What happens to babies who die? This is a question I’ve been asked often over the years. It’s a question I’ve wrestled with out of a desire to minister faithfully to those who’ve lost a child, and when trying to make sense of my own personal grief after my wife miscarried. Let me be clear: losing a child of any age is by far the most painful experience any parent could ever endure. My heart goes out to all parents who’ve had to walk through the excruciatingly painful, confusing, and seemingly hopeless experience of child loss. May the Lord of mercy and grace grant you comfort without measure.
The death of an infant presents many logical questions for parents, one in particular for Christian parents: Is my child in Heaven? After all, the Bible tells us that in order to be saved and have eternal life one must believe (Romans 10:9). How can babies do so since they don’t yet have the mental capacity to exercise saving faith? Hopefully this post will answer questions for you, though I also hope it will cause you to ask greater questions.
Let’s consider these things about this issue:
The first response most people would have to the question, “What happens to babies who die?” would be an assured “Yes.” However, is this answer based on sentimentality or the Bible? We have to be cautious about answering anything based on what we think God should do, or forming a doctrine based purely on human reasoning and emotion: “We have no right to establish doctrine on the basis of what we hope may be true. We must draw our answers from what the Bible reveals to be true.”  We must base our answer on what God has revealed and not on speculation.
Likewise, we must acknowledge that God is sovereign and has the divine right to do with his creation (including humans) whatever he wishes.
“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:21).
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6).
In my experience people are actually more horrified at the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty than anything. Our lives from start to finish are in his hands. This can make some people fearful of him. Because God is sovereign we should be joyful and not afraid!
We must acknowledge that’s salvation is a gift, not a right. All people are born in sin. There is no innocence before God in this sense. The scriptures are very clear that we’ve all sinned, even from the womb:
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We must understand that no one deserves to be saved by virtue of the sin we inherited from Adam. We stand naked and afraid before God, hoping for mercy.
But we know that God is good, compassionate, merciful, just, and loving:
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).
At the end of the day, God’s love and mercy triumphs. We have to hang our hope on this fact. In the loss of an infant, or any other tragedy, resting in the knowledge that God loves us and desires our good is where we need to find ourselves. I know from experience that it’s easier said than done. While we may have to bear the weight of his chastening, the effects of sin, and a multitude of other things, we know for certain God loves us and desires our good in a way that glorifies himself.
All that brings us to trying to answer the question at hand. Based on what we know from the Bible, can we construct a satisfying answer to the question “What happens to babies who die?” I believe we can.
What Jesus said. We know Jesus himself had a special love for children. He rebuked his disciples for trying to keep children away from him and said this, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). I believe Jesus was saying that in order to come to him, one must have a childlike faith. I also believe he was speaking literally and using his relationship with children to make a point for adults. That God has a special love for children makes me hopeful for their eternity. He even says that children are a “heritage” from himself, not simply a product of male sperm and female eggs joining together (Psalm 127:3). The Hebrew word for “heritage” (nachalah) means a property, possession, or inheritance. In other words, our children are on loan from God, they belong to him.
David’s child. In the narrative of David and Bathsheba, David’s infant son dies. In David’s grief and despair he said this, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). David had confidence that he would see the child again, he would “go to him.” We can make an accurate judgment from the Bible that David is now in heaven. Therefore, David is now with his son.
John the Baptist. Finally, we have the case of John the Baptist. When John was in his mother’s womb for six months (Luke 1:36), he was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother‘s womb” (Luke 1:15). Whether this is a singular case or not is not the bigger picture. The fact is, for one to be filled with the Holy Spirit is for one to belong to God (Romans 8:15; 2 Corinthians 1:22). John being filled with the Holy Spirit as an infant signifies that he belonged to God even before had was able to excercise faith in Jesus.
Because of these things, I believe we can have confidence that babies who die are with God in Heaven. I’m not saying this based on emotion, sentimentality, or just because I want to. Though the Bible never explicitly answers the question we’re dealing with here, it most certainly does answer it implicitly. We can gather scripture and construct a systematic theology of this issue, and therefore an answer. This is similar to the doctrine of the Trinity for instance. The Bible never explicitly says, “God is One, and exists in three separate but equal Persons.” Yet, we can observe, interact, and assemble all the scriptures that speak to the fact that God is indeed Triune and be assured that the Trinity is a biblically faithful and orthodox doctrine.
I realize this post can’t answer every question you might have. I’ll include links at the end of this article for further reading. I want to speak from a couple of personal experiences on why I wrote this particular post.
First, I have experienced the loss of an infant. My wife and I miscarried on our first pregnancy. It was such a painful experience. Even now, over 10 years later, it still hurts. I sometimes wonder if part of God’s mercy to me in that time was that I never got to hold my child and form that bond with him. My heart is torn for those who lose infants and children after they’ve cuddled them, put them to sleep, fed them. My hope is my words can help bring comfort and healing to those who’ve faced similar circumstances but haven’t been able to come to grips with it. I’m confident I’ll meet my child in heaven when God calls me home. It’s not my motivator, but it will be a sweet reunion I will relish. I base this hope and confidence on God’s Word. You can too.
In closing, I want to speak to a situation that occurred early in my ministry, around 15 years ago. I’d not been a believer for long, but knew God had called me into the ministry of preaching. I was asked to preach a fill-in sermon one Sunday after my pastor became ill and was hospitalized. I can’t remember the topic of my sermon, but it had to do with original sin and the fact that God was sovereign. Something I said upset a lady in the congregation who’d recently miscarried. She became upset because she believed I’d said that babies who die haven’t had time to believe, so they must go to hell. This was a deduction she’d made in her own mind, it wasn’t something I actually said. I never said it because I’ve never believed it. I do acknowledge in my youthfulness and zeal to make a point that I could’ve been clearer, especially since I didn’t realize how weighty of an issue I was dealing with at the time. Of course, all these years of preaching later, I still say to myself, “You could’ve been clearer” after each sermon!
The young lady made an issue out of what she thought I said, telling others who in turn told others around town. I still hear it said about me from time to time, “He believes all babies die and go to hell.” (The Small Town Christian Rumor Mill That Won’t Die! is another post for another day…)
My point in sharing this particular experience is to illustrate just how touchy and raw a subject the subject actually is. We must answer it with humility, grace, comfort… and biblical fidelity. Our aim should be to give confidence based on scripture, not sentimentality and conjecture. This goes not just for “What happens to babies who die?” but to every area of life that demands an answer.
 Albert Mohler and Daniel Akin, “The Salvation of the ‘Little Ones‘: Do Infants Who Die Go To Heaven?” http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/07/16/the-salvation-of-the-little-ones-do-infants-who-die-go-to-heaven/
1. “What Happens To Infants Who Die” by Matt Perman
2. “What Happens To Babies When They Die?” by Mark Driscoll
3. “What Happens To Children Who Die?” by Tim Challies
4. “What Happens To Children Who Die?” by Jesse Johnson