Will Dead Babies Go To Hell?

Somebody posted a question at the “Comments” section of an earlier post on the reliability of the New Testament documents. I thought the subject matter he was dealing with was very important, and so I have decided to answer him via this separate post.

His question, essentially, was: If it is true that all human beings are born as sinners, what about babies who die? As he puts it, “the baby would not have had the opportunity to accept Jesus as his personal savior and ask forgiveness for his ‘sins’.”

First, I would like to clarify that, even among Christians, there is no uniformity about what is technically termed the doctrine of “original sin”. And even among those of us who do believe in it, there are many who do not believe that the infant who dies is automatically condemned.

The question posed is similar in essence to questions asking about the fates of people who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel, whether in our days or in former times (e.g., what about the people who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?), or who have no mental ability to understand the Gospel (i.e., mentally incapacitated).

To the questioner, doubtingthomas, I would say that, actually, the Bible is silent about this. But it is my firm belief that where the Bible is silent about God’s plans or programs, we can always rely on His character, which is sufficiently revealed in the Bible

In His self-revelation in the Bible, God has revealed that He is love (e.g., 1 John 4:8).

On the other hand, He has also revealed that He is holy and that He hates sin. In fact, a word often used in the Bible to describe how God looks at sin is “wrath” (e.g., Romans 1:18). Sin is not permitted to abide in His presence, and therefore no sinner can enjoy eternity with Him.

The problem is, all human beings do sin. Everyone breaks God’s standards and therefore are not worthy of spending eternity with Him. But God, who is love, wants human beings to be with Him and be blessed by His presence and glory—for all eternity. That is the eternal life which God offers to human beings. Death, on the other hand, is, essentially, separation from God. And God does not want anyone to die or “perish”. He wants everyone to come to know the truth, turn away from their sins, be saved from death, and have eternal life (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).

The solution to the problem of man’s sin and God’s love? THE CROSS! As John Stott, respected Christian scholar, author, and preacher says, “The cross is where God’s love and justice meet“.

As the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

God, in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, became man in order to die on the cross as payment for the penalty of the sins of human beings. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2).

This is how the apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, or Good News of how human beings are restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and are made worthy to spend eternity in His presence: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

So God is love, but God is also holy. He hates sin, and no one who sins can spend eternity with Him—except those who believe that what Jesus Christ did on the cross was a sufficient and effective payment for the penalty of their own sins, which is death. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ in this way can be saved from death, or what has been pictured in the Bible as hell, the outer darkness, or the lake of fire.

So there are only two choices: either eternity with God, in His presence, or eternity separated from God, in hell. Either eternal life or death. The first can only be obtained by turning away from sin, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and surrendering our lives to Him as Lord.

Now the Bible says that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Himself says that He is the only way to God the Father: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But what about those who cannot make this choice? What about infants or the mentally incapacitated, or those who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?

To answer this, we depend on the character of God. He is love, and He is just. To hold this in conjunction with the essential revelation that no one can be saved except through Jesus Christ, C.S. Lewis has said “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him” (from Mere Christianity).

At this point in the development of my Christian thought, I agree with Lewis: we do not know, but we have to admit it is possible, that Christ, in love—and in justice—can save even those who have not had an opportunity to call upon Him as Savior or to surrender to Him as Lord. How? I do not know. But I do know His character, and because of this I trust Him completely to do what is just and loving vis-a-vis those who have not had an opportunity to hear the gospel and decide for themselves.

Some would say it would have been better if God had been more explicit in His Word about the fate of infants, thus saving us all this wondering. Author Philip Yancey has an amusing but correct answer to this: “What if God had made a clear pronouncement: ‘Thus saith the Lord. Every child under the age of ten, I will welcome into heaven’? I can easily see crusaders of the tenth century mounting a campaign to slaughter every child under the age of ten in order to guarantee their eternal salvation—which, of course, would mean that none of us would be around a millennium later to contemplate such questions.

“In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands—the unity of the church, love as a mark of Christians, reliance on God’s grace and not our works, the importance of personal purity, the dangers of wealth—I tremble to think how we might act if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous. We dare not repeat the error of Eden by assuming prerogatives in realms we cannot fathom” (from Yancey: The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance).

In such situations where the Bible is silent or nearly silent, reliance on God’s character is called for, and a humble attitude of simply obeying what is clear. There are some who make what is unclear into an excuse for not obeying a clear command—in the case of non-believers, “I will not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior until you explain to me what happens to the babies and the indigenous peoples unreached by Christians”; or in the case of believers, “Well, if it is probable that Christ will somehow save them anyway, then I don’t need to obey His (clear!) command to share the Good News”.

So, dear doubtingthomas: Trust God’s loving, holy, and just character, humbly accept that His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts than our thoughts, “just as the heavens are higher than the earth”, and seek Him and call upon Him—“while He may be found“, or while you still can (Isaiah 55:6-9).

God bless you!

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PS: One possible clue regarding the fate of infants who die might be provided by the account of the death of King David’s eldest child with Bathsheba. The child was struck with a fatal illness, and David wept and fasted before God for the child’s life. When the child died, David ceased fasting and said: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

Shalom!

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PS to the PS 🙂 , added Feb. 6: The interpretation of David’s statement would depend on our view of how David probably conceived of death and Sheol at that time.

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10 Responses

  1. regarding dead babies, i would like to personally stick to the position that stephen whatly shared to us. babies are also under unconditional grace, some are chosen before the foundation of the world, some are not. after all, it is not an issue of coming to a ample awareness so as to be able to decide for Christ or not, it is a matter of sovereign election. even our very desire to seek God comes from God, and our seeking hard after him is the outworking of that desire. therefore, it does not matter what age a human being dies, be it in the womb, seconds after conception, or live up to a hundred years. the grace of God is at work, manifesting in unconditional election of some, whether babies or adults, before the foundation of the world. but then again, this remains to be a theological position, under the framework of convenantal theology. i would not share this to a mother who lost her baby. i would rather, for the love of her, and for her own peace of mind and heart, share the other position that all babies are all covered by the finished work of Jesus on the Cross and thus all babies go to Heaven!

  2. Thank you for your willingness to tackle this tough area. I’ll be succinct. You covered great passages on this. especially the Samuel passage concerning David’s response, and I’d like to add a passage and a comment. The comment is that no matter what takes place in this life, we can trust in the just-ness of the Father. That’s what He calls Himself, and He keeps reminding us in the Gospels that “we being evil” even know how we should treat our children. Therefore, “how much more” will our Father in Heaven do what is right? The passage, and I love this, is Jeremiah 32:35 “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-himnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them NOR HAD IT ENTERED MY MIND THAT THEY WOULD DO THIS ABOMINATION

  3. sorry, I accidently hit enter….

    continuing:

    …to cause Judah to sin.” With the correlations to all that Molech represents in Scripture and what passing through the fire is etc. I rest assured that, even though in some way they still must receive Christ, it is never in the heart of God or ever entered the mind of God for the “innocents” to be in ever lasting torment.

    Again, thanks for tackling the tough ones.
    Pastor Rob

  4. Hi, Rowen.

    Thanks very much for the reminder on that viewpoint of unconditional election and predestination.

    God bless you!

    Mel

  5. Hi, Pastor Rob.

    Welcome to the site! Thanks very much for your additional comments and your encouraging feedback.

    God bless you!

    Mel

  6. Matthew 19:13-15 “Then the little children were brought to Him (Jesus) that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.”

    This Scripture demonstrates the soft spot that Jesus had for little children. It has been interpreted to mean that we are to come unto Jesus as a child, with child-like faith and trust, without hesitation or fear. It seems to me that we could also say that the kingdom of heaven is inclusive of little children (and those with the mind of a child).

    Romans 3:3-4 “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!”
    Psalm 119: 89-90 “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations..”
    Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men..”
    Psalm 127:3 “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord. the fruit of the womb is His reward.”
    Psalm 145:8-10a “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and
    His tender mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall praise you O Lord..”
    Jeremiah 1:5 “BEFORE I formed you IN THE WOMB, I KNEW YOU; BEFORE you were BORN I SANCTIFIED you.”

    I believe those that are unable to make a choice are under the Grace of a Loving God. His tender mercies are over ALL His works. His works include those that He formed in the womb, and even they praise Him.

  7. Hi, Robin.

    Thanks very much for your comments.

    God bless you!

    Mel

  8. Hello!

    I don’t think so! I beleive and in the Bible as well JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN! And in my knowledge there is no babies in hell , even though they said if the baby is from the womb of mother has a automatic sin that is not true , because we are have individial soul ,babies is still innocenent from the sin and all the babies is redeem by the blood of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

    Mari M.
    http://mariapatmacmanus.blogspot.com/

  9. Creo que los niños van directamente al cielo. Dios quiere a los niños pequeños; en el infierno no hay recién nacidos.

    Dios es amor y tú eres amor, hermano.

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