Read an Excerpt
Safe in the Arms of GodTruth from Heaven About the Death of a Child
By John MacArthur
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 John MacArthur
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhere Is My Child?
"What about a two-year-old baby crushed at the bottom of the World Trade Center?"
The question was fired at me by Larry King. I had been invited to participate as a panel member on the Larry King Live television program one Saturday evening. The program was taped in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Even though we had been discussing issues of life and death, grief and hope, as part of this program, Larry's question seemed to come out of nowhere.
"Instant heaven," I immediately replied.
Larry fired back a second question: "He wasn't a sinner?"
I again answered, "Instant heaven."
Larry's compelling questions revealed a nagging, troubling issue in the human heart.
What is the future of a baby crushed by the rubble of the collapsing World Trade Center? What about any baby that dies? What happens to an unborn child, an infant, a child, or even a physically mature but mentally handicapped adult with the mental capacity of a child after he dies? What is the fate of that "little one" as he or she enters eternity? The questions are agonizing ones for many parents, Christians and non-Christians alike.
A number of rather strange and ill-founded answers have been given to these questions in the past. The correct answer, however, begins very simply: "Instant heaven."
In the sound-bite environment of a program such as Larry King Live, I had no opportunity to follow up with an explanation for my statement and, frankly, Larry didn't ask for one. He seemed satisfied with my quick and decisive response and went on to other questions related to the ways in which our nation was grieving and recovering from the aftermath of that terrible day of tragedy.
But I believe you deserve an expanded answer because in all likelihood, you are reading this book after having experienced the loss of a child-or perhaps because you are a person in a position, as I have been too many times as pastor, to counsel or encourage someone who has lost a child. My heart grieves with any parent who loses a child, and that is what motivated me to search Scriptures on this subject so I could reach out and offer biblically founded words of comfort and encouragement.
I also suspect that our need for answers to questions about the death of children will continue to grow. As our nation contemplates the role we need to take in confronting natural disasters, hunger, and situations of suffering in faraway places, the question always arises, "What about the children who have died or are facing near-certain death?"
When our nation considers war, the question arises, "What about the innocent children who will die?"
As we contemplate the death of children-many of whom are members of families in cultures that practice false religions or participate in no religion-the question arises in the hearts of many Christians, "What happens to those little ones?"
Our concerns related to death always seem more profound and heartrending when we are dealing with the death of a child. An accident or illness seems especially tragic and poignant when the life of a little one is lost.
Millions Are Dying ... or Are They Living?
The great and sad reality is, throughout history, hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of unborn babies, newborns, and young children have died. Millions are dying in our era.
In the original creation, Adam and Eve lived without the reality of death. According to Genesis 1:26-28, mankind was given the power to produce life in a deathless world. Adam and Eve were expected to "be fruitful and multiply"-to procreate and fill the earth with children who would never know death. God's original plan was that all lives ever conceived would live for all eternity.
When Adam and Eve sinned, death became a reality. The curse of death on the lives of the original parents became the curse of death on the life of every individual ever conceived. Death became a reality not only for the mature, but for the immature as well. From the first days of history to the present, it is not at all an exaggeration to speculate that half of all persons ever conceived died prior to reaching maturity.
I recently read some fairly startling statistics:
About 25 percent of all conceptions do not complete the twentieth week of pregnancy. In other words, at least one out of four persons conceived die in the womb. Seventy-five percent of these deaths occur in the first twelve weeks. Perinatal death-death at the time of birth-continues to occur in massive numbers around the world, even with the advances of modern medical science. One world health organization reported that 4,350,000 babies died at birth in the year 1999, but many experts believe the actual figure is much higher. They estimate that closer to ten million babies die at birth around the world every year, since most losses aren't reported.
The highest rates of infant mortality, of course, tend to occur in the poorest and most primitive nations, especially in Africa and Asia. These nations are also the most pagan. In Afghanistan, for example, the rate of infant mortality is at least 150 babies out of every 1,000. In Angola, the rate is even higher-200 babies out of every 1,000 die at birth or very shortly thereafter. And then there are the horrific abortion statistics we're all familiar with.
If you begin to add up the millions over the years of history, there are countless billions of persons who have entered eternity prior to reaching maturity.
Where are the souls of these persons? They are either populating hell at an incredible rate, populating heaven at an incredible rate, or perhaps populating both heaven and hell at the same incredible rate. Which is it?
We Need Answers Rooted in Truth
"Is my baby in heaven?"
If someone asked you that question, how would you respond?
There are those who answer the question out of sentimentality, or out of what they hope is true. If pressed, the only argument they are likely to give is that they don't want to believe God would ever refuse a precious little one. A universalist has a quick answer because he believes everyone goes to heaven at death. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that an unborn child has no soul and therefore has no eternal fate. In between are those who hold a variety of opinions and beliefs. Some declare that only certain "elect" infants go to heaven, while the "non-elect" suffer endless punishment. Others believe infant baptism inoculates a child against hell and secures a place in heaven, but they leave out the souls of those who die prior to birth. Still others believe that all children who die go to heaven because God sovereignly chooses to extend His special grace to them.
My answer to Larry King may have seemed quick, even glib, to you as you read it. But it was not an off-the-cuff answer. Very early in my ministry, I confronted this question about the destiny of little ones who die. My search for an answer rooted in Scripture began in the aftermath of a crisis on a Saturday morning.
At the time, I had a pastor's study that looked out on a courtyard at our church. The sign on the sliding-glass patio door clearly stated "Pastor's Office." I should not have been surprised, therefore, by what happened that morning as I sat in my study putting the finishing touches on the next morning's sermon.
A woman came to the patio door and pounded on it. I quickly rushed to open the door only to hear her exclaim in great anguish, "Please come! I think my baby has died!"
I hurriedly followed her to a house just a few doors down from the church. And sadly, upon entering her home I found her infant child lying lifeless in his crib.
I heard myself saying to this distraught young mother what I trusted would be words of comfort: "Your baby is in heaven. He is safe in the arms of God."
She wept uncontrollably at first, but then, as those words sank into her spirit, she grew more calm. I stayed with her until emergency workers and close relatives could arrive to be with her, and then I returned to my pastor's study-shaken by the abruptness of the interruption, the finality of that tiny baby's death, and also by what I had said from my pastor's heart.
In the days that followed, I reflected a number of times on the experience. I intuitively felt that I had said the right thing to this bewildered and grieving mother, but I also had a strong compulsion to know with certainty that I had spoken the truth to her. Had I spoken to her what could be supported by God's Word? Or had I spoken to her only what I thought would calm and comfort her in the emotional desperation of that moment?
I began a study of the Scriptures about the death of infants and children-including those who die in the womb, those who die at birth, and those who never fully grow mentally to the point of being capable of discerning right from wrong. And it was out of that study that I reached the conclusions presented in this book. I should warn you that this is by no means a typical, schmaltzy "comfort" book. Because I am convinced that the only true comfort comes from God's Word, I will be addressing topics such as sin, the age of accountability, and predestination. I think you'll be grateful for this approach in the end because you won't need to rely on sentiment or well wishes for peace of mind and heart; you'll be able to rely on God's Word. Emotions come and go, but the truth of God's Word is completely consistent and reliable.
My response to Larry King was not an out-of-the-blue response to an out-of-the-blue question. It was a statement of my true conviction based upon a thorough and careful study of Scripture through the years.
"Instant heaven" truly is the destiny of infants and children. Let me tell you why that is true.
Excerpted from Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur Copyright © 2007 by John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.