My wife and I were camping when we got a phone call that a friend’s infant child was in a hospital nearby, and was not likely to live. We came out of the mountains and rushed to the hospital, where we ran into John and Pat MacArthur. They had driven the 200 miles because the child’s grandparents were part of our church in Los Angeles.
Entering the NICU, we found the child on life support, and the doctors were not optimistic. Pastor John called the family around him, and he opened his Bible. In that setting, John gave a devotional about what happens to infants who die. As he talked, it was obvious that the family was being comforted by the truths of Scripture. But in the background, something unusual was happening.
Nurses had gathered, and some had gone and alerted others. Soon a dozen or so of the nurses and doctors on the floor had huddled around the entrance to the baby’s room, all of them leaning in, trying to listen to Pastor John’s devotional. Afterwards I talked to a group of them, and they were stunned. Most of them had worked in the NICU for nearly a decade, and they told me they had never heard a biblical explanation for what happens to babies who die. These workers saw this kind of death on a semi-regular basis, but they just assumed the Bible was silent on the eternal fate of these little ones.
John gave them copies of Safe in the Arms of God, a book he wrote to encourage parents who find themselves in this almost unbearable trial. Reading that book impacted me deeply. I have never gone through that kind of trial, but my mind flashed to a time years earlier, before seminary. A friend who had lost his child asked me what the Bible said about his fate. I was on my way to seminary, and he went to a church where he didn’t know any of the pastors. So for some reason, he turned to me.
I squandered the opportunity to give him hope in the Lord. I equivocated, and talked about sin nature, the secret things of the Lord, and how God would be glorified if the child was in heaven or hell. I used the mystery of election to muddle a truth that is also mysterious, but also well attested to; namely that infants who die will go to heaven. I remember the look on my friend’s face. Far from being comforted, my words to him left him confused. It was probably the low point of my pastoral counseling.
Every pastor will have to answer the question, “What happens to infants who die?” Sadly, many pastors respond with varying degrees of ambiguity. By relegating it to an area that the Scripture is unclear about, pastors dispense doubt and cause anguish rather than comfort and solace. This forced ambiguity actually causes people to question the character of God, and in many cases leads grieving parents to question God’s care for them.
This is sad because the Bible is clear about the fate of infants who die. When I say “clear” I don’t mean that there is one particular verse that says “infants go to heaven” (well, I think there are a few, but that is for tomorrow). By “clear” I mean that a compelling systematic case can be developed through Scripture that should give even a novice theologian confidence in addressing this issue.
We will look at that case over the next two days. Tomorrow we will look at what the OT teaches about the issue, and Thursday we will look at what the NT has to say. If you want to help steer this conversation, let me know if there are particular verses you want me to deal with, or any questions in particular you want me to answer. Come back tomorrow and we will start our look at 26 verses in the Bible that teach that infants who die are safe in the arms of God.