Do babies go to heaven? I cannot think of a theological question I am asked more often.
Although infant mortality rates in the West have decreased over the past few centuries, the eternal destiny of deceased babies remains a point of concern for many Christians. The question is easy to ask, but difficult to answer. And it has significant implications for the way we think about God, let alone children.
The emotional urgency of the question demands a response. Few pastors or friends want to say, “I don’t know.” As a result, many of us are tempted to proof-text—to use isolated, out-of-context quotations from Scripture to establish a position. So we come up with answers like:
Yes. Jesus let the little children come to him (Luke 18:15–16).
No. All humans are sinners in Adam until they believe in Christ (Rom. 5:12–21).
Yes. David knew that he would see his son in the afterlife (2 Sam. 12:15–23).
No. Not unless they have been baptized: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).
Yes. If their parents are believers: A child is sanctified by a Christian parent (1 Cor. 7:14).
And so on. Even if none of these passages, when read in context, actually tells us whether babies go to heaven, our desire for a solid answer drives us to find one.
A number of theologians have tried to answer the question in a broader way. The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that some infants are elect, but it does not tell how to discriminate an elect baby from a non-elect one. The Catholic Catechism says infants might be saved without baptism, but stops short of affirming that all will be—though John Paul II, in his EvangeliumVitae, implies ...1