Raised In Heaven
You're Allowed To Hope
You're Allowed To Process
You're Allowed To Mourn
You're Allowed To Heal
You're Allowed To Ask For Help
You're Allowed To HopeMy three-year-old son is a big question-asker. He desperately wants to understand the world around him, how it works, why things happen, and how he can interact with it. During the early weeks of my pregnancy I asked a few leading questions about babies to see how he felt about the impending arrival. He was perfectly pleased with the notion, and he quickly came to understand that Mommy had a baby in her tummy and sometimes needed the ginger ale in the fridge when the baby made her tummy upset. Then I miscarried. Much more explaining to do. No, I had to insist, the ginger ale would not help this time. I decided to explain the babys death the same way I've addressed the other deaths we've experienced. "Sweetie, I said, Jesus took the baby to his house. Hes not in my tummy anymore."
I don't know, Sweetie. Were going to have to ask him when we see him. I'm very sad about it!
Will he give him back?
No, Sweetie. Nobody comes back from Jesus house. We have to wait until we go there ourselves to see him. But when we do, hell be Really happy to see us! He'll say Hi, Mommy! and Hi, Daddy! and Hi, James! and Hi, Grace!
Is he with Baby Mark?
Baby Mark is the son of some good friends of our favorite missionaries who live and work in the Philippines. He miraculously survived a traumatic birth, but was left with serious handicaps and health problems. We prayed for him for more than a year through the roller-coaster of diagnoses, medical emergencies, and recoveries. Finally, in early 2012, Jesus took him home. He was about 15 month old - almost exactly the same age as my daughter Grace.
Not quite crying yet, I answered James, Yes! He is! Hes probably playing with him right now!
James has re-asked these questions and repeated back to me parts of the story many times since its initial telling. I hope he never forgets it.
And yet, it was weeks after my miscarriage that I finally worked up the courage to begin researching the scriptural basis for our hope of seeing this lost child or sibling for the first time in Heaven. While I'd heard all my life that children would be taken straight Home, I'd never really examined the theological reasoning behind it - partially because I'd never had a compelling reason to do so, but perhaps more so because I was afraid of what I'd find. While I do - and Must - believe that he is good, God is not tame, as C.S. Lewis might say, nor is he safe. Certainly he can never be accused of being fair. And we are all cursed with the Fall. Some denominations and sects have elaborate, binary, and conflicting theories of the so-called age of accountability. I knew that I didn't believe that a child magically becomes accountable for his or her sins at the arbitrary age of, say, 7 or 12. Might it be that any answers I would find would - far from comforting me - remind me more of the answer of Job?
Now that this involved My child, however, I could no longer leave those pages unturned. So it was with some fear and trembling that I took to my search.
A respected professor of mine taught that we have three pillars for our faith: Revelation, Reason, and Tradition.
Revelation is meant primarily to refer the Scriptures, although many denominations believe - as does my own - that revelation is ongoing via the Holy Spirit. Reason is, of course, the logic and rational faculties of our God-created brains. And Tradition refers the 2000+ years of Christian history, during which many difficult concepts (for instance, the Trinity!) have slowly been understood and passed on to other believers. Of course, the latter two must never contradict the former; nevertheless, they are all three legitimate means of understanding and upholding our faith.
Using this rubric, let's look at the question of the eternal destination of an unborn or very young child.
RevelationI remain good friends with my childhood pastor, although he and I have since both moved to different churches. When I expressed my concerns to him, he readily agreed that the problem was ambiguous. However, he cited a scripture I have not seen mentioned elsewhere. The speaker is King David. The child he refers to is Bathshebas - the child conceived via adultery and because of whom David ordered her husband killed in order to cover their sin. The prophet Nathan confronts David for this sin, and despite Davids repentance, tells him that the Lord has decreed that the child will die. David has spent the past week fasting and praying for the childs life, but the Lord takes him anyway. When he learns of this, David immediately cleans himself up, worships at the temple, and has a meal. His attendants are incredulous and demand an explanation.
22 He answered, 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. 23 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.
II Samuel 12:22-23 - Emphasis Mine.
(Please read the entire chapter - if not the whole book! It is a fascinating story on so many levels!)
My pastor reminded me that David firmly believed that he himself would spend eternity with God: one need look no further than the 23rd Psalm where David proclaims that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6b) So, if he believes that he is going to Gods house, and he believes that he will go to [his dead child], it is logical to surmise that David believed that his child too was in the house of the Lord. My pastor theorized that God may have given David a vision or other revelation assuring him of this and comforting him in his child's death.
Again, this is not a proof text. He could have been speaking merely about the physical grave, the destination of all flesh, and expressing the futility of mourning. But I dont think so. David was not afraid of mourning (see II Samuel 18:33, where he mourns for another dead son - for whom, perhaps, he had less hope), yet here he acts as if he has hope. For myself, I think the insinuation is very strong, and I am quite encouraged by it.
Additional EncouragementI highly recommend "Is My Baby In Heaven", a site by Grantley Morris.
The second half of this site takes you through a large number of scriptures which, taken as a whole, are highly encouraging as to the destination of our unborn children. I leave you to read this for yourself, but in summary, the arguments are as follows:
(A) The scripture clearly teaches original sin, but it also teaches what appears to be a special status - a special state of innocence - of young children.
(B) We are promised that sons will not be punished for the sins of their fathers, and that the soul who sins is the soul that will die. The question is, can sin exist outside of conscious intent?
(C) The Salvation brought by Jesus not only transcends time, but also appears to transcend actual, specific knowledge and acceptance of the specific mode of that salvation - i.e. the saints of the Old Testament (such as David, see above) are said to be in heaven.
(D) Jesus clearly had a very special place in his heart for children, and specifically rebuked his disciples for keeping them from him - saying that his kingdom was made up of such as these.
Again, please read the site and examine the scriptures. Dont take my word for it: examine and pray yourself!
TraditionOn the Tradition side of things, it may help to know that practically all major denominations and many major theologians believe that pre-born and very young children will be in heaven. The Catholics may suggest that theyll be in Limbo - an extra-Biblical concept that I am not particularly taken with - but nearly all others teach some form of the age of accountability - or, I think more rightly, a condition of accountability theory that places these children directly in their Fathers arms.
One quote I found especially compelling is from John Calvin
It would be too cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christs fold those whom He held in His bosom and to shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them...
(commentary on Matthew, Mark and Luke Volume II)
Worth thinking about: Calvinism - a set of beliefs to which I do not entirely adhere - emphasizes the mind-bending concept of predestination far more than most other flavors of Protestantism. It also teaches the concept of Limited Atonement - again, which I and my own denomination rejects - but which in any case suggests that Christ did not die for all, but only for the elect. It is therefore one of the last places that I would have gone looking for hope and encouragement about the destination of my unborn child. And yet its founder calls the suggestion that they be kept out of heaven irreligious audacity. Fascinating.
ReasonI find the Reason pillar to be the most dangerous of the three - or at least the most fraught with opportunity for pride-born error. Frankly, I am convinced that my own reason has led me astray nearly as often as not. I am therefore not about to strike out on any complicated, impressive web of logic weaving together this fragment and that idea to prove that our children are where we want them to be.
Instead, I will simply state that my own reason is satisfied with the combination of revelatory and tradition-based support for our children being Home.
My husband, with his admittedly greater intellect, is rather less so. He seems frequently compelled to play the Devils Advocate, to question basic assumptions, and look at things from around a corner I never noticed. One of his objections, for instance, is that if God indeed takes all unborn and very young souls immediately home, Heaven must therefore have a massive ratio of unborn to traditionally saved in its population. We know that the way is narrow, and few find it when traveling here on earth. The presence of the unborn in such numbers would, in fact, seem to make our own trials and travails here on earth cosmically unfair in contrast. What is the point - the value - of toiling down here for so many years when so many of our siblings and offspring get the easy way out by a pre-accountability exit?
As I pondered this one night before falling asleep, I seemed to hear God say to me Is it for you to concern yourself with the logistics of Heaven?
Again, for those that do not know me, I want you to understand that it is rare to the point of remarkability that I ever feel that I have heard directly (that is, outside of scripture) from God. I am not prone to visions and visitations, let alone claims of revelation. But the longer I considered this thought, the more I felt that it was from Him.
Heaven is simultaneously such an overwhelmingly massive and also such as dimly glimpsed reality, that we could spend our whole lives theorizing about it only to find, when we get there, that it bears only the slightest resemblance to our imaginings.
We do know that it is a place of rest, peace, perfection, and - most importantly - the direct presence of God, promised to those of us who believe. Outside of this, does anything else matter? He is big enough to provide it; He is big enough to administer it. He is big enough to admit or deny entry based on His perfect Justice. We are not.
Wrapping It All Up With No Pretty BowAnd so, in some ways, I feel that I have received the answer of Job. The answer which, to violently abridge many chapters of beautiful and powerful poetry, can be summarized as I am the infinite God who created the heavens and the earth. You are not. You cannot possibly comprehend my reasons for doing anything, and it is terribly presumptuous of you to even ask.
But keep in mind that that Job was satisfied with that answer, and repented of his presumption in dust and ashes. (reference: Job chapter 42.)
The Psalmist, perhaps after finding himself wrestling with similarly huge issues that he had no hope of comprehending, writes
1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
This, I have come to believe, is my proper response as well. I can be largely content in the revelatory and traditional answers to my question; but when I strike out with my own reason, I quickly get myself into trouble as the what ifs and the therefores pile up.
I dont know if you have weaned a child of late, but I am still in the midst of it with my youngest. And an unweaned child who is not actively nursing is Not particularly quiet or calm with its mother. It is constantly concerned that it is not getting the sustenance and comfort it needs, and after a very brief period of cuddling and relaxing, demands its dinner with increasing insistence and distress. How much better to learn contentment and trust even without perfect understanding!
This is my prayer for myself, and for all of you who read this.
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