The Pathetic Pastoral Counsel of the Neo-Reformed
Do unborn babies and young children go to heaven?
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 19:14
This is one of the questions the Bible does not answer for us. The best biblical response is this: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” We can trust the God who died so that His enemies could be saved to do what is right in the case of infants who die.
Some appeal to David’s statement after his son died: “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” The argument is that David knew he was going to heaven, so the baby must be there. However, the point of David’s statement is that the baby is in the grave. David will visit the grave, but the baby will not come back to life no matter how much he agonizes in fasting and prayer.
Many agree with Millard Erickson that the universal atonement pays the penalty for all Adamic guilt and condemnation, so babies who do not commit personal sin will be in heaven by application of the atonement. Others argue that death in infancy is a sign of special election. Some believe that children spend eternity with their parents. But none of these theories have clear biblical warrant.
Grace and I enjoy five children. We would have enjoyed six but, like many couples, we suffered a miscarriage. Because we love children, it was very difficult for us, and I often tear up when I talk about that loss. Our children and friends have asked me what I think happened to the baby and whether or not I believe the baby is in heaven. My simple answer is that I do not have a clear biblical answer as much as I have God who is a loving and gracious Father whom I trust. The fact that John the Baptizer was known and named by God in the womb and filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth gives me much comfort.
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Having witnessed the baptismal service of a beautiful baby boy Sunday, this bit of theological nonsense rubbed me exactly the wrong way when I read it this week on Driscoll’s daily devotion site. I think he ends up coming to an acceptable conclusion, but the way he gets there betrays the out-of-touch, too God-centered, I-need-the-Bible-to-spell-things-out-for-me, Bible as an answer book mentality of the neo-reformed that not only drives me crazy, but makes them miserable counselors to real human beings in pain.
Who in their right mind needs “clear biblical warrant” to believe that God takes care of infants and young children who die?
Who with any sense whatsoever could trust God while entertaining even the slightest suspicion that this God just might possibly damn a little one to eternal hell fire because there’s not “a clear biblical answer” regarding his/her destiny?
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
• Isaiah 49:15
Now I’m going to give Pastor Mark a little credit here. Even though he doesn’t find it in the Bible, he seems to say that he finds comfort in a loving God. But…but. There’s a crack in the door, isn’t there? There’s an admission that he really can’t speak with certainty because the Bible doesn’t spell it out. I’m glad Pastor Mark takes some comfort in his reading of the character of God and the example of John the Baptist. But to not be sure? To reserve the possibility that God could torture his miscarried child forever — and be just in doing so?
Is this the kind of wimpy, waffling reassurance a pastor should give a grieving couple?
The whole soterian gospel, heaven and hell thing is bad enough, but when Driscoll starts opining about “original sin” and how an infant’s sin needs to be “atoned for,” I really start getting nauseous.
Even worse is an earlier blog article he links to: “My Baby Brother Died,” in which he outlines the following theological positions through which we might answer the question:
The eternal fate of unborn children and infants is a mystery that has always haunted the church. There are three choices available as answers:
- All babies are elect and thus immediately translated into heaven, awaiting Jesus’ return and the finishing of his work of cosmic redemption.
- God chooses some babies for heaven and the rest are left to spend eternity in hell.
- All babies are reprobate and thus immediately translated into hell upon death, awaiting the final eternal judgment for their sin nature inherited from Adam.
I’ve never encountered a Christian theologian who holds to answer #3, which leaves answer #1 (universal infant salvation) and answer #2 (infant salvation). These are the two options that have been debated throughout Christian history.
Seriously, those are the choices? Seriously, we talk about infants using the terms “elect” and “reprobate”? I know people have debated these things throughout Christian history. Need we be reminded how flawed and foolish the church has been for much of that time? Just because it’s written in a book doesn’t mean it carries meaningful weight.
Thankfully, in the article Driscoll does mention some Christian thinkers who understand that infants are incapable of being moral agents and therefore not subject to the judgment that scripture indicates will be based on “deeds done in the body.” In my opinion, could anything be more commonsensical than that? Why does it even need to be debated?
The older I get, the more I question the legitimacy of even having debates like this. Driscoll quotes Wayne Grudem, who opines, “Where Scripture is silent, it is unwise for us to make definitive pronouncements.” In the context, Grudem is saying he believes some infants are elect but he can’t be sure that all are.
Are you kidding me? Talk about having your head in a theological box!
Listen folks, the Bible is not an answer book. Repeat after me: the Bible is not answer book. I, for one, don’t need the Bible to spell it out for me that an infant who dies is safe in God’s care. The faith tells me I see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the One who welcomes children without hesitation or reserve. I don’t need to have a theology of original sin and universal atonement, election, or any other doctrine to know what love is and to understand how horrific any thought of God condemning the helpless would be.
I get the idea that these people doubt whether or not they should use deodorant each day because the Bible doesn’t spell it out for them. Well, let me tell you, stink is self-evident and not recommended.
Tonight I’m going to be sitting down with several couples who have suffered perinatal losses. It will be our first support group meeting together. They will tell their stories and I will listen, and I will probably cry with them. For the next six weeks, we’ll be together, and it will never get any easier. I’ll have trouble sleeping, imagining their inconceivable pain.
Just to think that some of them might go into a church and get a pastor like one of these neo-reformed biblicists, who cannot, with absolute confidence, assure them of the certain love of a God who welcomes, without exception, all the little ones, who lifts up the helpless, who carries the weak, and takes care of all who cannot care for themselves, makes me want to scream.
This way of approaching life and its challenges is biblicist idiocy.
The Bible was given to help us gain wisdom, not to turn us into fools and miserable counselors who cannot be sure what love looks like because it isn’t spelled out for us in every instance.
For more, see The Font and the Tiny Casket