If a baby, infant, young child, or toddler dies before they can know Jesus Christ, where do they go? We are all born into sin but can babies go into the presence of the Lord since Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved (Acts 4:12)? What does the Bible say is the fate of those young ones who die before they have had a chance to hear the gospel? What about those with severe mental retardation?
Born into Sin
All humans are born into sin at birth (Psalm 51:5). Even though they are incapable of understanding the gospel at birth, like every one of us, they too come into this world in a sinful state at birth and in fact, even in the womb (Psalm 58:3). Since we are born into a sinful state, what about the young child, toddler, infant or baby that dies before having a chance to place their faith in the only name given to us whereby we might be saved (Acts 4:12)?
In the first place, no one really seeks after God (Rom 3:11). There is not a person that has ever lived that is righteous or seeks after God on his or her own, with the exception of Jesus Christ Who is both Man and God (Rom 3:10-12). Our good works are not good enough to be saved, despite the perceived innocence of babies (Isaiah 64:6). Humans just naturally gravitate toward the tendency to sin because we were born this way. We inherited the sinful nature from the first man, Adam (Rom 5:12,16,18). We are constrained to be in a state of sinfulness until someone can be made sin for us. Fortunately, this happened through Christ Jesus because, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). So the good news is that there is hope, but it is hope only for those who can comprehend the gospel of Jesus Christ and His work at Calvary. Then where does this leave babies who die in infancy? Where do they go?
The Age of Accountability
The Bible does not clearly specify what the age of accountability is. That age is the age in which a person can clearly understand that they are a sinner in need of a Savior and that the person sees themselves as unworthy to enter into eternal life. What baby can know that they are in a sinful state and that they are separated from God by their sins? How can they know the fact that they must place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ Who alone can save them? A baby, infant, young child and even someone who has a severe mental handicap can not possibly discover that they have broken the holy Law of God and must be born again – regenerated – into a new creature in Christ. How can they realize that they can receive forgiveness until they know they need it (1 John 1:9)? Clearly they can not.
In the Old Testament, when through the hardness of the hearts of the nation Israel, they could not enter into the Promised Land, God did not hold these people’s children accountable because they were too young to understand. Listen to what God says about these children in Deuteronomy 1:39, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.”
In one of the greatest prophecies of Jesus Christ in Isaiah 7:14-16 the prophet records this about Jesus: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” Here, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God has Isaiah record the fact that “before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good” shows positive proof that the boy – in fact any boy or girl – can not know at a young age about choosing to refuse good or evil.
Where Do Babies Go if They Die?
Since we see from Scripture that young children, babies, infants, and toddlers are not held accountable for their being born into sin, where do they go if they die at a young age? Is there any precedence from the Bible where we see an example of one so young dying and where they will be at? Yes! David and Bathsheba had a baby that was conceived in adultery. The baby dies but the baby was innocent of their parent’s sins, particularly David’s. What did David say after his and Bathsheba’s baby died? David seemed to know with certainty where the baby would go because he said in 2 Samuel 12:23 that “now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” Because the child could not return to David, he said that “I will go to him.” Since we know that David’s throne is to be established forever in the Kingdom of Heaven, David must be thinking ahead to that Kingdom and realize that he will see this child again someday. Psalm 132:11 says, “The LORD has sworn to David, A truth from which He will not turn back; ‘Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.” Furthermore, David has been prophesied to reign in the future Kingdom, “to they will serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jer 30:9). Here is an actual reference to King David being resurrected and since he will be resurrected and he will “go to him” (the deceased child) in this Kingdom, we know that this baby will live again in the Kingdom and is not doomed to an eternal torment in hell.
There appears to be a special dispensation of God’s grace and mercy for those who die young and before the age of being held responsible for their salvation (an accountability). Since God knows even the unborn, we can see that even aborted fetuses or the still born will also be in this Kingdom. Jeremiah wrote, “I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5). David understood this well as the Psalms declare, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book” (Psalm 139:13-16). Here is evidence that God sees us as a human being before birth, that He knows us even as we are “woven together” in our mother’s womb, and that even prior to our being formed (unformed body), He considered us a viable human being. This seems to support the prohibition of abortion which is the taking of a human life. To have an abortion would be seen as murder in God’s eyes.