TheoThought 300

David W. Hegg

 

The Plight of Infants Who Die

 

Introduction: It has long been known that “theology has its consequences.” As we have seen, both the guilt and corruption that stem from Adam’s sin have been passed along to all his posterity. All come into this world both guilty of sin, and guaranteed to sin as a result.

 

But this raises significant questions. What about those who die in infancy, before attaining the maturity to hear and believe? And what of those with a diminished capacity who never reach an intelligence level necessary to understand the Gospel and express faith? Further, what about those down through history who never heard the Gospel at all?

 

1. What happens to infants who die?

 

We are all aware of the agony felt when a baby dies. This question has both theological and experiential importance and must not be answered with sentiment alone.

 

A. Theories: (Adapted from Sam Storm’s excellent summary article; see under Resources)

 

1) Infants are born innocent and morally neutral: Those who do not believe Adam’s guilt and/or corruption are passed on to his posterity state that all infants who die go to live with God simply because they never did anything sinful. There is nothing on their account that would necessitate the judgment of God. Their natures are like Adam’s before sin. They carry the propensity to sin perhaps, but it is never activated experientially. As we have seen, this goes against the overwhelming teaching of Scripture.

 

Psa. 51.5  Behold,  I was brought forth in iniquity,   and in sin did my mother conceive me.

 

Psa. 58.3    The wicked are  estranged from the womb;   they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

 

Prov. 22.15  Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,   but  the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

 

Job 15.14   What is man,  that he can be pure?   Or he who is  born of a woman, that he can be righteous? 15  Behold, God   puts no trust in his  holy ones,   and the heavens are not pure in his sight; 16   how much less one who is abominable and  corrupt,   a man who  drinks injustice like water!

 

Eph. 2.3 among whom we all once lived in  the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body  and the mind, and  were by nature  children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

 

2) Universalism: All infants who die are immediately taken into the loving presence of God because God’s desire is that none should perish. Consequently, eventually all humanity will be saved through Christ. There will be no eternal judgment. Hell is merely a metaphorical picture of what we deserve, but God’s grace overwhelms all sin, and extends to all of humanity.

 

Matt. 7.13    “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy  that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and  the way is hard that leads to life, and  those who find it are few.

 

Matt. 7.21    “Not everyone who  says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will  enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who  does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22  On that day  many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not  prophesy in your name, and cast out demons  in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23  And then will I declare to them, ‘I  never knew you;  depart from me,  you workers of lawlessness.’

 

Matt. 8.11 I tell you,  many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12  while the sons of the kingdom  will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place  there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 

Matt. 10.28 And  do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him  who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

Matt. 13.37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is  the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are  the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.  The harvest is  the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds  are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at  the end of the age. 41  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all  causes of sin and  all law-breakers, 42  and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place  there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Luke 16.23 and in  Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and  saw Abraham far off and Lazarus  at his side. 24 And he called out,  ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and  cool my tongue, for  I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that  you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

 

2Th. 1.9 They will suffer the punishment of  eternal destruction,  away from  the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

 

Jude 6 And  the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—

 

Rev. 14.10 he also will drink  the wine of God’s wrath,  poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and  he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  11 And  the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and  they have no rest, day or night, these  worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

 

Rev. 20.11   Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence  earth and sky fled away, and  no place was found for them.  12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and  books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is  the book of life. And  the dead were judged by what was written in the books,  according to what they had done.  13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it,  Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them,  according to what they had done.  14 Then  Death and Hades  were thrown into the lake of fire. This is  the second death, the lake of fire.  15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life,  he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

 

3) Post-Mortem salvation: Some believe that those dying before reaching sufficient maturity to hear and believe the Gospel are given a “second chance” after death. God grants them sufficient intellectual ability, presents the Gospel, and those believing are saved while those who reject are condemned. This theory has no biblical support, and actually does not lessen the anxiety over a lost child since the possibility exists that their infant may reject the gospel.

 

Heb. 9.27 And just as  it is appointed for man to die once, and  after that comes judgment,

 

4) Salvation through baptism: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and some other faith communities within Christianity believe that, through baptism, God grants cleansing from original sin, and grants spiritual life by means of a valid baptism. Infants who are baptized and die are accepted by God as regenerate. However, several biblical texts teach that salvation comes through faith, and not any work. It is impossible to say that baptism is not a “work.”

 

Eph. 2.8 For  by grace you have been saved  through faith. And this is  not your own doing;  it is the gift of God,  9  not a result of works,  so that no one may boast.

 

Titus 3.5 he saved us,  not because of works done by us in righteousness, but  according to his own mercy, by  the washing of regeneration and  renewal of the Holy Spirit,

 

5) Eternal limbo: At various time in history Roman Catholicism has unofficially taught that infants who die pass immediately into an eternal peace that is something short of heavenly existence. There is no biblical support for such a teaching.

 

6) Salvation through believing parents: Some in Christianity have postulated that infants of believing parents are counted as part of the covenant community. This is prevalent in the Reformed denominations where infant baptism, while coming short of regeneration, nevertheless confers the promise and seal of salvation upon the infant. As such, if they die before reaching a sufficient intellectual state, they go to be with God.

 

7) Salvation through sovereign election: Some Reformed theologians suggest that the sovereign, electing love of God can not be thwarted, even by death. Thus, some dying infants – being elect – are saved, and those not elected by God to salvation are not. Again, this has no strict biblical support and falls short of being pastorally beneficial for grieving parents.

 

8) All Infants who die are elect: This is the most popular theory among current Evangelical Reformed leaders. They include John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, and Sam Storms. The following arguments are taken from Are Those Who Die In Infancy Saved?

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/are-those-who-die-in-infancy-saved

 

The view that I embrace is that all those dying in infancy, as well as those so mentally incapacitated that they are incapable of making an informed choice, are among the elect of God chosen by him for salvation before the world began. The evidence for this view is scant, but significant.

 

“First, in Romans 1:20 Paul describes people who are recipients of general revelation as being 'without excuse.' Does this imply that those who are not recipients of general revelation (i.e., infants) are therefore not accountable to God or subject to wrath? In other words, those who die in infancy have an "excuse" in that they neither receive general revelation nor have the capacity to respond to it.

 

But: Paul begins by saying that “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

 

• Paul insists that all unrighteousness sits under the wrath of God. This would include inherited sin and corruption.

 

• Paul also declares that this unrighteouness suppresses the truth that God has revealed. So, the problem isn’t that some may not understand general revelation, but that no one understands general revelation! No one, regardless of their age and intellect understands what God is revealing in creation. The reason for creation is not to bring about salvation but to demonstrate through their suppression of it that all are unrighteous. This text has no bearing on the subject of this lesson.

 

“Second, there are texts which appear to assert or imply that infants do not know good or evil and hence lack the capacity to make morally informed and thus responsible choices. According to Deut. 1:39 they are said to 'have no knowledge of good or evil.' This in itself, however, would not prove infant salvation, for they may still be held liable for the sin of Adam.

 

“Third, is the story of David's son in 2 Sam. 12:15-23 (esp. v. 23). The first-born child of David and Bathsheba was struck by the Lord and died. In the seven days before his death, David fasted and prayed, hoping that "the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live" (v. 22). Following his death, David washed himself, ate food, and worshipped (v. 20). When asked why he responded in this way, he said that the child "has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (v. 23). What does it mean when David says "I shall go to him?" If this is merely a reference to the grave or death, in the sense that David, too, shall one day die and be buried, one wonders why he would say something so patently obvious! Also, it appears that David draws some measure of comfort from knowing that he will "go to him." It is the reason why David resumes the normal routine of life. It appears to be the reason David ceases from the outward display of grief. It appears to be a truth from which David derives comfort and encouragement. How could any of this be true if David will simply die like his son? It would, therefore, appear that David believed he would be reunited with his deceased infant. Does this imply that at least this one particular infant was saved? Perhaps. But if so, are we justified in constructing a doctrine in which we affirm the salvation of all who die in infancy?

 

(But: 1Sam. 28.19 Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you  and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”)

 

“Fourth, there is consistent testimony of Scripture that people are judged on the basis of sins voluntary and consciously committed in the body. See 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 20:11-12. In other words, eternal judgment is always based on conscious rejection of divine revelation (whether in creation, conscience, or Christ) and willful disobedience. Are infants capable of either? There is no explicit account in Scripture of any other judgment based on any other grounds. Thus, those dying in infancy are saved because they do not (cannot) satisfy the conditions for divine judgment.

 

But … the fact that God judges our willful sin doesn’t equate to the fact that he doesn’t judge sin that we do unintentionally. Also, it is erroneous to suggest that unbelievers “consciously reject divine revelation” when Romans 1:18ff clearly states that such revelation is “suppressed” due to their unrighteousness. To be rejected such revelation would first have to be understood, which it is not due to unrighteousness.

 

“Fifth, and related to the above point, is what R. A. Webb states. If a deceased infant

"were sent to hell on no other account than that of original sin, there would be a good reason to the divine mind for the judgment, but the child's mind would be a perfect blank as to the reason of its suffering. Under such circumstances, it would know suffering, but it would have no understanding of the reason for its suffering. It could not tell its neighbor - it could not tell itself - why it was so awfully smitten; and consequently the whole meaning and significance of its sufferings, being to it a conscious enigma, the very essence of penalty would be absent, and justice would be disappointed of its vindication. Such an infant could feel that it was in hell, but it could not explain, to its own conscience, why it was there" (The Theology of Infant Salvation [Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1981], 288-89).

 

This is a logical and philosophical argument that is cogent and compelling. However, by itself it cannot overcome the obstacles inherent in this theory. It is still necessary to answer the question of how inherited sin and guilt are removed if not through repentance and faith in Christ.

 

“Sixth, we have what would appear to be clear biblical evidence that at least some infants are regenerate in the womb, such that if they had died in their infancy they would be saved. This at least provides a theoretical basis for considering whether the same may be true of all who die in infancy. That is to say, "if this sort of thing happens even once, it can certainly happen in other cases" (Ronald Nash, When a Baby Dies [Zondervan, 1999], 65). These texts include Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15.

 

But … Again we are asked to speculate on what would have happened if Jeremiah or John the Baptist had died in the womb. But, the whole purpose of these texts is to show that God had already determined these men would play a specific role in his plan of redemption. Given this, it was impossible for them to die in the womb. It could just as easily be said that all those infants dying in the womb were not in God’s plan at all (which I would never say, but mention only as evidence that this argument is not only baseless but cannot bear the weight of its own consequences.)

 

“Seventh, some have appealed to Matthew 19:13-15 (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17) where Jesus declares, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' Is Jesus simply saying that if one wishes to be saved he/she must be as trusting as children, i.e., devoid of skepticism and arrogance? In other words, is Jesus merely describing the kind of people who enter the kingdom? Or is he saying that these very children were recipients of saving grace? But if the latter were true, it would seem to imply that Jesus knew that the children whom he was then receiving would all die in their infancy. Is that credible?

 

But … Storms has himself offered the proper understanding of these texts. Jesus is speaking about faith, and using children whose trust is pure as examples. The key here is Jesus is underscoring the necessity of faith, and of a particular kind of faith. There is no sense here that these children are granted salvation apart from faith.

 

“Eighth, Millard Erickson argues for the salvation of deceased infants in an unusual way. He argues that notwithstanding Adam's sin, there must be a conscious and voluntary decision on our part to embrace or ratify it. Until such is the case, the imputation of Adam's sin to his physical posterity, as is also true of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to his spiritual posterity, is conditional. Thus, prior to reaching the "age of accountability" all infants are innocent. When and in what way does this ratification of Adam's sin come about? Erickson explains:

"We become responsible and guilty when we accept or approve of our corrupt nature. There is a time in the life of each one of us when we become aware of our own tendency toward sin. At that point we may abhor the sinful nature that has been there all the time. We would in that case repent of it and might even, if there is an awareness of the gospel, ask God for forgiveness and cleansing. . . . But if we acquiesce in that sinful nature, we are in effect saying that it is good. In placing our tacit approval upon the corruption, we are also approving or concurring in the action in the Garden of Eden so long ago. We become guilty of that sin without having to commit a sin of our own" (Christian Theology, 2:639).

 

“But there are at least two problems with this.

 

First, if we are born with a corrupt and sinful nature, as Erickson concedes we are, our willing ratification of Adam's transgression and the guilt and corruption of nature which are its effects is itself an inevitable effect of the corrupt nature to which we are now ostensibly giving our approval. In other words, how else could a person who is born corrupt and wicked respond but in a corrupt and wicked way, namely, by ratifying Adam's sin? If Erickson should suggest that such a response is not inevitable, one can only wonder why it is that every single human being who ever lived (except Jesus) ratifies and embraces the sin of Adam and its resultant corruption of nature. Surely someone, somewhere would have said No. Erickson would have to argue that at the point when each soul becomes morally accountable it enters a state of complete moral and spiritual equilibrium, in no way biased by the corruption of nature and wicked disposition with which it was born.

 

But that leads to the second problem, for it would mean that each of us experiences our own Garden of Eden, as it were. Each human soul stands its own probation at the moment the age of moral accountability is reached. But if that is so, what is the point of trying to retain any connection at all between what Adam did and who/what we are? If ultimately I become corrupt by my own first choice, what need is there of Adam? And if I am corrupt antecedent to that first choice, we are back to square one: my guilt and corruption inherited from Adam, the penal consequence of his choice as the head and representative of the race.

 

“Ninth, an argument that is entirely subjective in nature (and therefore of questionable evidential value) may be noted. We must ask the question: Given our understanding of the character of God as presented in Scripture, does He appear as the kind of God who would eternally condemn infants on no other ground than that of Adam's transgression? Admittedly, this is a subjective (and perhaps sentimental) question. But it deserves an answer, nonetheless.

 

But … the answer is “yes.” The best example is God’s judgment in Genesis 6-9 consisting in the flood. The flood was indiscriminate as a preview of God’s right to judge all those who come into this world guilty and corrupt because of Adam. While we are not specifically told that there were infants, and those of diminished capacity among those who perished, it is absurd to assume that all those dying in the flood were of sound mind, and had attained to sufficient maturity to know right from wrong. 

 

God could have saved more than the 8 in Noah’s family, but chose not to. That is his choice, and being God, all he does is both right and best.

 

Personally speaking, I find the first, third, fourth, fifth, and ninth points convincing. Therefore, I do believe in the salvation of those dying in infancy. I affirm their salvation, however, neither because they are innocent nor because they have merited God's forgiveness but solely because God has sovereignly chosen them for eternal life, regenerated their souls, and applied the saving benefits of the blood of Christ to them apart from conscious faith.”

 

B. Questions and Concerns:

 

1) When does infancy end? When does a child first sin? When does a child become accountable?

 

This is a huge question, and has never been successfully answered. Consequently, all theories that rely on an “age of accountability” actually fail in practice.

 

2) Are infants reckoned as having sinned before they can understand the gravity of their actions?

 

We know that it is possible to sin without knowledge, as in breaking a speed limit that was not recognized by the driver. Ignorance of the law is never understood to remove guilt for breaking the law.

 

3) Is there a means, other than personal faith in Jesus, whereby the guilt of sin is removed in and through Jesus Christ?

 

This is the biggest problem all theories must over come. It is clear that Scripture aggressively argues for only one way of salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith plus or minus nothing.

 

Acts 4.12 And there is  salvation  in no one else, for  there is no other  name under heaven given among men  by which we must be saved.”

 

John 14.6 Jesus said to him, “I am  the way, and  the truth, and  the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

John 6.37  All that  the Father gives me will come to me, and  whoever comes to me I will never cast out … 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

 

It is clear that salvation is a work of God the Father as he draws people to God the Son. The consistent teaching of Scripture is that this “drawing” culminates in personal faith. If there is another way, the Bible doesn’t speak to it, define it or anywhere suggest it.

 

Also, if there is a “second way” by which the guilt of Adam is erased in his posterity, this opens a “Pandora’s Box” of possibilities concerning the means by which salvation may be attained. This effectively does away with the idea that faith is necessary for salvation since, if it isn’t necessary in some instances (eg. infants) then how can we be sure it is always necessary in other situations?

 

4) Does election equal salvation even before faith is expressed?

 

The most appealing theory that all infants who die are elect, and so are saved, equates God’s decree to elect with the actual application of Christ’s work to the individual. It equates election with salvation even though repentance and faith are not present.

 

While it is true that God’s elective decree is guaranteed and cannot be altered, the Scripture nowhere equates election with salvation. Election is God’s plan, but Scripture insists that those who are elect will display it through repentance, faith, and good works.

 

John 6.37  All that  the Father gives me will come to me, and  whoever comes to me I will never cast out … 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

 

It is clear here that “coming” to Christ means responding positively to the Gospel. This indicates that all the elect (“all that the Father gives me”) will evidence God’s elective love in their lives by their “coming” (repentance and faith).

 

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God  must believe that he exists and  that he rewards those who seek him.

 

Romans 10:8-17 But what does it say?  “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);  9 because, if  you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and  believe in your heart  that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  11 For the Scripture says,  “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  12  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;  for the same Lord is Lord of all,  bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  13 For  “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14   How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him  of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear  without someone preaching?  15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  16 But  they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says,  “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  17 So  faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

 

C. One More Idea (Adapted from When Infants Die, Then What? https://david-hegg.squarespace.com/davidhegg/2014/6/16/when-infants-die-then-what

 

“One of the most frequent, and most difficult questions I am asked is this: What is the eternal future of those who die in infancy? Consider these thoughts:

 

1) The question (what happens to infants who die, or others who never reach an intellectual capacity necessary for saving faith) is not easily answered simply because there are a host of theological issues involved.

 

2) Here’s what we know for sure:

 

a) Every individual born except Jesus comes into the world with inherited guilt from Adam (Romans 5:12) as well as their own intrinsic sin nature.

 

b) As far as God has revealed in Scripture, the only way the inherited guilt is taken away is through faith in Christ.

 

c) If there is another way inherited guilt is taken away, God has not told us.

 

3) Given these facts, there are three ways to come to the conclusion that these infants are regenerated by God and taken to heaven:

 

a) We could say that there is no inherited guilt, but only the sin nature, and that guilt only happens when sin actually occurs, and that infants are unable to sin until such time as they can understand punishment for sin. That is, until they are intellectually capable of understanding accountability for sin, God does not consider their actions to be sinful. Thus, until they reach a certain age, they are innocent, and dying as innocents they go to heaven. 

 

There are problems with this view as follows:

 

• The Bible seems clear that guilt is inherited from Adam’s sin as a function of human nature (Ps. 51:5).

 

• There is no teaching anywhere in the Bible that would lead us to believe that sinful acts are not accounted as sinful acts unless the perpetrator understands they are sinful. The request in Ps. 19:12,13 indicates that there are things we do that are sinful even though we think they are okay. A depraved conscience will often engage in things it thinks are good when they are not.

 

• There are real problems with an “age of accountability” doctrine. What age is it? How do we know? At what age does an infant understand right and wrong? It is impossible to tell, but I am of the belief that it happens at a very young age. My kids all showed signs of pride and stubbornness at during their first year.

 

b) Covenantalism: A second way to argue that infants who die go to heaven is to assume that there is another way, other than personal faith in Christ, for inherited guilt to be taken out of the way. The most prominent of these is espoused by the truly Reformed folks who believe that the faith of the parents holds the infants until they are old enough to express their own. They believe that children born to parents of faith are in the covenant until they reject their baptism (infants are baptized as a sign of inclusion in the covenant of God). Thus, baptized infants dying in infancy are “saved” on the basis of their parents’ faith, and their own inclusion in the covenant.

 

c) Pluralism: this view also believes that there is another way, other than personal faith in Christ, for inherited guilt to be taken out of the way. They would say that God’s mercy prohibits him from punishing infants for their sin because they could never comprehend the justice of the punishment, making the punishment of no use to the sinner.

 

Further, they would say that the “wideness in God’s mercy” applies also to places where the Gospel never reaches, and that this “wideness” means that all people, not just infants, may be accounted right with God through means other than personal faith. Roman Catholicism takes this route and says that “those who live out the dictates of their conscience and strive to live the best life they can” are also granted forgiveness.

 

The problem here, of course, is that once you grant that there is another way to deal with inherited guilt other than personal faith in Jesus Christ, you open Pandora’s Box and suddenly no longer believe in the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ and salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

 

So, where does that leave us? Here’s my view:

 

I don’t know what happens to infants who die because the Bible is not clear on this. Further, I am glad I don’t know because:

 

1) If I knew for sure that all babies dying go to hell for their sins I would be in despair, and would have to constantly fight against my anger at God for what seems unjust.

 

2) If I knew for sure that all babies dying go to heaven I would have to consciously re-think my total opposition to abortion since it would have to be seen as the mechanism that is populating heaven to a great extent. But, this would be ridiculous to live with as well!

 

So, I end up saying that God knows, and God always does what is best and right in every situation, including this one. I do believe that I can tell grieving parents that they have every right to rejoice, even in the death of their children, knowing that their Heavenly Father will do what is best and in keeping with his perfection, and that his love carries us even in these dark times.”

 

2. What about those with diminished capacity?

 

It would seem logical that whatever theory one adopts to deal with the issue of infants dying would also apply to those who attain physical maturity but whose intellectual capacity is so diminished as to render them incapable of repentance and faith.

 

But again, there are practical problems here:

 

How do we measure capacity? How diminished is “too” diminished? Can those with diminished capacity still break God’s law, and if so, is there another way to escape guilt other than faith in Christ?

 

3. What about the unevangelized?

 

Here is where the consequences of our choices regarding infants come into play.

 

1) If we have decided that God saves infants on some other basis than repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, then we must extend the same possibility to those who have never heard the gospel.

 

2) If we believe that, once folks hear the gospel and dis having rejected it, they are condemned eternally, then we have a serious dilemma.

 

• Would it be better not to send missionaries to unreached people groups on the chance that they could be saved apart from faith and repentance, but condemned if we bring the gospel and they reject it? This is especially challenging given the fact that, in every society, unbelief generally greatly outnumbers belief.

 

3) But Scripture is clear that to call on the Lord savingly it is necessary to hear, and for folks to hear, we have to send proclaimers.

 

Romans 10:13-17 For  “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14   How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him  of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear  without someone preaching?  15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  16 But  they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says,  “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

 

Summary: The questions of the plight of infants who die, those with diminished capacity, and the unevangelized are not easy ones. Sentimentally we long to say that God’s mercy is always aligned with our human sense of fairness. Theologically, we must admit that Scripture does not allow us to affirm that to which it does not speak, and deny that to which it speaks clearly.

 

Scripture teaches that all carry Adam’s sin and corruption from conception. It also teaches that this stain and guilt can be washed away and no longer held against us if we repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ.

 

If there is another means of salvation apart from repentance and faith, the Bible does not describe it or even mention it.

 

Consequently, we are best served to go only as far as the Scripture goes. This does allow us to trust in the goodness, holiness, and justice of God regardless of the circumstances but it does not give us strong reasons to presume on these attributes in ways that cannot be proven from Scripture in order to interpret our circumstances in ways that satisfy our sentimentality.

 

Resources

 

Articles

 

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-happens-to-infants-who-die

 

 

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/are-those-who-die-in-infancy-saved

 

 

http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/07/16/the-salvation-of-the-little-ones-do-infants-who-die-go-to-heaven/