In a recent Bible study we had a discussion on what happens in the death of a child who dies before the age of accountability. There were two views expressed. (1) the child could possibly go to hell since it may not have been elect, (2) the child would go into the presence of the Lord because it had not had the opportunity to make a choice for the Lord, thus God applies His mercy and the child, or infant, goes home to be with Him in glory.
All evangelical Protestants hold to the view that there is an age of accountability, that is, a child does not have the chance to accept Christ, or to turn to God, before a certain age, of which only God knows what that may be! In His sovereignty the Lord can apply His mercy and grace, and He would do so on all infants, or children, who have not come to personhood. It takes some time for a child to reach an age of consciousness, and only the Lord knows, with each individual child, where that age maturity line would be.
The story of David. Because of David's sin of the murder of Uriah (Bathsheba's husband), and the adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan told David that the son born to them would die (2 Sam. 12:5-12). On the seventh day of its birth the infant died (v. 19). David had been in mourning because he was told that the child would perish for his sins. But after the child had died then David washed himself and ate food (vv. 20-22). David told his servants
"While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me" (vv. 22-23).
If the child was going to be judged and go to hell, the Bible could have told us that, but instead, it told us that David would go into the presence of the child, apparently in heaven to be with the Lord!
If there were two possibilities, heaven or hell, why would the Bible not mention the same? It only comes down on the positive side, heaven! David can go to the child there!
It is only among some Reformed teachers who hold to the fact that the child possibly went to hell and not to heaven. Most evangelicals do not hold to that position.
While Joseph was older when he was kidnapped Jacob, who thought he was dead, said: "I will go down into the grave UNTO my son mourning" (Gen. 37:35). On the passage where David said "I shall go to him (the infant son who died)" (2 Sam. 12:23), the commentator of the Zondervan King James Commentary wrote: "This verse is seen as an expression of David's confidence that he would join his [infant] son in God's presence in the afterlife."
My great OT Hebrew professor, Merrill F. Unger, on this passage wrote: "David's words scarcely can be interpreted any other way than that he was conscious of a life beyond the grave and that he, justified by faith, would go where the innocent child went, who had not yet reached the age of accountability. David was not only comforted himself, but he was able to comfort his wife."
Wordsworth sees in these words belief in the personal identity of risen saints, and in everlasting recognition of a future state. It seems quite evident that at least the continued existence of the child's soul in the grave and/or in heaven is here assumed, and the hope of re-union with it expressed.
Did the child go to heaven because David was special or because all children, before that age of accountability, were to receive the grace of God to their account, as would all before that special moment, and that only God knows as to where that line actually is? Remember, the infant had no opportunity to exercise a belief. God is doing all the work of making him acceptable for salvation by the application of His grace!
It is applying acceptable interpretation and hermeneutics to say that all children, before faith, and before that mysterious age of accountability, would be so blessed by God.
It is best to understand that the Lord knows what He is doing, and that He will apply His grace, the sacrifice of Christ, to all children who are too young to reason toward salvation! Why come down on the negative when the Bible only gives us the positive?
All scholars in my camp hold to this position. We know no other acceptable view. —Dr. Mal Couch (7/11)