The subject matter today is highly speculative: the fate of preborn and born babies who experience death. I consider this topic to be speculative because I know of no scriptures which specifically treat the subject of the destiny of the souls of those persons who die in infancy or who are miscarried or aborted.
Thus, I would never address this topic—as a matter of doctrine--from the pulpit. But you are reading “Just Thinking (and writing),” not “Just Preaching (and writing);” and so we contemplate the question: Do dead babies (born and preborn) go to heaven or hell?
Some state, rather matter-of-factly, that all babies who die go to hell. They say this because they understand that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and they do not believe that babies have this saving faith.
Others offer that only babies of unbelievers go to hell, while the babies of believers go to heaven. Many go so far as to allege that the preborn and born babies of believers do in fact have saving faith; that somehow they “trust” God for their salvation. In other words, these babies, should they live and grow, will have no need to be born again, for they are born saved.
In effort to make the case for baby-faith more palatable, appeal is usually made to Psalm 22:9. The verse reads, “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.” Using this as a proof-text the baby-faith proponent offers, “See…covenant community babies have saving faith even in infancy.”
But is Psalm 22 to be interpreted as normative? Hardly. This psalm is entirely—start to finish—Messianic. Baby-faithers apply verse 9 to their own infants, but do they also apply verse 18 to them? “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). I doubt they do!
Or what of verse 14, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me”? No. Psalm 22 is not properly applied to believers in general, but rather to Christ in particular. I would no more claim Psalm 22:9 is true of my babies than I would that they were born of a virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate.
So it seems the baby-faithers who claim, “My children and I were born with saving faith,” have a hermeneutical problem.
Then they also have an experiential problem. The experiential problem is namely this: We know you and your children and we ain’t buyin’ it. That is, you and your children need or needed to be born again, to be converted, no less than me and my children!
Because I don’t believe in baby-faith, must I believe that all babies who die go to hell? I don’t think so. The following is my rationale for saying that there is a basis to believe that dead babies need not suffer damnation. Let me again be abundantly clear: I am “just thinking” not preaching. Okay?
To begin, I would point out that there is a difference between election and what we typically mean by salvation. According to scripture I was elected or chosen by God before the foundation of the world, “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Yet I was not saved or converted or born again until I was ten years old [quite some time after the foundation of the world].
In other words, we are elected in eternity past but we are born again, converted, or saved in space and time. We are elected in eternity past “according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Thus, election is not based upon faith but solely upon God’s purpose or decretive will.
Is it reasonable that a preborn or born baby may be elect but not converted or born again--elect but not full of baby-faith? (This was certainly the case with me.) If an elect preborn or born baby dies, will God mercifully receive him/her unto Himself—not because of his/her being born again or converted but on the basis of His election of grace? This does not seem unreasonable to me.
Secondly, when I consider the dynamic between preborn/born babies and sin I think of it thus: We are born sinners but we are not born sinning. (I’ve heard a tiny minority argue—as did Augustine—that babies do indeed sin. This notion seems bizarre and contradictory of Jonah 4:11 and Romans 9:11.)
To be sure we are not born neutral or innocent or pure. We are born sinners by nature. But are we, as preborn/born babies, sinners by choice? That is, do babies enact their wills to transgress God’s law? “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Do preborn/born babies willfully transgress the Law of God? Are they immoral when they awaken their exhausted parents just because they’re hungry or startled? Are they being sinfully selfish?
(Please note: I am not speaking of children who have the mental/moral capacity to lie, disrespect/disobey their mommy and daddy, or hurt others; I am referring to preborn/born babies.)
Hence, I think it germane to our conversation to distinguish between sinful nature and sinful behavior. Because of Adam’s sin we are born with a sinful nature, a propensity for evil. We are born sinners. But is the sinner damned to hell because of Adam’s sin? It seems the sinner shall be judged, not for the sins of Adam, but for his own transgressions of the law.
“And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:12). What evil works have preborn/born babies committed? It would seem the answer to that question is “none.” (In so saying, we are not denying or even addressing our sin in Adam per Romans 5:12; again, c.f. Romans 9:11).
When I consider that election is based upon the decretive will God and is not to be confused or conflated with conversion, and that sinners will be judged and condemned—not according to inherited sin but according to their personal transgressions of the law; I conclude that we need not consign dead babies to hell for lack of faith nor reward them heaven for baby-faith.
Rather, we know that God is infinitely good and it may be that He welcomes dead babies into glory on the basis of His good pleasure and the merit of the shed blood of His Son. Ultimately, isn't this true of all of us who shall make our abode there?