Question: In one of my conversations with a mother of a retarded child, she told me that she was visiting a church in this area and was in a Sunday School class discussing the “age of accountability”. Someone in the class raised the question of where do babies go when they die? (pre-birth or infant death.) The teacher had scripture to back up that babies are in Heaven with the Father (I think Matthew 18:10 and the story of David’s child dying), but when asked about those who are incapacitated, the teacher had no answer and referred back to the age of 8 as the age of accountability. This mother’s son is over 8 years old and she is terrified that because he cannot make a decision for Christ that he is doomed. This is a wedge of anger between her and her relationship with Christ.
Where in the Bible is the “age of accountability” discussed, and if it’s there, what is it? (I don’t recall ever reading about it.)
If a person is incapable mentally of making a decision for or against salvation or a relationship with Christ (whether it is because of retardation or some other mental condition), isn’t that person under His grace?
Answer: In 2 Samuel 12:23 David, upon the death of his first son by Bathsheba almost immediately after birth, stopped his mourning and fasting and praying. He explained to his surprised servants, “Now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” Because the understanding of life after death was a cloudy one in the Old Testament, it is uncertain what David means. He will certainly go to his son in the sense that he will go to the grave, but David seems to suggest that he will go to him in some conscious way, and that helps him stop grieving as painfully.
In Matthew 18:10 Jesus remarks, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” In 19:14 He says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Neither of these passages directly says that children are automatically saved, but that the Father has special concern for them, listening always to angelic servants concerned about them, and that their kind of humility is what is necessary for kingdom access.
There is no passage that speaks to the issue of an age of accountability. Individuals become “accountable” at different ages, and we recognize that some never become “accountable” for decisions like trusting in the God of Creation. What we do know, however, is that our God is absolutely fair, loving, and wise. We can trust Him to do what is right by infants who die before they can believe, and by the mentally challenged who may be unable to believe. Our God is a God of grace.
It is important that this mother be encouraged to understand the loving heart of God, who desires that all would know Him and who has mercy on whomever he wills to have mercy. He loves her son and He loves her. She need not fear that He would mistreat her son.