hand of God upon his life. His response to his brothers is found
in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God
meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be
kept alive, as they are today” (ESV).
The hope for parents is that God’s plan is not always understood but is best. Humanity is not always privy to what God is
attempting to do behind the scenes, but the untimely death of
a child is not untimely to God. Perhaps, as in the case of these
three examples, the sting of death will result in something good.
As this is being written, it is exactly one week after 26 people,
20 of whom were between the ages of 5 and 10, were senselessly
murdered by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in
Newtown, Conn. As painful as this tragedy is, the reality is that
because it is so painful, the American people are waking up to
some realities as a result. Where that leads remains to be seen, but
there is the possibility that God will take loss and make something
useful out of it.
Position Two: Babies Do Go to Heaven When They
Just as those who hold the first position can be painted as harsh
and unloving, so those who hold the second position can often be
painted with broad strokes as only appealing to emotion. However,
just as a piece-by-piece argument has been made for the first
position, so a strong argument can be made for the second. Still,
both arguments are formulated in an indirect fashion that must
be kept in mind as the positions are considered.
Ironically, most theologians who believe babies do go to Heaven
when they die do not deny the impact of original sin, though
they may differ on the substance of what is transferred. They still
hold that the sin of Adam does in fact influence all of mankind,
so alternative explanations must be offered in order to offset the
penalty for sin. In most arguments, a distinction is made between
imputed sin and the transfer of guilt. John Piper, Al Mohler,
Thomas Cragoe, Ronald Nash, and Robert Lightner all state in
some form or fashion that judgment is based on actual sin, not
imputed sin. Lightner elaborates this point:
In a day still to come, all who are regenerate will first stand before
God for judgment at the Great White Throne. We can be sure that
those who died without ever being able to believe will not be there.
But how can we be so sure of that? They have no works, having done
neither good nor evil—that is why. Clearly the basis of judgment at
this future time will be what the dead have done. 10
Nash reiterates this point by using 2 Corinthians 5: 10 as his
basis and then concluding, “Note the clear statement that the final
judgment is based on sins committed during our earthly existence.
. . . Deceased infants cannot be judged on the criterion specified
in this verse.” 11
The point of these examples is not to subvert the Scriptural
teaching on original sin. Most of these theologians are not saying
children are completely innocent (though that term itself is problematic), which is why many of the effects of sin, including death,
10. Robert P. Lightner, Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000),
11. Ronald H. Nash, When a Baby Dies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999),
are still part of the picture for all who exist in a fallen world. The
argument that is made then is that children do not automatically
fall under God’s condemnation because His judgment seems to
be restricted against those who act sinfully and not simply against
those who have inherited the sinful nature.
Another important aspect of this argument falls specifically
within the framework of soteriology. While a few Biblical characters, such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist, appear to have been
saved from infancy, this is certainly not the norm. Those examples
should not be discounted, however, as they do provide evidence of
the relationships that are possible even from birth. Jeremiah 1: 5
says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” and Luke
1: 15 says of John the Baptist, “He will be filled with the Holy
Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (ESV). Again, these isolated
examples should not set the standard. A discussion on the Holy
Spirit’s role of filling is certainly relevant to this argument. The
point, however, is that the impact of original sin apparently was
limited in the sense that these infants were not condemned from
birth but rather set apart for God’s service.
Since original sin has impacted every living soul, perhaps the
most important aspect of this argument pertains to the basis for
salvation. As was demonstrated previously from John 3, regen-
eration is the necessary criteria for being born again. What is
important to recognize, however, is that regeneration is the work
of the Holy Spirit. This is why in the case of Jeremiah and John
the Baptist salvation from birth was a possibility. It is also why
an argument for infant salvation can be made—because it is the
Holy Spirit Who brings about the new birth. Charles Ryrie makes
this important distinction:
Faith is not strictly the means of regeneration, although it is the
human requirement which when met enables the Spirit to bring about
the new birth. Though faith is closely associated with the new birth,
the two ideas are distinct, the one being the human responsibility and
channel, and the other, the work of Spirit. 12
As Ryrie described, there are two sides of a coin with salvation.
One side is the actual work of regeneration, which comes solely
from God. Under most circumstances, that regeneration is enacted
when the condition of faith (the second side of the coin) is met.
Clearly, according to Scripture, faith is an essential component
to salvation. 13 However, in the case of children and the mentally
disabled, they are unable to understand and exercise faith. This
is not a situation where an understanding adult is being called
to account; rather, these categories of individuals do not fit the
same criteria for judgment because they do not have the capacity
The faith of the Bible is often placed in terms of a choice. This
was true in the Old Testament (Abraham comes to mind), as well
as the New Testament, whose commands to believe iterate this
point (Acts 16: 31). Faith is a conscious and intellectual selection
on the part of the individual. However, a child is not capable of
making moral assessments and distinguishing right from wrong
and, therefore, is not held to account.
John MacArthur believes Jonah 4: 11 illustrates this point. In
12. Charles C. Ryrie, The Holy Spirit (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 90.
13. Robert Lightner points out that in 150 references, faith is the only human
condition for salvation. Lightner, 44.