When a baby dies or is aborted, where does its soul go?
The way this question is worded indicates a certain ambiguity about the relationship between abortion and death. If life begins at conception, then abortion is a type of death. If life does not begin until birth, then obviously abortion does not involve death. The classical view is that life begins at conception. If that is so, the question of infant death and prenatal death involve the same answer. Any time a human being dies before reaching the age of accountability (which varies according to mental capacity), we must look to special provisions of God’s mercy.
Most churches believe that there is such a special provision in the mercy of God. This view does not involve the assumption that infants are innocent. David declared that he was both born in sin and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”). By this he was obviously referring to the biblical notion of original sin. Original sin does not refer to the first sin of Adam and Eve, but to the result of that initial transgression. Original sin refers to the condition of our fallenness, and it affects all human beings.
We are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. That is, we sin because we are born with sinful natures. Though infants are not guilty of actual sin, they are tainted with original sin. That is why we insist that the salvation of infants depends not on their presumed innocence but on God’s grace. My particular church (note: R.C. Sproul is ordained in the PCA church) believes that the children of believers who die in infancy go to heaven by the special grace of God. What happens to the children of unbelievers is left to the realm of mystery. There may be a special provision of God’s grace for them as well. We can certainly hope for that.
Even though we hope for such grace, there is little specific biblical teaching on the matter. Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14), give us some consolation but do not offer a categorical promise of infant salvation. When the son of David and Bathsheba was taken by God, David lamented, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, `Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:22-23). Here David declared his confidence that “I shall go to him.” Though this could have referred merely to David’s eventual death, it is more likely a thinly veiled reference to his hope of future reunion with his son. This hope of a future reunion is a glorious hope, one that is buttressed by the New Testament teaching on the resurrection.
*The article above was adapted from the Appendix of Question and Answers in the excellent book by R. C. Sproul. Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life. Orlando, FL.: Reformation Trust Publishing (Most recently re-printed in 2012).
About the Author:
Dr. R.C. Sproul has taught theology to hundreds of thousands of people through books, radio, audiotapes, videotapes, seminars, sermons, seminary classes and other forums.
Sproul has written approximately sixty books (and counting). In addition to many volumes designed to teach theology, apologetics, and ethics to laymen through expository prose, he has written a novel, a biography, and several childrens books. He has also edited several volumes, including a festschrift for John H. Gerstner, a seminary textbook, and the New Geneva Study Bible. He has written one of the top classics of the 20th century – The Holiness of God; and perhaps the best book to explain God’s sovereignty in our salvation for laymen entitled Chosen by God.
Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries in 1971, a teaching ministry to assist the church in nurturing believers and equipping them for the ministries to which God has called them. Ligonier sponsors a radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” which features Sproul and is broadcast nationally, five days a week.
Ligonier Ministries sponsors several seminars each year, the largest one in Orlando every winter. Ligonier publishes a monthly periodical, Tabletalk, and has its own web site (http://www.gospelcom.net).
Sproul has taught theology and apologetics at several seminaries. He earned a B.A. degree from Westminster College, a B.D. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a Drs. from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America.
In 1994 Christianity Today asked a select list of “critics,” “What theologian or biblical scholar has most shaped your Christian life?” Third on the list (and the only American in the top four) was R.C. Sproul.