When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents
Nash, Ronald H. When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. 126 pp. pap. $9.99. ISBN 0-310-22556-6.
All of my Christian life I have looked in vain for any kind of detailed, thoughtful treatment in print on the topic reflected in the title of this book. This may not be the last word on the topic but it certainly fills a void.
In relatively short compass, Nash covers a lot of territory. Several introductory chapters clear the ground by giving convincing biblical refutation of the views that children are born innocent of all sin, that everyone one day will be saved (universalism), that anyone ever has a chance for salvation after death, or that baptism produces salvation. Then Nash articulates his own view--that all infants before what is often called an age of accountability go to be with the Lord in heaven.
But Nash is also a committed Calvinist, currently teaching at Reformed Seminary in Orlando. So he next raises the question of Calvinism vs. Arminianism and argues that only a Calvinist can consistently defend the view he sketches. After all, if Arminianism requires some co-operation of human free will with God's initiatives, then infants are not yet mature enough to provide this co-operation. By way of contrast, one might think that a Calvinist's solution would simply be to say that whoever God has elected will be saved and whoever he has not elected will be damned. Nash, however, thinks that the various biblical texts that speak of a person's condemnation demonstrate that those who are damned are so judged because of specific acts of sin they have committed despite the knowledge of general revelation that should drive them to an understanding of God's existence and their moral accountability before him.
None of this, of course, can infants do. So Nash reconciles the biblical data on judgment with the Calvinist doctrine of election (equally biblically based, in his opinion) by concluding that, if an infant dies, this proves God had elected him or her. Thus all infants who die will be saved.
I personally hope Nash is right. Every funeral sermon for a deceased baby that I have ever attended, whether in Calvinist or Arminian circles, has confidently affirmed the child's salvation, though I have never had the sense that such affirmations were clearly theologically or biblically grounded. I have talked, however, with a close friend who is both a dad who lost his baby and a staunch and reflective Calvinist layman who felt that a more consistent approach would be to leave the question open and in the hands of a sovereign and merciful God. There is, after all, nothing inconsistent with a Calvinist concluding that some infants are elect and others are not. Nor is there anything inconsistent with this view and the kind of Arminianism that bases election on foreknowledge. God knows what babies would freely choose if they grew up and responded to the gospel and he treats them on that basis.
So I remain "almost persuaded" by Nash. But I am grateful someone has finally had the courage to write on the topic and this book should be widely read by anyone concerned with the pastoral sensitivites this issue raises.