At last Sunday night’s panel discussion, I answered a question about the eternal state of stillborn, miscarried, and aborted children. Someone had asked, “Do they go to heaven?” While I reviewed some of the biblical evidence and answered the question (with a confident “YES”), I referred in my answer to a previous sermon of mine from 2009, in which I more fully outlined the Scriptural data related to this issue.
While there is no single Bible verse to answer this difficult question, there are many, many clues which, when taken together, form a convincing argument that babies, children, and the mentally handicapped who die are indeed safe in the arms of God, by His unmerited grace. Since my answer at the discussion was so brief, I thought I would offer a summary of the rest of what the Bible says.
1. God showed mercy to Israel’s children allowing them to enter the Promised Land.
As God was handing out His punishment to Israel for her rebellion, He made one noteworthy caveat found in Deuteronomy 1:39, “Moreover, your little ones…who have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” In this case, the children were not held responsible for the sins of their parents and, instead, received God’s mercy by being welcomed into that land.
2. When David’s two sons died, he responded very differently to the news.
In 1 Samuel 12:15-23, David’s child was born on the verge of dying. This prompted a distraught father to hold an all-night prayer vigil refusing even to eat. After the child died, David’s attitude shifted. He was surprisingly calm. He “arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, changed his clothes, and…worshipped.” Asked about this change, David said, “Can I bring him back? I will go to him but he will not return to me.” David exhibited peace and even confidence about being reunited.
Just six chapters later, though, David loses another son. This one was not a newborn son, he was a rebellious, sinful son named Absalom. Upon hearing of this son’s death, David responded this time with agony and hopelessness. 2 Samuel 18:33 states, “The king was deeply moved and walked around and said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son!” This distressed, even hysterical, response to his rebellious son’s death is in stark contrast with his more tranquil, even hopeful, response about his newborn son’s death.
3. Job’s description of “rest” for the stillborn.
While mulling over his recent losses and painful experiences, Job mused an insightful word about the fortunes of miscarried children. Job said, in 3:11ff, “Why did I not die at birth?…For now I would have lain down and been quiet, I would have slept then, I would have been at rest.” Rather than knowing life’s troubles, he states that a stillborn child has a restful, peaceful future. Later, Hebrews 4:9 and 11, definitively refers to heaven as a place of rest (or Sabbath). By contrast, Revelation 14:11 refers to those in hell as experiencing constant torment who “have no rest day and night.”
4. Solomon says that a miscarried child is “better off” than a 100 year old man.
Solomon makes a striking comparison in Ecclesiastes 6:3-6 that also speaks favorably about a miscarried child’s fortune. “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they may be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, ‘Better the miscarriage then he, for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity…it is better off than he’.”
5. God spoke of children who died as “innocent” and as His “own”.
Jeremiah, speaking out against the pagan, bloodthirsty nations around him, referred to the children of these unbelievers which were sacrificed in pagan rituals, as “innocent blood.” (Jer 19:4) Elsewhere, in Eze. 16:20-22, God condemned Israel for this same, horrifying practice. In His condemnation of them, God claimed ownership of those newborns by saying, “You sacrificed My children.” In both cases, God placed a special status (“innocent”) and a special claim (“My”) upon the children who died.
6. Jesus’ compassion, tenderness, and willing acceptance of children.
There is no doubt about it, Jesus was incredibly warm towards children. Going against the grain of the immediate culture (which often viewed children with contempt), Jesus received, blessed, touched, and affirmed them. In Mark 10:14, as the disciples refused the children access to Christ, He rebuked them saying, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” – a very strong statement indeed. (See also Luke 18:15-17, Matt 19:13-15)
7. Men are condemned for volitional sin not original sin.
While everyone has inherited the sin nature of Adam (i.e. original sin, see Rom 5), there is no evidence that anyone is condemned for this original sin. Every time the Bible speaks of final judgment it states that “everyone will be judged according to their deeds.” (Rev. 20:12-13, 2 Cor 5:10, Jude 14-15, Matt 16:27) These “deeds” will either be acts of disobedience (from unbelief) or acts of obedience (from belief.)
When children or toddlers disobey their parents (i.e. lie, steal, temper-tantrums), these are no doubt the initial manifestations of their sin nature. However, because of their immaturity and lack of knowledge, it is more experimental curiosity than intentional rebellious deeds against God. As such, on judgment day, they will have an excuse. As Jesus said, in John 9:41, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” The moment a person understands the reality of God, sin, righteousness, and choices – they are held fully accountable before God. Children, and the mentally disabled, do not have such a full, holistic awareness and, thus, do not exhibiut rebellious deeds deserving of the wrath of God.
8. Heaven will have inhabitants from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 containing a breath-taking vision of the end of times – a vision which will look like an Olympic opening ceremony with a colorful gathering of people from all nations, yet will sound like a praise and worship service. Present around the throne will be “a great multitude…from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (7:9).
Seeing that there are countless tribes (today and in history) that have become extinct having never heard the gospel (such as the Amalekites, Jebusites, etc.), it would stand to reason that those present must include the stillborn/dead children from these people groups.
A poem, inscribed into a grave marker for four infants, sums up the complexity and yet the hope that we have in Scripture about the fate of infants and children. (Originally taken from: John Bruce, A Cypress Wreath for an Infant’s Grave, 1830).
Beneath this stone, four infant’s ashes lie;
On earth a moment, but soon they paled and died.
Consider, whether they are lost or saved?
To try and reason this, soon the mind becomes enslaved.
If death comes by sin, they sinned; because they’re here.
If heaven comes by works, then in heaven they can’t appear.
Investigate the Bible, and there the knot is soon untied,
They died, since Adam sinned – yet they live, since Jesus died.