Answer: This is a piercing question for anyone who has lost a child! The death of a child is a horrible, horrendous, if not hellacious experience for any person to experience! On the heels of 9/11 Larry King asked John MacArthur, a prominent pastor/teacher/author in California, this question: “What about a two-year old baby crushed at the bottom of the World Trade Center?”
In his thought-provoking and heart-soothing book, Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from heaven about the death of a child” MacArthur answers this question:
“I had been invited to … the Larry King Live television program one Saturday evening. The program was taped in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Even though we had been discussing issues of life and death, grief and hope, as part of this program, Larry’s question seemed to come out of nowhere.”
John MacArthur answered the question with two words: “Instant Heaven.” While we may want to believe that John MacArthur is absolutely correct when he declared with absolute certainty that babies who die go to heaven, can we substantiate his position with Scripture? Let’s prayerfully and carefully examine the Scriptural evidence. John MacArthur asks if it is Biblical to believe God would consign children to hell as opposed to heaven? He writes pointedly:
“How could we believe that God weeps over the lost and pleads with willful sinners … if He catapults millions upon millions of innocent babies into hell before they even reach a state of moral culpability – before they have the ability to make any moral distinction between good and evil?”
There are clear indications in the Bible that God treats children differently from their parents who have reached a level of full moral and spiritual accountability. Although we read in Deuteronomy how the Israelites who refused to enter the Promised Land were barred from ever entering this land, their “little children … sons who don’t know good from evil, will enter there” (1:39). The Israelites’ children were viewed/treated as “innocents” who didn’t “know good from evil.” Isaiah 7:16 pictures how young children have not yet reached an age where they have learned to “reject what is bad and choose what is good.” Prior to this age children may be sinful in nature, but they have not reached a time when they can reject God and His place for them in heaven. They have not reached that point when they are able to “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18).
Two deaths in David’s family reflect the dramatic difference between the death of an “innocent” young child (a baby) and that of a rebellious and culpable young man. In the first instance, a baby is born out of the adulterous relationship between David and Bathsheba. David had pleaded desperately with God to spare this baby, but the child died. Afterwards David was not overwhelmed with grief because he seemed to believe that one day he would go to be with this baby: “I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me” (II Sam. 12:23). David believed what he wrote in Psalm 23:6, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” – and that his “innocent” baby would be there.
In the second instance, his son Absalom was killed during his treacherous rebellion against David, leaving his father somewhat inconsolable. He knew that Absalom was far from being innocent.
It is one thing to say that children who are more “innocent” than “mature” sinners are not condemned to hell, but does that mean they are welcomed into heaven? Are they innocent enough for heaven? John MacArthur is quick to say that young children who die go to heaven not because they are “innocents” but because God is loving and gracious!
I love what Gleason Archer says about how David handled the death of his baby (conceived in sin): “David had a quiet confidence in the perfection of God’s will, even in a heart-rending situation.” We can have that quiet confidence!