Several years ago, I took a group of college students to the Amazon basin to share the love of Christ in some remote river communities. After a few days in one village, I left a small group of students there and continued upriver to another village. After I left, a young family in the community tragically lost a 6-month-old baby to an unknown illness and dehydration. The parents asked my students to do the funeral. These 19- and 20-year-olds were not prepared for the emotional and spiritual gravitas of the situation. They did the best they could to minister to that family. But they all felt the acute burden of answering the inevitable theological questions arising from such a difficult loss: What happens when children die? Are they saved? What do we say to comfort grieving parents?
It is natural, maybe even inevitable, that we seek comfort in the hope that God welcomes little ones in heaven when their time on earth is cut painfully short. While most Christians affirm the doctrine of inherited sin and confess that forgiveness of sin comes only through personal faith in Christ, we also believe God is good and gracious in cases when a lost child was too young to make a profession of faith. How is it, though, that God would save young children without the need for repentance of sin and expressed faith in Christ?
Theologians and Christian leaders throughout history have sought to answer this knotty problem. Augustine and Ambrose argued that since infants inherit the guilt of sin, not just the sin nature, only baptized infants would be saved. John Calvin and C. H. Spurgeon maintained that God’s election could extend to infants and children, so they were already predestined for salvation. And a variation of this view argues ...1