Question: What happens to babies when they die? Do they go to heaven or hell?
My Answer: The Bible is very explicit in its condemnation of sin and its explanation of sin’s consequence. When Adam sinned, he not only sinned personally, but he sinned as the “head” of the human race. So in Adam, all have sinned, and all are condemned. The universal sinfulness of all men, including infants, is plainly taught in Romans 5:12, 19. That condemnation has come to all men is evident in Romans 5:16, 18. The Bible plainly teaches that we are born with sinful natures (see Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1-3). This is the doctrine of Original Sin. And it applies to all human beings—not just adults but infants and young children also.
So, if infants are by nature sinful and condemned, what happens to them when they die? Do they go to heaven? Do they go to hell? Or is there another answer?
Romans 5 does, indeed, make plain the fact of Adam’s guilt being imputed to all mankind, including infants. However, this passage is equally clear that Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness is also imputed to all mankind (see Romans 5:15-19). The Scriptures say that Christ’s sacrificial atonement “brings life for all mankind” (Romans 5:18b). The Word of God also declares that all men are reconciled to God, and their sins are not counted against them (see 2 Corinthians 5:19). Thus, all men are actually forgiven.
The parallel in Romans 5 is interesting. We see Paul drawing a contrast and comparison between Adam and his sin, and Christ and His redemption. Adam’s sin brought guilt and condemnation to all. Christ’s death brought life and forgiveness to all men. Yet, we know that the benefits of Christ’s redemption are not effective in a person’s life unless there is a willful choice to accept and receive the work of salvation. Although all are forgiven, the forgiveness is invalid and ineffective without a decision on the part of the sinner.
Can we not use this parallel to draw a similar conclusion regarding infants and Original Sin? They are guilty because of Adam, yet they are not in a position to make personal moral choices. Therefore the eternal condemnation that would be their due is invalid because they are not able to choose or reject Christ. Nor are they able to respond to the fact of their own sinfulness. They do not know they are sinners, and they do not choose sin over God. Consequently, they are innocent. They are still guilty, but blameless. And they are forgiven and saved through Christ.
However, most persons come to a time when they recognize their own sinfulness. Here they can choose to accept, and then become responsible for their own sinfulness and its consequences, or they reject, repent and turn to Christ (see Romans 2:14-16 and 1:18-21).
We may conclude, therefore, that God does not punish innocent babies with eternal damnation because of Original Sin. We may also conclude that the same principle applies to persons who severely retarded to the point of not understanding moral choices.
This view is consistent with David’s words in 2 Samuel 12:23. Here David declares with confidence regarding his dead child, “I will go to him.” David’s obvious understanding was that he and his child would both be in the same place. This view is also consistent with Jesus’ teaching. The Lord used young children as model examples for understanding the kingdom of God (see Matthew 18:3-4, 19:14). This would be inconsistent with the idea of children as sinful, condemned individuals bound for hell.