Do Kids Really go to Heaven When They Die?

Posted on June 20, 2017 in Family, Theology by

child-prayingThe question of whether or not a child that dies goes to Heaven is one that needs a simple concise answer. Unfortunately, no such answer exists.

Any parent that has lost a child will immediately want to know whether their child is in Heaven or not. They will ask the pastor doing the funeral, or the devoted family friend, they will ask anyone that they think might be able to give a concise, simple answer to this question. Parents want the peace of knowing that in the midst of their tragedy, there is hope for their lost child.

I can understand wanting a measure of peace during a difficult time. It’s human nature to ask these questions and seek such peace and comfort. It is also human nature to offer such peace and comfort to grieving parents and family. We want to alleviate the suffering and grief of parents by assuring them that their child is now “in a better place.”

While we may have good intentions for our efforts to comfort grieving parents, Christians must make sure that their intentions, efforts, and words are based solely on Scripture. There is no real comfort in telling someone what cannot be supported by Scripture. So before we tell parents that their child is now in Heaven, we need to examine Scripture to determine whether that is true or not.

The traditional, somewhat historical position can be summed up in a statement by Sam Storms, writing at The Gospel Coalition, when he says:

“The view I embrace is that all those who die in infancy, as well as those so mentally incapacitated they’re incapable of making an informed choice, are among the elect of God, chosen for salvation before the world began.”

Storms admits that “The evidence for this view is scant, but significant,” before going on to cite numerous biblical passages and explaining how each one supports his statement. Indeed, it must be emphasized that there is not one specific verse that explicitly supports this view. Rather, what we have is a collection of verses from the Old and New Testaments that lead theologians like Sam Storms to conclude that “all those who die in infancy” will immediately go to Heaven.

Some of the verses cited by Storms in his belief that infants go to Heaven when they die include: Deut. 1:39; 2 Sam 12:15-23; Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:15. It would be wise to familiarize yourself with these verses and how they contribute to the context of the discussion.

The statement is often made by well-meaning Christians seeking to provide comfort: “your child didn’t understand right and wrong and was innocent, so she is now in Heaven.” I can appreciate the attempt to bring comfort, but, as I said earlier, even our efforts to bring comfort must be based on Scripture. Telling someone his or her child was “innocent” is not biblical.

Consider what an article at Back to the Bible states:

“Understanding sin is not required for being under the penalty of sin. Two passages in Psalms tell us about the true nature of children. One says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5). The other reads, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3). There are no exceptions. All of us are born with a sin nature; even though we have not yet done anything wrong, our nature is sinful. Every baby needs a Savior, just as every adult does.”

This statement sums up with the biblical position concerning sin and the nature of humanity and thus the nature of every person born. While we desperately want to believe that our child is innocent, the Bible clearly states that all people, even newborn children, are in fact sinners in need of a Savior.

The article goes on the answer questions often asked of pastors regarding children and salvation, including:

What About the Age of Accountability?

Does God Deal with Children the Way He Does with People who Have Never Heard the Gospel?

The article makes a good point that we all need to be aware of: the Bible doesn’t mention an age of accountability. Nowhere in Scripture is an “age of accountability” discussed, mentioned, or alluded to. We have to consider this a man-made structure concerning children and salvation. This means, trying to put a specific age where this “accountability” occurs is pointless because the Bible gives no such age. This also means putting our peace in an arbitrary age is equally pointless.

What we understand at this point is that children are not innocent; they are sinful and in need of a Savior, and the Bible does not speak of an “age of accountability.” Is our hope that infants and young children that die without professing Christ as Savior go to Heaven gone? I don’t think so.

I believe we can sum up the biblical position on this issue with a statement in an article at Grace To You, the teaching ministry of John MacArthur, which says:

“While infants and children have neither sensed their personal sin and need for salvation nor placed their faith in Christ, Scripture teaches that condemnation is based on the clear rejection of God’s revelation–whether general or specific–not simple ignorance of it (Luke 10:16; John 12:48; 1 Thess. 4:8).

“Can we definitely say that the unborn and young children have comprehended the truth displayed by God’s general revelation that renders them “without excuse” (Rom. 1:18-20)? They will be judged according to the light they received. Scripture is clear that children and the unborn have original sin–including both the propensity to sin as well as the inherent guilt of original sin. But could it be that somehow Christ’s atonement did pay for the guilt for these helpless ones throughout all time? Yes, and therefore it is a credible assumption that a child who dies at an age too young to have made a conscious, willful rejection of Jesus Christ will be taken to be with the Lord.”

It is biblical for Christians to believe that infants and young children (along with the mentally handicapped) will indeed go to Heaven upon their death. But we must be very clear and biblical in how we state our position. Therefore, when discussing this issue we should clearly communicate several things:

  1. All people, including children, are born with a sin nature and are not innocent.
    2. All people are accountable for their sin and in need of a Savior.
    3. Children do not consciously reject Christ.

Because of these factors I believe the Bible clearly indicates that children and the mentally handicapped will go to be with the Lord when they die. This is indeed a comforting truth that can bring peace to a grieving family. It is an act of God’s grace that the sins of the unborn, infants, and the mentally handicapped are atoned for and their election is secured. There is cause to praise God for this specific grace whereby the grieving can be comforted in a troubling time.

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