Thursday, January 27, 2005

Q-and-A: Are Infants Who Die in Heaven?

A friend tells me that she has become acquainted with a young woman whose infant child died not long ago. This young woman wants assurance that her child is with God in heaven. My friend wrote to me, wondering what I would say to her.

The young woman's feelings are entirely understandable. It's difficult to imagine anything more painful than the death of one's child. It seems to violate the natural order of things.

This has always been the case, even in earlier times when the deaths of children were far more common, whether attributable to high infant mortality rates, the dangers of disease and injury in the days before medicines like penicillin, the lack of child labor laws, or the general lack of safety in everyday life.

Today, we may delude ourselves with the idea that children don't die before their parents, making the loss of little ones, when this tragedy does strike, even more difficult to accept.

The young mother's question was no doubt prompted not just by the "unnaturalness" of her loss, but also by her awareness that entrance into heaven is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ. Heaven is the destination of those who repudiate their sin and trustingly embracing Jesus Christ as the hope of their lives.

This is the thrust of the Bible's most famous verse, John 3:16, where Jesus says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life."

So, what does happen to infants incapable of believing or trusting Jesus? Can parents of little ones take comfort in the hope of heaven for their children? The Bible doesn't address this issue directly. But I believe that there is an answer.

The first thing we need to remember, in answering, is that God is no monster. The love that motivated God to enter our world through Jesus and then to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sin and to rise from death to give us life, characterizes God's whole being and personality. God is filled with love for us all.

In the Old Testament's book of worship, the Psalms, one of the songs there, Psalm 136, contains a recurring litany that affirms that God's "steadfast love endures forever." It makes that affirmation no fewer than 26 times!

But God's love for us isn't a matter of words only. Jesus is the living, dying, rising proof of the steadiness and certainty of God's love for us. God doesn't just speak of His love for us, He actively and sacrificially gives it to us. This loving God wants us to be with Him!

We also should remember that God has a special place in His heart for children. Once, when Jesus' closest followers tried to keep children from "bothering" Him, Jesus became adamant. "Let the children come to Me," He insisted, "and do not stop them..." [Luke 18:16]

A third thing we should remember in considering this young mother's question is that God's intent has never been to trip people up, putting obstacles in their paths to heaven. Jesus once said that God hadn't sent Him "into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." [John 3:17]

Because we know God's character and about His passion for us, I'm confident that children who die before they are able to understand or choose to accept or reject Jesus as their God and Savior, are ushered into eternity with God.

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