20 May Will Babies Be in Heaven? (Part 3): The Age of Accountability
The loss of a child is devastating, whether that child’s life ends in the womb of its’ mother through miscarriage or abortion, or sometime after birth. With so many lives ending young, the question of what happens to a baby or child after they die is incredibly important for those who are grieving and reveals a lot about the character of God.
For Christians who believe the teaching of the Bible, the child has a sin nature that separates them from God. People are separated from God for the simple reason of sin. The human nature of sin, inherited from our Father Adam (Romans 5:12-21), is passed on to all generations not unlike a genetic defect and is part of us before we are born to make conscious decisions.
The Bible has a lot to say about the womb because God sees and knows us from the womb. Psalm 58:3 (NKJV) says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb…” Our problem is not just in what we do in life, but in who we are from conception.
Obviously, no one wants to think of their aborted baby, miscarried baby, stillborn baby, or child who dies at a young as being in hell. Emotionally, the thought is simply too much to bear and contradicts all of the Bible’s teaching about God’s love, God’s grace, and God as a loving and gracious Father.
To help lift the emotional burden, some teach an “age of accountability” which is both unbiblical and unhelpful. It assumes that someone is not morally responsible until they reach an age of reasoning ability. No one can agree on when this age is, although many say it is around the beginning of the teen years. Furthermore, the concept is simply not clearly found in the Bible. Admittedly, some Scriptures point out the obvious fact that babies do not have the same level of moral reasoning as adults (e.g. Isaiah 7:15-16; Jonah 4:11), but to build upon that premise that children are morally innocent and therefore pure like Adam and Eve before the Fall in the sight of God and destined to Heaven does not logically follow.
As the father of five, I can tell you firsthand that a person does not go to sleep one night as an infant without moral responsibility and wake up the next morning as a child responsible for his or her conduct. Moral responsibility is not merely our cognitive thinking, but also our emotional understanding. It’s not simply off until one day it goes on like a light switch. Our moral understanding and responsibility grow as we do physically. In this way, moral understanding is much like a dimmer switch: there is more illumination of right and wrong as we grow in wisdom with age.
A refutation of the concept of the age of accountability can be found in Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15: “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The word for “childhood” is “the period of time when one is very young – childhood (probably implying a time when a child is still nursing), infancy.” [FOOTNOTE: Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 648.]
It is possible for even a young child to know the Scriptures because there is not an “age of accountability” as much as growing moral responsibility as we come to better understand the instruction of our conscience internally and God’s word externally. We say this firsthand with each of our children who knew and loved the Lord, demonstrating evidence of the Spirit of God at work in and through them before they started school, and long before they were teenagers.
Jesus is, of course, the perfect example for this principle. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Jesus’ growth was holistic. He grew in every way as he aged. This was Jesus humbling himself, setting aside his glory and demonstrating humility by identifying with our humanity while retaining his divinity. Jesus’ example of growing in wisdom by the Spirit’s power as he grew physically is God’s intent for all who belong to him. Therefore, those who want to put all departed little ones in heaven may not have a bad goal, but they do have a weak case. There are more weighty reasons to have hope, which will explore in the next few daily devotionals.