Can unborn children who die go to heaven?

We are all believers in the miracles of modern medicine. We like to assume that all problems associated with infant mortality will just go away. But even though the rate has been significantly reduced in first-world countries, babies still die before they are even born:

  • Through miscarriage, usually defined as a death occurring in the first 20 weeks. They are much more common than most people realize. Researchers estimate that 15-20%, or even as high as 25%, of all pregnancies miscarry.
  • Stillborn births. There are around 24,000 in America each year.
  • Intrapartum death, i.e., the baby dies during the birth process. Though fairly uncommon in America, there were still two million such deaths worldwide last year.
  • Abortion. Aborted “fetuses” are still babies, babies who die. There were 1.1 million in America last year.

We would all love to know what becomes of these tiny children. Alas, our God has chosen not to speak directly in Holy Scriptures to this issue, and so we should offer our opinions softly and humbly. God is more comfortable with ambiguity than we are—we would like everything spelled out in black and white. God has chosen to draw a veil around his activity on behalf of deaths of the unborn. Undoubtedly, there are some powerful reasons for God’s relative silence here. But he expects us to trust him, and so we shall.

Well, then, what can we say? Here are some thoughts:

  1. The unborn are human beings, not just “fetal tissue” or “zygotes” or the “product of conception.” Psalm 139 describes God’s design and care for each person already from the womb. Luke chapter 1 describes the unborn John the Baptist leaping for joy in his mother’s womb when he was carried into the presence of his Savior (also preborn at that moment). Unborn children have souls too.
  2. Every person from the moment of conception has a personal DNA, a master plan that describes all physical characteristics he or she will have upon attainting adulthood. That DNA is on file in heaven.
  3. It is important that we not try to help God out by inventing man-made solutions to this dilemma. Medieval church theologians invented a place they called “limbo,” where the souls of lost babies would go—not quite heaven, but at least not hell. Some today believe that there is a limbo, but there is no scriptural basis for such teachings.
  4. In Old Testament times, children were brought into covenant with God through the offering of sacrifices, and in the case of males, ritual circumcision. In New Testament times, God gave us the gift of Baptism, which objectively touches the person, children included, with God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ, working through God’s powerful Word and promises. God charges us with using Baptism and the Word to make disciples. But although he may limit us to these means, he is not limited by them himself. In his sovereignty, God may choose to save people by direct divine intervention without any means, for reasons that make sense to him.
  5. If we are not given the chance to use Baptism, then we need to place this issue squarely before God. The eternal destiny of this unborn child rests on him alone. It is his responsibility. We will trust in his perfect justice and perfect mercy. He will do the right thing.
  6. Romans 8:28,29 promises us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Those whom God in mercy foreknew (which I will assume includes the unborn) will join him in heaven for eternity.
  7. You almost certainly know couples who have suffered loss of a preborn child. We have an important ministry of mercy to all parents grieving such a loss. Some will blame themselves, and we can help relieve them of that fear. We also need to see every child as a miracle. Even in our medically “advanced” age, nothing is automatic. Disease and death still surround us. Every life is precious.

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.

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Pastor Mike Novotny also addressed the issue of whether infants who die go to heaven. Watch the Your Time of Grace video: