Pastor John, today we address a heavy question. It comes from North Carolina, and from a couple who has recently been in the news for their personal tragedy, a tragedy they wrote in about. Lindsey, the wife, asks this: “Pastor John, we recently lost septuplets at 21 weeks of gestation. What does the Bible teach about the eternal destiny of seven unborn children and of infants who die? Moreover, what does the Bible teach about reuniting with our children and family members in heaven?”
Well, I am very sorry, Lindsey, for your loss. I can only relate a little bit, because of the loss of our granddaughter, a stillborn who died in the last week of her nine-month life. But I know that’s not really very much empathy because you lost seven and you’re the mother. You carried them, and I am only a grandfather who watched. So my empathy is inadequate, and I only mention it to say that Jesus’s empathy is not inadequate, and his understanding is unsearchable and very profound. And I pray that you have found it so.
So I will tell you what I believe about your question, and you will need to be a good Berean, like it says in Acts 17, where they went away and read their Bibles to test and see if these things were so. These issues are pretty controversial, and a lot of people don't see it the way I see it, but a lot of people do.
True, Full, Personal Joy
My own view is that, even though I believe in original sin and guilt, that all children are conceived with a nature corrupted by union in Adam’s fall into sin (Romans 5:12–14); and even though I believe in unconditional election, so that God chose who would be eternally saved before the creation of the world; and even though I believe that faith in Jesus as the one and only redeemer is the only way anyone will be able to stand before God in eternal; even though I believe all those crucial biblical things; nevertheless, I also believe that all infants who die will be saved and spend eternity with God in true, full, personal joy.
And the reason I say true, full, personal is that I believe this also means God will make them mature. They won’t be irrational, little tiny babies forever. They will grow up in some way. God will transform them in some way. I don’t know how. I don’t want to even speculate about it. But he will make their joy true and full and personal as they know God. They won’t be non-rational infants for all eternity. Those are my beliefs.
Now why? I mean, you can believe in anything you want, right? So is there any Bible underneath that? Do we have any warrant, any biblical foundation for such hope? And I will give you my pointers and then my basic argument. The pointers are that in Luke 1:15, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and in Luke’s theology, condemned, unsaved people aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit. So there is a pointer that a child, even in the womb, can be saved. David says, “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Psalm 22:10) Now those two illustrations are simply meant to open the door to the fact that God sees some infants as already in union with himself in salvation, or either on the way definitely to salvation. I think it would be a huge mistake to draw implications from this that would assume that any given baby is born again. I don’t believe in baptismal regeneration. I don’t believe in baptizing babies at all. And I certainly don’t believe in it on the basis of any assumption that because they are born to Christians they are born of God. That seems to fly right in the face of Romans 9:8. So why in the world then do I believe that all infants are saved who die in infancy? And the argument goes like this:
1. Without evidence of God’s truth, we would not be condemned for not believing that truth. That is a principle that I am going to get from Scripture from two texts. But just nail it down as the first premise: without evidence of God’s truth — that is, if we don’t have that evidence — then we will not be condemned for not believing that truth, which we didn’t know to be the case.
2. Infants lack that evidence, because they lack the physical capacity to construe it. This is different from saying that all of us without the Holy Spirit are unable to see the truth. That is true, and we are still guilty for it. The difference is that our inability is moral, and the infant’s inability is physical. We are blind because we hate the meaning we construe from God’s revelation. Infants are blind because they can’t even construe it, since their physical brains are not yet designed to do it. The conclusion is that no infant will be condemned for not believing God’s truth.
Gift of Faith
Now where do I get those premises and that argument? First from John 9:41, where Jesus is teaching and he is asked if he thought the Jewish leaders were blind. And he says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” So that first sentence — “If you were blind, you would have no guilt” — seems to enunciate a principle that, in the absence of seeing — that is, real and physical — you would be exempted from the responsibility of seeing, if you are blind in the physical sense. God would not bring a person into final judgment for not believing what he had no natural capacity or physical capacity to see. That is the principle Jesus seems to state.
And I think Paul states it even more clearly in Romans 1:20. He is dealing with people who have not heard the gospel. They have no access to the gospel. Will they be judged? And here is the way he argues. He says that they have access to revelation of God in nature, and if they didn’t, then they would have an excuse at the judgment. So here is the text: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” The reason they are without excuse, even though they haven’t heard the gospel, is that they will only be held accountable for the truth they have evidence for — namely, the truth in nature. So there is the principle again: We are accountable. We are responsible. We can be punished for not believing truth for which we have sufficient evidence.
And my point is that now children do not have access to any of that evidence concerning the truth of God. And it is important to stress that I am not saying infants are saved because they are innocent or sinless. I affirm that they will be saved in the same we will be — namely, through the atoning work of Christ alone. And how God will do that I could only guess at. And if it helps (sometimes guesses help), it seems to me that the most natural guess would be that babies who die in infancy will grow up, or be immediately grown up in the kingdom, and will, by God’s grace, be given the gift of faith as soon as they have the capacity physically for it, so that they will be a believer all the way. Justification will be by faith alone just like ours.
So that is my conviction why they are all saved. That is the biblical foundation for the principles behind it.
All the Way
And with regard to the last little bit of the question about connections in heaven, let me just close like this: At my granddaughter’s funeral I was given the chance to just give a granddad’s perspective.
And I said, “I believe Felicity and her great grandfather (my dad) met each other last Sunday in the presence of Christ. And my father, perhaps, said, “Hello, Felicity. I am your great-grandfather Piper. Come. There is somebody I want you to meet. His name is Jesus. He is the reason you are here. You don’t need to be afraid. Your Savior has led you all the way and Jesus does all things well.