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When a Child Dies Will They Go to Heaven?

When a Child Dies Will They Go to Heaven?

Every so often as a pastor I am asked by someone about the eternal destiny of a child who has died. Do they go to heaven? What about the age of accountability? What about a miscarriages or abortion- is that a child who goes to heaven?  I am always perplexed when people share with me some of the inane comments they hear from others on this subject.  Some tell me they have heard that children who have not been baptized will go to hell. Others have told me that if the child’s parents are not believers then there is no faith to “cover” the child and the child must pay for the sins of the parents resulting in an eternity in hell. Such ridiculous comments stem from skewed interpretation of Scripture or errant church tradition or both. In addition, it is equally troubling to me when I hear people say, “I don’t know,” in response to the death of a child and their eternal state.

Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Larry King had a panel on his show to talk about the issues related to the tragedy. King asked John MacArthur, a well-known pastor and author of many books, “What about a two year-old baby crushed at the bottom of the World Trade Center?” MacArthur’s response- “Instant heaven.”  King replied, “The baby wasn’t a sinner?” MacArthur again answered, “Instant heaven.” The pastor is right. It is within our sense of decency and fairness that we want to believe all children who die go to heaven. The good news is that we can go beyond our feelings on this issue. The Scripture clearly teaches that all children who die will go to heaven. So, what does the Scripture say?

To begin, the Scripture affirms that life begins at conception. Psalm 139:13-16 states, “For you formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” The plain sense of this biblical text coupled with the fact that an omniscient, omnipotent God is the personal Creator of all life clearly mandates that life begins at conception.  What does this mean for the issue of children and heaven?  It means that a human life that is ended because of abortion will be in heaven. The parents who suffer a miscarriage will, if they are followers of Christ, meet their child who they never saw one day in heaven.

In 2 Sam. 12 we read the story of the death of David and Bathsheba’s child. David fasts and mourns while the child is still alive and on the brink of death. He is so distraught, his servants fear he will do something to harm himself. However, when the child dies, David cleans up, worships God, and asks for something to eat. This is strange, as even greater mourning would be expected upon the news of the child’s death. When David is questioned about his behavior, he responds by saying, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (1 Sam. 12:22-23). The phrase “I shall go to him” is a telling part of David’s seemingly odd behavior and an important aspect of the issue of a child’s eternity. By saying this, David clearly believes that his child is in heaven.  He is in a place of conscious existence and furthermore a place where he will one day be reunited with his son. Some have said David’s expression is a reference to lying in an adjacent grave to his child. But clearly David is not talking about the cemetery- he is talking about heaven. Why does David break his fast and worship after hearing of his son’s death? The grave would not cause that kind of hope. Only heaven would!  David breaks his fast because of his confident assurance that his child is in the care of God and that one day he will see him again. The same is true of Abraham when it is said of him in Gen. 25:8 that he breathed his last and was “gathered to his people.” That phrase isn’t talking about the family burial plots. It’s talking about a conscious existence and reunion in the afterlife.

The story of David and Bathsheba’s son dying gives cause to reflect on an errant perspective some have about the death of a child. I have heard it said that, because he was conceived in adultery, David and Bathsheba’s child went to hell. The same is said of children today whose parents are not Christians or have not been baptized. The Scripture they state is usually Exod. 34:6-7, “The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” A common misperception of this text is that God holds children guilty for the sins of their parents.  However, consider the words of Deut. 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” This text clearly states that each person will be liable for their own sin and will not be held guilty of their parent’s sin. So, do these two texts contradict each other? No. A child will never bear the guilt of their parents (Deut 24), but the children of a sinful generation are powerfully affected and influenced by the consequences of their parent’s sin (Exod 34).

So, the reason a child who dies will go to heaven is because they will not be held liable to sin. They are innocent. Consider the account of Jonah called to preach repentance to the Ninevites. Jonah hated the people and wanted God to destroy all of them. He certainly didn’t want the Ninevites to have the opportunity to be saved. However, God responded to Jonah’s displeasure by saying, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11). The people who do not know their right hand from their left are clearly children and those who are mentally disabled. They are incapable of making the choice to repent. It is clear that such are the objects of God’s mercy, not judgment.

The whole issue of innocence in terms of children and God’s judgment brings up what is commonly called “the age of accountability.” At what age does a person know they are a sinner, have offended the perfect standard of God’s righteousness, and thus are liable for judgment? The key thing we need to realize is not the age of a person but the condition of a person. There is no age at which every person suddenly becomes aware of and accountable for their sin.  The Bible is silent on there being a set age.  The reason for this is that each child has their own unique development in understanding truth. The key is not age, but rather reaching a condition of moral culpability. Any child who dies before reaching this condition will go to heaven. We must also include here those people who are mentally disabled. God will not hold them accountable for what they did not understand.

Finally, we need to consider the regard that Jesus had for children. In Matt. 18:3-5 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Jesus saw in children a tremendous example of dependency, trust, and humility- all characteristics we should embody in our relationship with the Lord. A child was Jesus’ best illustration of a redeemed believer. Someone might say that Jesus is only using the children here as an analogy of how adults can be saved. But remember that analogies only work if they are grounded in truth. If children are not readily accepted into heaven, then Jesus’ analogy is a bad one. Becoming a follower of Christ was in many ways like becoming a child. Certainly Jesus’ regard for and teaching about children fits the biblical pattern of their innocence before God.

Mark 10:14-15- “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” I love what the 19th century Presbyterian preacher Charles Hodge said of this verse- “He tells us, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ as though heaven was in great measure composed of the souls of redeemed infants.” Scripture clearly affirms that innocent children will be welcomed and embraced by the heavenly Father.


Take Care of the Little Things

Take Care of the Little Things

I recently had a conversation with my oldest daughter who is ten that was very enlightening for me.  She told me that it hurt her feelings that I no longer sit on her bed and talk with her at bedtime.  This is something I used to do when she was smaller, where we would simply talk about random things or events of the day.  However, in the last year or so she has become a voracious reader.  So, I stopped our little bedtime talks thinking she would want to read instead.  After all, the content of those chats were rarely substantive.  I had no idea how important they were to her and that just a small amount of my attention communicated that she was important to me.  What I thought was inconsequential, she found very important.  My daughter reminded me that many times in life the seemingly simple and insignificant can be quite invaluable.

I was reminded of a story I have told before in a sermon about a man named Charlie Steinmetz. Charlie was a little person who was physically disabled; he was also a genius on the subject of electricity.  Steinmetz was the mastermind behind the massive turbines and generators that powered Henry Ford’s first automobile plant in Dearborn, Mich.  Thanks to Steinmetz, the cars began to roll off the assembly line and profits poured into Ford’s pockets.  All went smoothly for the first several months until suddenly everything shut down.  Mechanic after mechanic tried to fix the problem, but to no avail.  Finally, Ford called Steinmetz.  He showed up and went to work.  He fiddled with a few switches and a gauge or two.  He pushed a few buttons and messed with a few wires.  Then he threw the master switch and everything came back on.  In a few days, Steinmetz sent Ford a bill for $10,000.  Ford sent it back with a note attached that read, “Charlie, doesn’t it seem a little steep to charge me $10,000 for tinkering around with a few wires and switches?”  Steinmetz rewrote the bill and sent it back to Ford.  It read:

For tinkering around on the motors: $10.00;  For knowing where to tinker : $9,990.00.

What seemed mundane to Ford was actually of vital importance from Steinmetz’s perspective.  We need to remember this in life.  Those apparently mundane talks, fishing trips, and being at the ballgames/performances are of immense importance to your kids.  It’s the seemingly minor things that make marriages flourish.  It’s little things that often guard our hearts from straying away from the Lord and our time with Him.  Take inventory of your life and in the relationships you value the most: what you consider trivial, routine, or insignificant may well be extremely important things after all.


Hey Hollywood, Clean Movies Sell More Tickets: How Families Can Make Good Entertainment Choices

Hey Hollywood, Clean Movies Sell More Tickets: How Families Can Make Good Entertainment Choices

Recently my son asked if I would take him to a new movie about a comic book hero. It sounded like a fun father-son thing to do until I checked out the movie on the website Plugged In. The movie contains 40 uses of “sh–” and repeated crude references to body parts. Why is that even necessary? It isn’t “art” and it doesn’t sell tickets. Perhaps I would have taken my son had the makers of the film left these elements out.

I was surprised to recently read that family-friendly movies earn two to six times more at the box office than other films. That is a staggering number! Apparently, movie producers in Hollywood seem to be getting the message to some degree as the number of family friendly films is on the rise. Sadly, the television industry is lagging woefully behind. Read an interesting article on this here:

Family Friendly Films Earn More at Box Office

If directors, producers, and writers of movies/TV shows realized that parents like me, along with many others, research the content of a movie online before we go to the theater they might change their ways. The internet can be many evil things, but here is one way to use it to our advantage. Some would say, “Hollywood doesn’t care what we think.” They will if we stop buying tickets! The bottom line for the entertainment industry is money. And apparently clean movies sell. If Hollywood understood this perhaps they would be less inclined to view the inclusion of profanity and sexuality in their productions as “art.”

A very helpful online tool for families is the website Plugged In (a part of the ministry of Focus on the Family). You can access the website here.

Plugged In

Plugged In also has an App for smart phones which is handy. At a minimum, the website tells you the number and kind of profanities in the movie. It alerts the reader to the sexual and graphic violence content as well. In addition, it describes other negative content along with what is positive in the movie. And many times the reviewer will tell you if, in general, it was a good or bad movie (although you will not always agree with them on this!). Plugged In also reviews music and video games.

Parents, we need to be careful what we allow our children to watch (and we need to be careful about that ourselves!). I am often amazed at the movies to which parents are bringing young children. I recall the time my wife and I went to see the remake of King Kong. As we were leaving the show, a family was walking out with what looked to be a 4 year-old. In my opinion, the movie was way too intense for someone of that age. The little girl stopped and looked up at the movie poster for the Curious George movie that was also showing at that time. I leaned over to my wife and said, “That family took their daughter to a movie about the wrong monkey.” Parents, let’s be careful about movies, TV, music, and video games. There is some good stuff out there, but we need to make good judgments about what is age appropriate for them. Sadly, there is also a lot of stuff out there that is inappropriate for any age. Let’s try and send a message to the entertainment industry that content which is graphically violent, sexualized, and profane isn’t good for the moral fiber of our nation or their bank accounts.

The Two Greatest Blights in Our Nation’s History: A Failure to Value Human Life

The Two Greatest Blights in Our Nation’s History: A Failure to Value Human Life

Two of the greatest blights on our nation’s history are slavery and abortion. I have had cause to ponder both of these issues in the recent past. January always marks the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday observed in many evangelical churches. That day corresponds to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. News outlets last week reported the grisly findings of Philadelphia police in the abortion clinic of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell is being charged for murder for killing babies born alive during late term abortions. The babies were killed when Gosnell, or one of his associates, would insert scissors into the back of the baby’s neck severing the spinal
cord. One instance reported that a baby wiggled around on a counter top for twenty minutes before someone came in and performed the murderous procedure. You can read the full story about Gosnell and the despicable condition and practices of his clinic here:

“House of Horrors” Abortion Clinic

I used Gosnell last Sunday in my sermon to illustrate what happens to us whenever we think we have figured something out better than God. In essence, this is what Cain did with his offering in Gen. 4. Either he didn’t offer the right kind of offering or he didn’t give his best. Either way, he decided he had come up with an improved way of worshiping the Lord and thus God rejected his offering. We do this today with the origin of the universe, marriage, sexual morality, and the sanctity of human life. Gosnell obviously bought in to the secularist notion that life in the womb isn’t yet a “human.” When we functionally say to God we have things better figured out than Him, the consequences can often spin out of control. This is what happened to Cain- he eventually murdered his brother. And so it did with Gosnell.

My first thought in talking about Gosnell in church was to sanitize the gruesome details. Though I did tone it down somewhat, I’m convinced the reason we have Kermit Gosnells in this country is because we have swept under the carpet and sanitized too much the horrific, despicable practice of abortion. I am always dismayed and saddened when our leaders affirm abortion. President Obama made recent comments in honor of the Roe v. Wade decision supporting the decision. You can read his statement as well as view a powerful video from John Piper responding to similar comments from the President a few years ago here:

President Obama and Abortion/Piper Response

God have mercy on us for enabling and approving the practice of abortion. What an amazingly crass and defiant disregard for God, His Word, and the precious life created in his image.

The second blight I mentioned was slavery. Fortunately, this is a thing of the past- or so we think. I was amazed to hear my wife tell me of a conversation she recently had with someone about the issue of human trafficking. I was amazed to hear that Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation in human trafficking (I do not know the source for that statistic). Also, human traffickers target large events, such as the upcoming Super Bowl, to do their unimaginable business. Watch an eye-opening video about human trafficking at the Super Bowl and learn awareness from this site:

The Home Foundation

Human trafficking is something we need to be aware of and strongly oppose. It, too, is a blatant slap in the face to the dignity and sanctity of human life. Consider this excerpt from the website about a young girl enslaved in human trafficking:

“One little girl finally told her captor just to kill her, she couldn’t do it anymore. The pimp refused, telling her he makes too much money off her. If she wouldn’t do what he told her to, he would kidnap her 8 year-old sister and pour battery acid over her face while she watched. The little girl complied, living in a dog cage when she wasn’t being sold to man after man.”

How can such atrocities exist in this world and in our own country? Pray that we can stem the tide of the disregard for the sanctity of human life.

Never Missed a Super Bowl- But Was It Worth the Price You Paid?

Never Missed a Super Bowl- But Was It Worth the Price You Paid?

The next Super Bowl is coming up at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX on Feb. 8. Visa is running an ad campaign giving away the opportunity to go to every Super Bowl for the rest of your life.  Their commercials tell the story of four men who have attended every Super Bowl since the first one in 1967.  One commercial features Larry Jacobson who states, “I’ve missed weddings, I’ve missed babies being born, but I have no intention of missing a Super Bowl… ever.”  See the Visa commercial about him here:

Some of my first thoughts when I heard about the “Never Missed a Super Bowl Club” were: How fun it would be to attend every Super Bowl and how lucky these guys are that the NFL gives them access to tickets at face value.  Not only has Jacobson been to every Super Bowl, he’s also been to the last 46 Rose Bowls and the last 11 Summer Olympics dating back to the 1968 games in Mexico City.

But the overriding thought that occurs to me is that these guys have paid a terrible price to feed their fanaticism for sports.  I couldn’t discover for sure, but apparently these men have missed the births of their own children or grandchildren to attend the big game.  They have stated that their quest to attend sporting events has caused some friction in their families.  I’m sure that’s an understatement!  Jacobson notes that his friends call him “Mr. Excitement” because he is so fixated on the game that he doesn’t speak to anyone.  In the commercial he states, tongue in cheek, that he can telepathically help a kick go through the uprights because he is so focused on the ball.

One can only wonder- what if he was as focused on his family?  Or the Lord?  What do the wives and kids think about dad/granddad missing weddings, births, and birthdays for a game.  One member of the club said, “My wife doesn’t play fair” referring to his attending every Super Bowl.  Can we blame her?  I don’t mean to be negative toward these men, but their story illustrates the rampant problem so many families face today- an absentee or very distracted father.  Dads, outside of your relationship with Christ, what could possibly be more important that your relationship with your wife and kids?  What message are we sending to them when work, sports, hunting/fishing, etc. clearly earns more of our time and passion than they do?  Of course, I’m not saying we have to give any of these up.  But I am saying that we need to evaluate our priorities and make sure the most important people in our lives get the best part of who we are.

Each of the men in the Never Missed a Super Bowl Club have the programs and ticket stubs from every game.  One day these things will fade away and they certainly won’t bring them along when they die.  Great memories?  Yes.  But last for eternity and live beyond themselves? No.  We fathers need to make sure we are investing in the lives of our family- that’s certainly something infinitely more important and will outlive us one day.  Dad, you only get one chance at raising your kids.  Give them your best.  Give your wife your best.  Though they’ll never make an ad campaign and commercials around your devotion to family, it’s something of far greater value on which to brag.