(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The innocence of infants
30th November 2013
I'm sometimes asked if I believe that children who die young go to heaven, and I've never been absolutely sure what the answer to that question is. Of course, I'd like to be able to say "Yes" but the Bible doesn't seem to me to answer the question directly.
If you ask me whether young children are sinners, I would have to say "Yes, even the unborn are sinners". I think the Psalmist makes that clear:
But I recently re-read another verse, which seems to me to say that young children don't experience spiritual death. If that's right, then I think it must also be true that they're not judged by God, and are not condemned. The verse is:
This seems to me to say that there’s an age at which children become morally responsible for their actions. God didn't judge Paul for his trespasses when he was younger than that, because he wasn't able to make moral judgements then. So, as an infant, Paul was both a sinner and innocent, and so were we.
I don’t know exactly when a child becomes morally responsible, but I do know that the Jews have a ceremony called Bar Mitzvah, when boy is 13 years old, which marks the boy’s coming of age. Bar Mitzvah means “Son of commandment”. In Jewish culture, it doesn’t mean that he’s treated as a fully-fledged adult, but it does mean that he’s held by the community as morally responsible for his actions.
Of course, we have to be careful to distinguish between Jewish ritual and scripture. I’m not saying that we should start giving our children Bar Mitzvahs, or that the Jews should continue to do so, or that they shouldn't. But I do think they’re on to something. I don’t think we can blame a 10-week-old baby for what he does. But clearly, we can blame a 20-year-old-man for what he does. So there must be a point at which the child becomes morally responsible (though not necessarily at 13).
And that’s what I think the infallible word of God is saying here:
There are other Bible passages which say that young children don't know what's right and what's wrong, or describe them as innocent, including:
If my interpretation of this passage is right, it teaches that children who die when they’re very young, or even are aborted and so are never born at all, are not judged by God, and so are accepted into heaven.
Perhaps Jesus had this idea that young children are innocent in mind when he said:
God's court will not condemn little children, because they're innocent (even though they're sinners). But we adults must be declared innocent, as they are innocent, for God's court not to judge us. We can only be declared innocent - justified - through faith in the blood of Christ. And the Holy Spirit comes and sanctifies us, making us more innocent in practice over time.
If anybody has any other relevant scriptures (either supporting this idea or against it) please let me know.