Question: Where do the souls of infants go after death? I have always believed they go to be with the Lord. However, I have read some disturbing articles lately that counter that belief. One such article stated that if the infant was born of unsaved parents it was "unclean" and damned to hell at its death. The article gave an illustration of the death of David's son going to be with the Lord because David was a believer. It also brought out the fact that an infant of unbelieving parents did not have an opportunity to hear the gospel and was therefore damned. Does the Bible have any references to what happens to infants when they die? Your web-site is an oasis in the wilderness. Very informative and based on scripture.
Response: Thank you for your encouragement. As to your question, I agree with your previous position, namely, that the spirits of infants - all who die before reaching an age of accountability and who have not yet had a chance to choose - are automatically saved. This is one of many issues that scripture does not directly address, but there are always reasons for its silence. Here we can say that the issue mankind must face - those of us who do hear the gospel - is whether or not to accept God the Father's gracious offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. Therefore one can see how the biblical treatment of exceptions might have the effect of shifting the focus away from the real issue for those who are asking such questions, namely, of faith in Christ necessary for salvation.
In any case, it seems to me that the whole tone and tenor of scripture supports the idea that infants who die are automatically saved (2Sam.12:23; cf. Deut.1:39; 1Ki.14:12-13; Is.7:15-16). First, scripture does not say that they are not, so that the disturbing articles you have read are based upon speculation rather than upon scripture. One would think that the salvation of believers' children as opposed to the damnation or those of unbelievers, if such a thing were true, would be a powerful argument that could be used for pressuring people to believe. But of course one doesn't find anything of the sort used in the Bible, and it is easy to see how such a thing might easily have the effect of skewing the entire issue as parents “converted” entirely out of their love for their children rather than any genuine acceptance of the Lord. Indeed, the whole idea of such an appeal and the basis for it sounds prima facie odd, bizarre, and even offensive. There is such a thing as "biblical I.Q.". What I mean by that is that as we grow in the Word of God, we get better and better in our "instincts" about what might be true and what is probably not true, even before we have had an opportunity to search the matter out in the Bible. And in fact it is not really "instinct" but the Spirit making ever greater use of the truth that is in us, for truth in the heart understood and believed is the basis of spiritual growth and the "leverage", so to speak, used by the Spirit on our behalf in informing our spiritual discernment (cf. Heb.5:14 in its prior and following context). Therefore when we hear something that sounds like nonsense, it is right and proper that we do just what you are doing, namely, suspect that it may very well be nonsense (so as not to get too upset immediately: cf. Eph.4:14-16), and yet take time to carefully and properly "check it out".
Secondly, in addition to this idea's nonexistence in scripture, we should consider on the other hand that there is indeed strong evidence of infant salvation. You mention the example of David's child, and on this point I would direct you to an already posted e-mail response ("Why Doesn't God Prevent Children from Dying?"). Given that there is evidence of infant salvation in general, it would seem to me that the burden of proof would be upon those who want to claim that this provision does not extend to all children. The unsaved children of both believers and unbelievers, after all, have a sin nature, and aside from any special temporal, physical protection that may obtain from their parents' relationship to our Lord (1Cor.7:14), would, should they live, still have to believe in Christ in adulthood in order to be saved.
Thirdly and most importantly, I believe that people who theorize this way have missed some very important things about the character of the great and gracious God we serve and to whom we have committed our lives. They have, in my view, strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel. Our God sent His one and only dear Son into this world of pain and sorrow to die for us that we might live (Jn.3:16). And Jesus died for all mankind (see the link in BB 3B Hamartiology: The Universality of the Atonement). Furthermore, we know unequivocally from scripture that God wants everyone to be saved (Matt.18:12-14; Jn.12:47; Acts 17:27; 1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9; cf. Lam.3:33). It paints a picture of a fairly mean and ungenerous deity to suggest that for some technicality over which they have no moral control these other infants who have not had any chance to express their free will either for or against God should be consigned to hell because of a decision of their parents, especially since we know that God deals with us as individuals on the basis of what we and not someone else has done (cf. esp. Ezek.18:4-21).
In fact, we know that love, grace, and mercy are key character traits of the God we love and respect so much. Since the price has already been paid for these children, since He wants them to be saved (1Tim.2:4; 2Pet.3:9), since He sent and sacrificed His own child so that they could be saved, how is it that He would want to deny them salvation when there is absolutely no theological reason that He should do so? One could almost say that when viewed from the standpoint of God's character such theories come close to being downright blasphemous since they impugn His good Name and spread error about what Christ did for us all, its power, purpose, and effectiveness. Indeed, the only reason that anyone goes to hell is out of choice, out of free will - and this principle alone fundamentally refutes any notion of infant damnation (Jn.3:18). For the only way to get to hell is to reject the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ either actively (despising the offer) or passively (never being interested in or accepting the offer). The entire reason for the creation of mankind is to solve through free will the problem of creature rebellion initiated by the devil (see the Satanic Rebellion series). The angels all chose, but would God, could God have made it possible for those who turned away from Him to return? Mankind shows that the answer is a resounding yes, and that the devil and his minions will be spending eternity in the lake of fire out of their own free will choice - the same as all reprobate human beings. It flies entirely in the face of the character of God and the whole point of His creation of mankind to suggest that someone who never had a fair (i.e., informed "adult") opportunity to actually express rejection of the Lord should be sent to hell anyway. For me, this is the strongest and most emphatic proof that such theories are impossibly misinformed (and potentially dangerous as well).
I hope this helps to get to the heart of your question. Please feel free to write me back about this if you have any further questions. Please see also:
The Age of Accountability: At what Age are we responsible for believing in Christ?
Severe Mental Handicaps Ensure Salvation
Why Doesn't God Prevent All Children from Dying?
What will our relationship be in heaven with children who died young?
The Cross Divides Every Human Life.
Yours in the One who gave His life, His all, that we might not perish but have eternal life, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.