As a church leader I have been given access to hurting families who have gone through the tragedy of losing a young baby, either through a miscarriage, a still born birth, a premature death, SIDS, cancer or a horrific accident. I mourn with those who mourn.
As a father who has two living daughters, and four babies who didn’t make it to full term pregnancy (one miscarriage, one still born and two premature infants who died within a day of being born), my wife and I have those who choose to mourn with us (for those who are unaware, more of our faith journey can be read here).
The instances of abortion, miscarriages and the death of a baby raises an important question (a biblical one, in fact): Where do dead babies go when they die?
This has been an old question in the entire history of the church. In the first century, infant mortality rates were high, and as it does today, it caused great anxiety for moms and dads who were wondering about the eternal destination of their dead child.
An old school scholar named Irenaeus (130-201 A.D.) taught that the reason Jesus became an infant was to save infants. However, in the early first century church, baptism was legalistically tied to salvation. This meant if your unborn child, dead child wasn’t baptized in the church, they were destined for hell. The Catholic Church has extended this teaching up to today.
To me, this is a stretch at least and superstitious (unbiblical) at most. Parents who want their children baptized so that they can be saved is off the biblical radar. There is nothing magical about the water when someone is baptized. Baptism doesn’t save anyone. Jesus alone saves. It’s a faith in Him as Lord and Savior that alone saves.
The Age of Accountability Doctrine
Growing up in the church, I was wrongly taught the unbiblical doctrine of the “age of accountability”. This unhelpful teaching says that someone is not responsible for their own sin until they reach an age of reason (and yet when I asked questions to church leaders about what that age was, there was never an answer).
What confuses me about the age of accountability teaching is it seems to say that a child goes to bed with no moral responsibility and then they suddenly wake up the next day accountable for their desires, words and actions.
The psalmist writes, “For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5).
Once our heart is beating, we have moral responsibility and it grows in us emotionally as we grow physically. Those who teach age of accountability teach it as a light switch that just turns on one day. Rather, it’s more of a dimmer switch where the more we grow the more we are illuminated of what is right and wrong. If Jesus grew in wisdom as He grew in strength, so do our children (Luke 2:52).
If your church wrongly teaches the age of accountability doctrine, show them some of the Apostle Paul’s last recorded words where he writes, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15).
What I Teach My Children and My Church
With the loss of a baby, people not only need answers but they need love. They need prayer and compassion and a presence of friends and a listening ear. As a husband to a wife who asks questions about the triplets who were in her body for 21 weeks and then were delivered too soon to survive, this is a very personal issue. I cannot provide the theology to satisfy the grieving emotions myself and parents who have lost precious children. God’s Spirit will mend wounds. God is good. Jesus saves. Grieving parents should long for heaven, and here is some theology on why they can look forward to seeing their baby (pending the fact that mom and dad are believers in Christ as Lord and Savior).
As a leader in my family and a leader in the church I get to serve in, here’s what I teach:
(1) God Can Relate to Us Emotionally and Physically (Hebrews 4:15)
It’s taught frequently in churches (and rightly so) that Jesus became a man. But first, He was a baby. Before that, He was an infant in His mother’s womb. I take great comfort in knowing Jesus can identify with my wife’s miscarriage and her still born birth.
I also take great comfort in knowing Jesus felt the emotional pain of losing a loved one. He hurt when hearing His cousin John the Baptist was executed. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He Himself experienced death. For Him to come as a baby means He can relate to our humanity at every stage of human development (from unborn to adult).
More than answers (which is what parents of dead babies want), God’s provides His presence and His love (which is what parents of dead babies need).
(2) God Can Save Babies From the Womb (Psalm 22:9-10)
Did you know this? Psalm 22:9-10 speaks of God leading a baby to trust Him while the child is breastfeeding. It speaks of the baby serving God as Lord from the moment they are born.
Further examples of God calling babies to be His are found in Jeremiah 1:4-5 and Isaiah 49:1-7. Both prophets, messengers on God’s behalf, were called by Him when they were in their mother’s wombs. On top of that, so was John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) who was promised to be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb of Elizabeth.
(3) Jesus Loves the Little Children Whether Born or Unborn
The word for child (brephos) that is used speaking of Jesus being a baby in the womb of His mother Mary (Luke 2:12) is also the same word used when Jesus asked for the little children to be brought close to Him (Luke 18:15).
In the same chapter in Luke (18:17) He instructs His disciples that His kingdom (heaven) was custom built for young children who will be with Him forever. This historical picture of Jesus inviting children to be with Him is a deep solace to parents who have lost a baby. I weep joyful tears when I think about Jesus holding my four dead babies on His lap waiting for my entrance into heaven.
(4) There Is a Biblical Example of a Deceased Baby Being Saved (2 Samuel 12:15-23)
King David had a baby who died very young. The child was born sick. David’s leaders of faith prayed with him over the child and the baby survived seven days and then died. On the same day David chooses to go into the house of the Lord and worship Him. When he returns home after praising God he chooses to eat and try to move on with his life. It’s at this point he tells his friends that he knows he can’t bring his dead baby back into his life but rather he will focus on the fact that he’ll go to his baby one day (2 Samuel 12:23).
This account gives me great hope and even assurance from David’s faith that dead babies are ushered into the arms of the heavenly Father in heaven.
(5) God is a Good, Good, Perfect Father (Psalm 103:13)
Even as a leader in the church I have no idea who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. My role on this planet is not to judge anyone or determine their eternal destination after death. My role is to simply love people with the grace God has shown me. I can hope. I can trust. I do not know for sure.
God the Father alone determines which children He permits via spiritual adoption into His family. It’s His choice alone. Not the parents of a deceased baby who need false hope. Not any church leader trying to say nice words to a grievely family. It’s the Lords’ choice.
And that’s very good news.
I trust the Father God who pursued me, saved me by His grace, through His Son and has sealed me forever in His care, so, yes, I also trust Him fully to do what is loving and merciful and compassionate to do what is best with the babies my family has lost.
I am a dad who worships a heavenly Dad Who brings life where there has been death.
I am pro-life (more here). I am in anguish over the 50,000 abortions happening each year. But I have faith that all of those 50,000 babies each year are ushered into heaven, praising Jesus forever (when, in reality, had all 50,000 babies been allowed to be born, some would grow up rejecting Jesus and not in eternity with Him).
In the end it’s God’s decision to welcome dead babies into heaven or not, but from what I believe about God’s character, what my faith has seen in Scriptural references and in the trust I have in God’s hesed (unconditional) love, I am eager to spend eternity with four children I didn’t have the honor of raising in this life. I am eager to weep no more as Jesus wipes the tears from my eyes.
Thanks for reading. You are loved.