A Question About Infants Who Die

On 15 Sep, Chad W. asked:

     “What is the Biblical response on the subject of where a child, infant or stillborn goes if they die?”



     Bottom line up front, dear brother: The Bible does not give us a definitive answer. The answer is, however, proffered in several ways, and that mostly with regard to the children of believers. These Biblical implications have led Christians to lean heavily toward the mercy of God in this most difficult matter from the beginning.

     Let’s talk David. David is by far one of the most fascinating characters in Scripture! What a paradox this man was. R.C. Sproul once said of him: “When he was good he was really good; when he was bad he was really bad.” Against one of his noble soldiers, for example, he was very bad. Here's the background: Uriah’s out at war for Israel. David lusted after his wife, Bathsheba, essentially raped and impregnated her, first concocted an elaborate scheme to cover up his sin by bringing her husband home from war in Rabbah and getting him drunk to lie with her, but when Uriah is too noble to relax because his troops are still out sleeping in the fields at war, David then sends him back to Rabbah with orders that his superiors put him into the heat of battle so that he’ll die. They do and he does. David then takes his wife for himself. Yikes! God was not pleased, 2 Samuel 11:27.

     The principal passage most often used to speak of God’s mercy as given to a child is in the case of King David’s son, the one born to him from this sin with Bathsheba. This infant is struck by God, becomes ill and soon dies. The story of the child’s death is in 2 Samuel 12, and begins following Nathan’s rebuke of David for this massive evil. David’s heart after this rebuke is seen in Psalm 51. It is noteworthy that the child comes under God’s immediate wrath. It does not say, as in the case of Job, that God allowed Satan to attack the child. The Scriptures clearly say that “The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill,” 2 Samuel 12:15b. The child dies. Here’s the rest of the story:


So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped…his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me, 2 Samuel 12:20-23.


     It’s the “I shall go to him” part that leads us to see that in David’s mind he will one day again be with his son. It’s evident from the writings of David that he sees himself in heaven with God after his own death, Psalm 17:15, 23:6. Therefore we conclude that David sees his infant son in heaven as well. This is a principle passage, and strongly communicates some of the only direct articulation on the subject we have in the Bible.

     David knew he’d sinned. He doesn’t accuse God of wrong. In fact, “…He went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” Wow! David’s confident expectation of reunion with this child through his misery is what leads us to conclude with him that children, even those surely stricken by God, are received by Him. If this reasoning is pure, and I believe it is, it shows that though it was God who struck the child, it is God who received the child. Then we see that those who know God can always hope in His mercy. Job said something similar very well in Job 13:15 in full and amazing submission to God. I see the surety of mercy over and above the natural events again in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where a named brother who has committed a dastardly sin is put out of the church and delivered to Satan so that, if need be, he may be destroyed but yet still saved eternally by God. Though his flesh may be destroyed, his spirit may yet be saved. What I mean to say here is that whether it’s a child or an adult, God can and does receive the slain…even those He slays. That the flesh may die, but the soul may still live to God. We can hope in this because of God's love and mercy.

     Wayne Grudem comments in his book Systematic Theology, pg. 500, that, “If such infants are to be saved, it cannot be on their own merits, or on the basis of their own righteousness or innocence, but it must be entirely on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work and regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit within them.” He shows where the Bible speaks of God’s extension of mercy, with its few exceptions (like Absalom or Esau) to the seed of the faithful solely for the faith of their parents. This point alone is indeed well illustrated in Scripture. He cites Genesis 7:1; Hebrews 11:7; Joshua 2:18; Psalm 103:17; John 4:53; Acts 2:39; 11:14; 16:31; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16; 7:14; Titus 1:6; Matthew 18:10, 14. Grudem uses these, along with John the Baptist’s example of being “from the womb” filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15) to show that God can and does indeed regenerate infants. He gives other examples as well. He couches his reasoning in a broader discussion of the Scriptural implications of God’s possible mercy to all infants, but responsibly reminds us that Scripture is silent regarding such regenerative work in the children of unbelievers, while often not silent with regard to believers.

     The London Baptist Confession of 1689 (LBCF) in article 10.3 says, “Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” To support this they cite John 3:3, 5, 6, 8. They do this to resign all salvation to God’s choice where it should be anyway. C.H. Spurgeon tweaked the LBCF just a tad and removed the word “elect” at the start of this article and would therefore have it read, “Infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ…” He here leaves the article a bit more broad. When both speak of those, “…who are incapable of being outwardly called…” what they mean is the mentally retarded or those otherwise impaired beyond cognitive capacity. No matter what, the only way to heaven is through Christ. This is true both before and after the cross, and of infants and of the impaired.


My conclusions:


     Scripture says that election is completely without regard to works done by us whether good or evil, (hence LBCF 10.2). We see this without ambiguity with Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11-13. Their works, good or bad, were not the reason for the outcome of their lives or their election. It is not about our qualities. This must be true regarding the works of our parents also. If we cannot be saved by our own works, how much more the works of others? Election is always God’s choice! What a blessing to us that He often extends it through the seed of those in love with Him! Scripture’s clear discourse then of God’s mercy being given to the children of believers, in my mind, should not discount the likeliness of it to the children of non-believers as well (whose kids fall into the same categories of which we speak here). Having said this, like any Bible student, I must remind myself to take caution where God is silent! There are more reasons than this for me to believe as I do.

     Here’s a big one for me: There is always personal accountability even under God’s election. The professing atheist, just like the heathen who’s never even heard of Jesus are likewise without excuse because they have both rejected and sinfully suppressed everything they know of God, and lived contrary to all that which is right within them, Romans 1:20; 2:15. As I’ve said here, election is God’s business. He decides who goes to heaven; we don’t. The mystery here, however, is that those who do evil do that which pleases them. Even if the Arminian was right, all would deserve hell just the same as if God had nothing to do with election. Sinners are not coerced against their nature. No one goes to hell who truly wanted to go to heaven! No one goes to heaven who didn’t truly want to. Sinners over whom God will pass and not save having thereby predestined them to hell will be judged because they sinned. They will receive justice, and nothing but justice. At the end of their lives, at the judgment, they will not be condemned for God’s sake alone. They will be condemned because they fully deserve it. Their deeds will be judged, Revelation 20:12. They will be condemned because they sinned. Those guilty (such as Esau) are accountable in the end for their sin. We can never disregard the sins they commit, or what the LBCF calls “Actual transgressions” (section 6.4) from the equation. Therefore we must conclude that though condemnation is not dependent on works, it is also, by the necessity of secondary causes, never devoid of them. John Piper supports my line of reasoning here in this Youtube clip.

     So, what actual transgressions will infants stand guilty of before God? Yes they are dead in Adam’s sin (Psalm 58:3; Romans 5:12) but God does not hold children eternally guilty for the sins of the parents. Temporally, yes, children suffer and/or are killed here on earth for the sins of their parents. We see this whenever the young die such as in the flood of Noah’s day, the conquest of Canaan, the Tower of Babel, etc., but there’s a whole eternity after this life that matters a lot more. In the eternal sense, each soul answers for itself. An infant, like the totally impaired, does not then qualify for the plan of redemption. They cannot live contrary to their conscience, creation and the Lord as all do who live. Their election then, I say, is always unto life. In this God receives great glory. He demonstrates mercy to the helpless, and is a Father to the fatherless. He extends mercy to those that He Himself has obviously appointed to die in infancy and takes them unto Himself.

     This is my confession of grace in this difficult matter. There is nothing contrary to this in Scripture that I know of. Life is God’s. He can do with it what He wills. If He wished to condemn from all eternity a person who dies in infancy then that is His prerogative, however, I don’t read this anywhere in Scripture. I read the opposite both directly with regard to some, and indirectly with regard to all. I would hope that any parent who’s lost a child could have the same assurances that David did. The assurance of God’s sovereignty does not remove the sting of death yet in this life, but it does turn the face of the stricken heavenward to a good God who holds not just this life, but all of eternity in His hands.

     Jesus told His faithful: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows,” Matthew 10:29-31. 


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