Yesterday I had a social media conversation with a young woman I hadn't seen since she graduated from high school a few years ago. It all began when she asked a question about babies and believing in Jesus. Her question had to do with what we used to call "the age of accountability," that nebulous, indistinct concept of when a child is old enough to be responsible for his or her decisions, and therefore is at an age when they are responsible for sins committed. I remember being troubled by this construct even as a new Christian. On the one hand, it seems inconsistent with the Gospel that babies who die would be condemned to hell because they never confessed Christ as Savior, but on the other hand, how can someone go to heaven apart from such confession? The horns of this dilemma were exceedingly sharp, so someone somewhere invented this extra-biblical concept of "the age of accountability," which essentially gives a bye to children up until a certain and quite variable point in their development.
This young woman framed her question in such a way that it got me to thinking about this in what to me was a fresh way, and in the process, provided for me an answer to the problem. I won't venture so far as to say my answer is correct, but it makes sense to me, and seemed to be helpful to her.
Her question was, "What happens when babies are unaware of Jesus. What happens to their after life?" It was those words 'unaware of Jesus' that caught my attention. Here's how I answered:
"Try looking at it a bit differently. How do you know babies are unaware of Jesus? It's just as possible that they are very much aware, and only lose that awareness gradually as their awareness of this world increases. Jesus told his disciples that "the angels of these little ones," as he calls them, "behold constantly the face of the Father in heaven." He also gave stern warning to anyone who would make a child stumble, which means we ought never put anything in the way of a child's love for Jesus.
Just because a baby cannot intellectually articulate faith in Jesus doesn't mean he or she cannot know him on a spiritual level. It all depends on faith, not on our understanding. When you think about it, all a little baby can do is trust. There is almost nothing an infant can do for herself; she is completely dependent upon her mother and father. Which places an immense responsibility upon us" to demonstrate in word and deed what the love of God is like.
Jesus stated on more than one occasion that if we are to see the kingdom of heaven, we must become as little children. He didn't say 'if we are to enter' the kingdom, but 'if we are to see' it. I wonder what little children see to which we in our earthly wisdom and learning have become blind? The only way I know to become more aware of that 'other world' from which Jesus came and of which he spoke is through meditation upon the scriptures and prayer. And that requires a deliberate distancing of ourselves from our infatuation with and attachment to the things of this world.
Linda asked me this morning what kind of a heart I would like to have and for which she could pray. My answer is a disciplined heart. The only way I can become more aware of Jesus is by disciplining myself to detach not from the world, but from the distractions of it. Tonight I am grateful for this young woman's question and the unusual way in which it was framed. She helped me think through an issue that has puzzled me for decades, and is helping me focus on that which is supremely important in this life and the next.