Though this verse does not give any additional detail, we can infer from the rest of the Bible that he refers to a reunion in heaven, since David knew that his sins were forgiven by God (2 Samuel 12:13).
So, once again, we have another young child, perhaps even an infant, who apparently possesses salvation. Yet again, we can ask the question, is this an isolated occurrence? Or can we know if all infants and young children are covered by God’s grace in the event of death?
Jesus Loves the Little Children
This is where the New Testament comes in with additional light. There is an instance when Jesus was being approached by parents with young children so that he might pray for them. The disciples, probably thinking they are saving Jesus from annoyance, try to shoo the parents away. To this, Jesus responds with anger. Mark 10:14-16 explains:
But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Jesus’ words here are very significant, although difficult to interpret. Clearly he values children more than the disciples expected, but what does he mean by “to such belongs the kingdom of God”? The statement is clarified some by the next sentence, where Jesus seems to imply that the kind of faith that leads to salvation is childlike faith. But what about children who are too young to exercise faith? Though those who interpret the Bible do not all agree on this, I think we are wrong to overthink it. What about children who are not old enough to make decisions in regard to faith? The answer I would give is simply a quote: “To such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Based on the biblical data presented, I think it is fair to believe that children who are miscarried, stillborn, or die before the age of being able to make reasonable, independent decisions, are all saved by God’s grace in Christ. They go to heaven. Though I can’t be too dogmatic about it, because the issue is not laid out perfectly clear, it makes sense to me that God would extend grace to little ones. When the disciples tried to prevent children from coming to Jesus, he got mad about it, because evidently children belong close to him. He takes them in his arms and blesses them. This is the kind of affection that Jesus portrays towards children, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t be extended to include salvation of little ones who had no chance at faith.
Some might argue that this conclusion is biased, and perhaps that is partly true. Because I have lost a child, wouldn’t it be natural for me to want them to be in heaven? Could that be what drives my interpretation of Scripture? Possibly, but truth be told, I think not. There are sound reasons to believe that young children can be filled with the Holy Spirit, be reunited with loved ones in heaven, and belong in the kingdom of God. And, not only that they can be, but that they are.
In the end, God may not give us a clear answer because what he desires is for us to trust him. Though hints are given that we are right to have hope for our young ones, that does not negate the truth that we must trust God no matter what. His decisions are just, and therefore we can be confident with whatever he chooses to be fitting in any given situation. Personally, when I think of Jesus dying on the cross, I see a God who is willing to enter into the mess of humanity and seek resolution. I see a God who will move mountains to rescue people. Ultimately, I see a God who wins my trust. And in him I place my hope, not only for myself, but for my little ones as well.