I recently listened to a conversation between a hindu and a christian. The hindu asked if babies go to heaven if only those who believe in Jesus Christ make it to heaven. The christian responded, “As babies haven’t reached an age of accountability it is possible for God to accept a baby into heaven even without a conscious decision of faith based on some verses in the bible”. The pushback the christian received was that it is unfair that some have an easy way to heaven. One of the reasons behind the question is that it is not easy to be convinced about Christianity as an adult. The hindu went so far as to say it would be more efficient for God to just send a disease at birth to all. While I can see how this follow up suggestion is absurd, I wasn’t sure how to explain fairness if salvation is easier for babies who die. What would be a good way to respond in such a situation ?
Ah that’s a tricky one, and potentially hugely emotional for the questioner. I see the merits and drawbacks when talking about an ‘age of accountability’. One drawback for me is “who decides the cut off age for ‘a free pass’?”. I’ve heard some people talk about 12 years being such an age, as it ties in with traditional Jewish customs for boys entering adulthood. I’m not sure this can be supported Biblically though.
It may be helpful to step back from the specific ‘baby salvation’ question and look at the wider picture of people (of any age) who don’t know the gospel. For example, I think it ties in with the question ‘what of far off tribes that never heard the gospel?’ An answer that I’ve found helpful, although never entirely satisfactory, for both the question of babies going to heaven, or adults who never heard the gospel, is that God will judge us based on our knowledge and understanding. I have found this helpful, because it eliminates this mysterious age barrier. A person at any age may or may not have ever understood the gospel message fully. I’m referring to people who have never heard it, or who were unable to understand it due to age or ability, rather than those who heard it and chose not to understand it, perhaps through a hardening of their hearts. A reason that I feel this sits better Biblically, is because of the way James 3:1 refers to teachers having more responsibility before God, with greater judgement.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly
They will be judged more strictly because they will hold more knowledge and understanding, and will have shepherded others in their knowledge and understanding. I think this helps to illustrate the idea that anyone’s level of knowledge and understanding will be judged individually. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting the idea that ‘all paths lead to God’, but I think that God gives room for those who never heard the gospel about Jesus, who is the path to God.
I’ve just had a look at what Natasha Crain writes in her book, ‘Keeping Your Kids On God’s Side’, on the question How can God judge people who have never even heard about Jesus? She addresses several perspectives on this, but this is where I sit currently on this topic:
Inclusivists believe those who haven’t heard about Jesus can be saved if they respond to God in faith based on His general revelation. They believe the only reason anyone can ever be saved is because of Jesus’ sacrifice, but that His sacrifice can apply to people who don’t know about it - just as it applied retroactively to those who lived in Old Testament times. Inclusivists believe that if general revelation is enough to condemn a person (Romans 1:19-30), it must also be enough to save a person.
She also points out that it’s okay to answer that ‘we just don’t know’. What we do know is that God is just - there’s plenty in the Bible to illustrate this - so there’s a level of trust needed that God, in His justice, will be fair in judgement on all people of any age.
This may not be enough for the questioner in this conversation, however. It depends whether they are open to understanding God’s character as a whole, or whether they want any reason to pick holes in Christianity.
By the way, I listened to this episode on the ‘age of accountability’ by Mike Winger in his Mark series. His viewpoints are helpful and he digs deep into scriptural support for or against his idea. It’s over an hour but might be interesting as a general consideration of this topic.
Thank you @Alison for responding to this question during the busy holiday season. It is a question that I have encountered many a times in my own conversations with some Hindus. These kinds of pushbacks are not from those who have lost a child but from those who are convinced about their own religious path. They are not able to appreciate the gospel for various reasons and this scenario is often brought up to point out the possibility of a discrepancy in the Christian faith.
Before considering the question of fairness, it’s important to establish if there is sufficient biblical support for salvation of children upon their death. So, I appreciate the video you sent by Mike Winger that presents good biblical foundation for children being granted salvation upon their death. He presents numerous verses where Jesus talks about the necessity of becoming like little children to enter into the kingdom of God (Matt 18:3, Matt 19:14) and also presents an example of this belief in the Old Testament times as seen by the comment made by King David upon the death of his son (2 Samuel 12:23). As children do not have their own knowledge of good and evil, it is not fair to hold them accountable for what they do not know and a just God would be fair to the little children. You are right, it’s the same reasoning we would give to someone who questions us about the fate of the souls who have never heard the gospel before their death. Thank you for sharing your current understanding on this topic of the fate of those who never heard the gospel. You raise an excellent point that its not only the accessibility of the gospel but also the condition or hardness of the heart that determines whether a person will accept Jesus.
When judgement happens, it is clear God is going to judge us based on our knowledge and what we did with that knowledge (Rom 1:18, Rom 2:12, Rev 20:13). The statement that Jesus makes in Matt 10:15, Matt 12:41-42 further supports the idea that judgement would be based on the condition of their heart and the extent to which the gospel was clearly presented. Greater the judgement if greater the revelation! I am not sure at this point whether God will apply His salvation to those who have never heard the gospel as he does to the Old Testament saints or does God give the opportunity to hear the gospel to those who have responded in humility to God’s general revelation or is it both. That’s a great topic for another conversation!
I think in asking the question if it is fair for babies to go to heaven, what the questioner could be assuming is that even babies who could have exercised free will and rejected the gospel later on are granted salvation without effort or choice. But do any of us choose the Lord on our own? Mike Winger in another video, “Infant salvation causes these theological riddles”, which is part 2 of the video you linked talks about how the Christian response can be different depending on our position on the role of free will in salvation - Calvinism, Armenianism or Molinism. This is getting quite complex now for my knowledge level but seems like a good answer who question the fairness of God if little children are granted salvation.
Based on my understanding from the video, this is an easy question for the Calvinists. For Calvinists, we are unable to make a choice to come to the Lord unless our hearts are first regenerated by the Holy Spirit, so there is no difference for a baby who dies early or those who die late on whether they have access to the gospel. For the Armenian, one could explain that God chooses for the babies as they do not have the ability to be morally accountable and this is not anything unfair as parents do make choices for their kids all the time until they have their own understanding. For the Molinist, God so ordered the world that while the babies could reject the gospel if they were older, God can make sure that those who were killed in infancy were only the souls that would receive Him because He is Sovereign.
Mike Winger also points out that we should not make a mistake of rejecting a doctrine clearly supported by scripture because we can’t fully understand and explain its implications. Thought that there is a lot of wisdom in that! All we need to really understand is if the main claims of Christianity are true. Anyway, thank you for your response and also linking the first video, without which I may not have landed at the part 2 video where the question I posed was addressed too.
I have still to do more thinking on this topic. In summary, with our limited perspective when we question the fairness of God it would not be right. Secondly, if the question is about a Christian understanding that presents God as unfair, then the explanations based on different positions of freewill, the basis of judgement, and the character of God seem like good answers to me. Thanks so much!
Thanks for asking this question. I’ve always just accepted that children that die before an “age of accountability” without a making a choice for Jesus would be in heaven. Now a question of fairness has caused me to think more on this topic. Asking first if the doctrine of an “age of accountability” is even biblical and then is it fair one way or another. In the discussion, I believe you and @alison have given fair treatment to the first question and, while not clearly stated in scripture, I think we can trust that the Bible supports the doctrine.
Then I think you hit the nail on the head when you said this.
I think there is a respect for the sovereignty of God that comes into play in the scenario between the Hindu and the Christian. Is recognizing the God of the Bible as The God of the universe really what the question is about anyways? So on the question of fairness I might pivot to ask why would the God of the Universe deign to even choose to save in the first place. If it was just to grant access to heaven, as if it was just a nice place to spend eternity, then the point on efficiency might have merit, but I don’t think that was God’s main goal. I think instead God’s purpose in saving was to make his character and name known throughout the world so that humanity would turn from their human striving.
But then I keep coming back to this question of Why did God save us? I humbly submit Ezekiel 36:22-23 as a statement from God as his “Why”. I found that these verses and rest of the passage around them have been challenging my view of salvation. I think there’s a certain degree of self-centeredness (maybe not the right word) to the western view of salvation. As if to say that God saved me solely because he loved me. While God’s love for humanity is a driver, there is also this element of redeeming the image of God that we all bear that seems to be more at the heart of God’s intent. David Platt’s examination of Ezekiel 36 was a major catalyst in the above thought process and I find that I’m still processing the ramifications. 2 - David Platt - Three Questions (RCRM 2018) - YouTube
Coming back to the question of fairness though, I think God’s purpose isn’t to simply save us for a nice place in eternity. Instead the God of all creation is seeking to restore and redeem his image within that creation. An image that was marred and disconnected from its source and identity. So receiving a baby without a decision for Christ does not conflict with that notion because the cost of that baby’s sin has already been paid and God is sovereign and can apply the justification as he sees fit.
I have more in my heart but feel this is an appropriate place to stop for now.
Hi @lakshmi , thank you, I appreciated you summarising some of the main points of that video which I didn’t get round to doing. Really helpful for anyone who’s not sure whether to commit to such a long video!
I must say that the judgement of fairness really depends on which stance one comes from, and I appreciate this could be a bit of a rabbit hole.
I’m still getting my head around the Calvinist regneration viewpoint, even after a previous thread on Irresistible Grace that delved into this very issue. The Armenian take makes sense in that it seems more fair, but the Molinist viewpoint is one I struggle with, and probably would place an ‘unfair light’ on this whole issue. It just seems a bit too convenient that only the babies that would have chosen God in adulthood died. However, I’d love to understand this viewpoint further as I’m sure it’s more complex than that.
I suppose in conversation with a Hindu friend, it would be worth finding out which viewpoint they’re assuming when they consider this Christian idea. Naming these as ‘Armenian, Molinist etc’ would most likely be unhelpful, but by asking a few questions, you may get insight on which version the Hindu is using in their consideration. It might just help you answer their questions if you realise “their assumptions align more with Calvinism than the others” for example. It might give you more of a footing on how to answer, perhaps.
If you want to communicate this to a Hindu friend, I think your answer would move more to the sufficiency of scripture, which is a whole separate discussion. Maybe this is the underlying question behind the question though? Is Jesus’ claim to being the only way (John 14:6) to be trusted? Can we trust the Bible when it says that God is just, fair and loving? Etc…. Sometimes the surface question like the one you highlighted points to a deeper place of wrestling that the questioner hasn’t yet put into words. Discerning this depends on sensitivity in the moment, but I know it’s something I can easily forget when in conversation. It’s good to remember for next time .
Hi @chris ,
Thanks for your thoughtful post.
I totally agree with you here. Unlike the idea of escape from suffering which is the goal of many Eastern religions, the purpose in saving per bible is to redeem the whole creation as mentioned in Rom 8: 21-24 and through faithful living we get to be a part of God’s mission which would not be possible if all babies were given a disease at birth! I wonder if the hindu thinks about the question of fairness because of a belief in pre-existing souls that enter this world to suffer for past sins.
I appreciate your perspective. I can see that none of us could be saved if God did not take the initiative to send His Son. Yet, the role of man in being able to reject that initiative from God is the reason why judgement is different for different people based on what we did with knowledge and revelation given to us. So I am not sure how to understand Ez 36 from an Armenian point of view but your reasoning fits well with Calvinist point of view. I think the question of fairness could easily extend further from the topic of babies going to heaven to the topic of predestination.
I didn’t get into many other issues to keep my reply concise but there are some important theological questions for discussion that this topic brings up. Thanks @chris for spurring us to think on this more.
Thanks for following along with this thread and your additional thoughts.
Molinist position is new to me but interesting because it allows for both God’s Sovereignity on who is saved and who is not and for man to freely choose. According to Molinism (as I understand), because of God’s foreknowledge of all feasible worlds of cause and effect and God’s knowledge of how a free person could choose in a given situation, God could could create situations in His Sovereignity where a person would freely choose Him. So, from this understanding if God is in control of creating situations that a baby would one day freely choose Him in the future, He could be in control of creating situations where only a baby who would freely choose Him is allowed to die. I hope this makes a little more sense.
I agree with you! Perhaps more questions than answers are required to uncover the real question. Thanks @alison !