Recently someone that has been following this blog proposed this question to me. What happens when a child or teenager dies? The reason for the question is because the youth may not know Jesus as their savior. Therefore, what happens to them? Do they go to a Christless eternity? The Bible is silent for the most part on this subject, however, there are a couple of passages and examples that might shed some light where a youth would go.
It was almost two years go when a student in my youth group came into my office before youth group to talk, because his friend who was 17 at the time (roughly) had committed suicide. I remember talking to this young man and counseling him. After a few minutes he asked the obvious question, Is my friend in heaven or Hell? I understood the background of the boy, who committed suicide, and knew that he did not know Jesus as his savior. It was a difficult question to answer.
Before I go on and answer the question let me write that, how you view or answer this question is largely dependent upon your theological view. I understand from Catholic friends that someone who commits suicide does not go to heaven. I know some people, who believe in Lordship salvation that they have a hard time explaining a child getting saved or where a child goes when they die. (By the way: Lordship salvation is the belief that you must make Jesus your Lord before you can get saved. Meaning you must be willing to get rid of things in your life before you can accept Christ’s gift of Salvation. The author of this blog does not believe this to be true.) The person, who asked me about child salvation, hinted that this could be the reason for infant baptism. I will confess I do not know much about infant baptism. However, I do offer an alternate view about child or youth salvation for your consideration.
Many years ago I worked at Coast Bible Church in California. I worked under a pastor, who knew his bible extremely well and was a pastor’s pastor. I can remember speaking with him about this subject and question. He offered me a solution or a theory, which I believe to be true. Again it all depends on how you view God.
2 Samuel 12:22-23 is the only passage that directly deals with the issue of children going to heaven when they die. David’s son dies as a result of his sin. David had mourned his son’s sickness and was broken up about it. After his son dies, David gets up and cleans himself and goes and eats. His servants are shocked by his behavior. They ask him about it and why he is now all of a sudden calm and seemingly done mourning. Here is David’s response in verse 23, “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.” The last phrase is the key. This is the passage that many pastors and lay leaders call the “age of accountability” passage. David knew that one day he would see his son again. His confidence was in God. He could not mourn his son’s death knowing he would be with him again. The passage does not directly answer the question, however, I do believe it is implied, that the child is in heaven.
The other passage is a story about the Israelites entering the Promised Land. They had left Egypt and were journeying to the land that God had promised them. The Israelites sent about 40 spies out to see the land God had given them. They returned with reports, which had caused the people to disbelieve that God had given them the land. Only two spies returned with good reports, they were Joshua and Caleb. The other spies caused the camp to distrust God. God punished them. Their punishment was that they would not be able to enter the Promised Land. They had to wander the desert for 40 years. The generation that disbelieved in God died off. However, God would made it so that Joshua and Caleb were healthy enough to enter in. Here is the interesting part, did the Israelites during that 40 years continue to have children? Or did they have children when they sinned? The answer to both is yes. While the Promised Land was not heaven, it was their inheritance. However, they had to work and claim their inheritance. For the NT believer, our inheritance is the Kingdom of God. While salvation is a free gift the more I work and serve the Lord the better my inheritance will be. I write all that to say the younger generation the children and teenagers entered the Promised Land. Why or How? By God’s grace.
What is the “age of accountability”? I have heard pastors say it was 12 years old. Or it is when a child can determine right from wrong. Both these seem like good answers, however, neither is the based upon what the bible says. I recognize that my theory equally does not have a direct scripture quote. However, it stands to reason based upon how God dealt with the generation that entered the Promised Land (the children) that if a child dies or teen then they would go to heaven. I believe in a just God and in my opinion (which this is) this view makes sense. I do not believe in infant baptism or in a hard line “age of accountability.”
A teenager’s brain is not fully developed until they are in their early twenties (roughly). Therefore, I would ask the question why would a teenager go to Hell? Their brain is not fully developed. They are considered a child by our culture and in Jesus’ time would be considered that. If God permitted the children to enter in the Promised Land then why would He not do the same here.
There is no passage that directly deals with this question, but I believe we can make some conclusions based upon these two examples. Lastly the question about suicide, I would simply write that there is nothing in my bible that tells me a person who commits suicide goes to Hell. I would argue that if it is a youth then they are in Heaven. If it is an adult then I would need to know if they knew Jesus. If they were saved then without a doubt they are in Heaven despite their sin. The only sin, which keeps people out of heaven is the sin of unbelief. Now the person who commits suicide and goes to heaven will have to give an account for why they did what they did, but God is gracious and just.
I hope this helps and maybe answers some questions.