Is there an age of accountability? How does God judge children who die? What does a just God do with babies who pass away? This week, Pastor Lutzer encourages us to trust God’s justice even in life’s most difficult circumstances.
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
- Deuteronomy 32:4
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Transcript: Hi, welcome to Five Minutes With Pastor Lutzer. So glad that you have joined us today, because in a moment we’re gonna be discussing the justice of God. We’re talking about His attributes. And today I’m going to try to answer the question, how does God judge children who die? And this is not just a theoretical question. My wife and I have eight grandchildren, but our first grandchild is in heaven. She was stillborn. She was named Sarah. So these become important issues.
The passage I am thinking about today is actually chapter 32 of the book of Deuteronomy, verse 4. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all of his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity.” All of his ways are justice. What do we make of children who die?
Now there’s some people who say that babies don’t go to heaven unless they are baptized. I totally reject that. I can’t imagine that some ceremony gets anyone to heaven. And then there are those who say, “Well, only the elect go to heaven, if their parents are Christians.” I don’t think that God is gonna hold a baby accountable if his parents aren’t Christians.
Let’s get a few things straight. First of all, I believe that an infant is a baby. He’s a baby from conception. This is not only true in Psalm 139, but also in Luke chapter one where Mary and Elizabeth meet. The Bible says the baby leaped in her womb. Obviously a pre-born infant is a baby. That’s very obvious. It’s also true that they are born under the condemnation of sin. They are born in Adam. In fact, that’s why they die.
So how are babies saved, and children? I believe that God takes their condemnation and he places it on Jesus, and therefore they are accepted by God. Of course, they have not committed personal sin, especially if they are still infants. And all of that is placed on Jesus, and therefore they are redeemed. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what is your biblical evidence?” I think Matthew 18 is quite decisive. Jesus said that if you receive a child, you’re receiving me. And later on in the same chapter He says, regarding children, “Their angels behold the face of my Father, which is in heaven,” which takes children and puts them right close to God. Right before the face of the Father. David in the Old Testament said that he would not come—that is to say that his child would not come back to him, but he would go to his child. He expected to see him again.
And then what about the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel? God says to the people, “You are sacrificing your children to a false god.” And he says, “You are sacrificing My sons and daughters.” Those children belong to God.
Now the question that people often ask is about the age of accountability. I don’t like that term exactly. I think we should talk about a state, or a condition, of accountability. And I say that because someone may be born, and perhaps with a mental disability, has the mind of a two-year-old. Therefore, they will be judged as a two-year-old, even if they are 20 or 40 years old. God takes all of these things into account.
Now, there’s only one passage of Scripture that, to my knowledge, says anything about the age of accountability. I find this very interesting. You remember when Israel was in the desert, God says, “All those who are 20 years old and under, they are going to get into the land; but all of you who are 20 and above, you’re gonna die in the desert.” Now isn’t that interesting? And in Deuteronomy chapter 1 verse 39, we have a very interesting verse. Moses is rehearsing what God told him, and then Moses says this: “And your little ones, who do not know good or evil, they are the ones that are going to enter into the land.” Your little ones who don’t know good or evil.
Now I’m not saying that the age of accountability is 20. I’m not qualified to say that. And I think that the Bible is unclear, and I’m glad that it is because we would find ourselves with all kinds of discussions if it gave us an age of accountability. But I think it is much higher than many people think it is. I cannot even imagine a nine-year-old child, ten, eleven, twelve, being banished from God forever.
So let me ask you this question. How shall we resolve this? Ultimately, we do have to leave it in God’s hands. But let me conclude today with a powerful, gut-wrenching story.
Come with me to Indiana, maybe 30 years ago or so. Here’s a man under a tree. I remember it was a hot day. And I still see his face. A man who was just weeping and wailing. His son had committed suicide—his fifteen-year-old son had committed suicide just that week or the previous week. And this is what he said to me—and I’ll never forget his words. He said, “If I get to heaven and discover that my son isn’t there, I will beg God to go to hell so that I can be with my son.” Well, what do you say to a man like that?
I of course prayed with him—I forget everything that I said to him. But this is what I want to say to you today: that I am sure, when the man gets to heaven—and he may already be there—if his son isn’t there, he’s not going to beg God to go to hell to be with his boy. He is going to say with confidence that God did rightly and justly. And just and true are His ways. And you know, if I might add a further word, the Bible says that eventually God is going to wipe out the tears from our eyes. You know what the Greek text says? He’s gonna wipe the tears out of our eyes as if He’s going to get to the very heart of our sorrow.
So my dear friend out there, if you are wondering about a child who has died, the best that I can say to you are in the words of Abraham—shall not the judge of all the Earth do right? And remember, children belong to God.
So glad that you have joined us. Please join us again next time. Today, go with God, and indeed, be with us next time.