The Old Testament offers insight in 2 Samuel 12. David’s newborn son was sick and about to die. He mourned, prayed, and fasted on behalf of his son. Yet when his son died at only seven days old, David stopped mourning. When his attendants asked him about this, David replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (vv. 22-23).
What did David conclude? This was not the attitude of a godly man who saw his child perishing in hell or even in “the grave” in a general sense. David anticipated seeing his son again in the presence of God in heaven.
In the New Testament, Jesus had a special love for children, saying, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16; also Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16). This was used as an example of the kind of attitude a person should have in their trust of Jesus. Yet Jesus may have also hinted at His perspective of children going to heaven.
Many theologians and church traditions also speak about an age of accountability. In the Old Testament, those under the age of 20 were often not included in counts of people regarding Israel (Exodus 30:14; 38:26; Numbers 1:3, 18, 20, and others). Some have suggested this idea can be used similarly regarding a young age when people go to heaven since they are not yet held accountable in the same way for their sins. However, the New Testament does not make this claim and does not give a certain age at which a person must become a believer in Jesus Christ. Though there may be some relevance to this analogy, there is no particular “age of accountability” stated in the Bible.
The Bible does not directly state that young children or others unable to make a decision to follow Christ by faith will be in heaven. However, there is no reason to believe that God would not choose to mercifully save those who cannot make such a faith decision. God’s mercy extends to all sinners at a time when they cannot help themselves: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
1 John 2:2 also states Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” This verse is clear that the death of Christ is sufficient for all sins. If God has chosen to cover the sins of young children and others unable to come to Him by faith, then the blood of Christ is clearly powerful enough to accomplish the task.
We can take great hope in these biblical passages. Christ has made a way possible for all people to experience eternal life (John 3:16). He has called us to believe in the resurrected Jesus by faith (Romans 10:9). For those too young to do so, His grace is sufficient and perfect to meet every need and cancel the judgment of every sin. Those who have lost children due to abortion, miscarriage, or an early death can take great hope that their child is in heaven. As adults, we can find joy through salvation in Christ for this life (1 Peter 1:8-9) and anticipate a future reunion with these children in the life to come.