So said a caller on a recent Albert Mohler radio program, where the conversation was about age and moral responsibility (in light of the recent execution style shootings in Washington state, and the discussions of clemency that have surrounded that). Albert Mohler asked whether age mattered when dealing with moral accountability. Can persons be too old? Too young?
In this very interesting conversation, Mohler notes that we are all “sinners from the get go”. The question of each person’s sinfulness – and the need for many and various things to restrain us – is not in question. What is in question is the issue of moral responsibility, accountability, and punishment. In the program it is noted that “governments are often faced with deciding how society should punish both the young and the old for wrongs they have committed.”
Futher, “the difficulty comes in deciding how judgment should be carried out against those who are weak and immature” (these summaries are also found here). What I found particularly interesting is that Mohler did not limit the discussion only to matters of civil government, but also brought up passages from Deuteronomy chapter 1 (v. 35 and 39), which he often has.
In his article, The Salvation of the ‘Little Ones’: Do Infants who Die Go to Heaven?, he writes:
“God specifically exempted young children and infants from [dying in the Wilderness after 40 years of wandering — Deuteronomy 1:35], and even explained why He did so: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would become prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good and evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.” (Deuteronomy 1:39)
Mohler asserts that all of us are born in sin, are indeed sinners, and moreover die because of our own sin. And yet, he also believes that infants will be saved because they have never sinned consciously in the flesh. I have heard many Lutherans take on the notion of “the age of accountability”. Yet I have never seen anyone directly take on Mohler’s concerns here, which seem to be rooted in a rather clear passage of Scripture. It seems to be a unique challenge, and one worthy of addressing. Hopefully, sometime in the future, I can post on it again, but I certainly invite other’s thoughts about it now for the time being.
George A. Marquart
December 8, 2009 at 9:40 pm
We need to realize that Dr. Mohler is a highly educated, highly intelligent, highly eloquent heretic. His positions on baptism and election make that clear. His theological house is built on sand, making it necessary for him to prop up a sagging foundation with ever new heresies from time to time, as is the case here. But so as not to encourage the ad hominem fallacy, I will try to deal with this matter as an issue by itself, regardless of the fact that he who raised it is a heretic.
Let me first make it clear that neither the Deuteronomy passage, nor Isaiah 7:15, which is often quoted in this context, refer to infants. We should be aware of this textual sleight of hand.
Secondly, hermeneutical principles accepted by most orthodox Christians (I first learned of them in a book by a Baptist, Bernard Ramm, which was used as the text for a course in an LCMS college) strongly suggest that we should not abandon clear teachings of Scripture, as supported by tens of passages, because two passages, at first sight, seem to contradict them. Further, the whole business of establishing who will go to heaven and who to hell, is not within our competence. Certainly, we must proclaim those truths which Scripture teaches us in this regard, but we have to admit that ultimately God will decide which individual will go where. His decisions may be contrary to what we believe to be true, but it remains a matter of His will, regardless of what we think. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
The Deuteronomy passage is best explained by the doctrine of the two kingdoms. It is sometimes referred to as “Luther’s,” but it is fundamentally scriptural; He simply rediscovered it. For the people of the Exodus, God was the head of both kingdoms. Therefore, He established laws for both. Within the civil kingdom, God established certain rules; among them, the age at which men become responsible for their actions. Therefore, he did not punish any of those who were below that age when the rest of the people committed them. But this has nothing to do with salvation; otherwise you would have to believe that all of those who died during the wanderings went to hell. It’s that simple.
Dr. Mohler’s article also supports the wide spread belief that death is God’s worst punishment. In this connection we need to remember the story of David, Bathsheba, and their firstborn. When the boy had died, David said, “He will not come to me, but I will come to him,” thereby indicating that both of them would eventually enjoy eternal bliss. Further, as our Lord said in Matthew 10:28 “28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Because the Isaiah passage does not deal with either temporal or eternal punishment, it has no relevance on this matter, except to confirm that Isaiah’s son was a “minor” at the time; in other words, he had not had his Bar Mitzvah yet.
The whole reason for this controversy is that Dr. Mohler does not feel comfortable at the funeral of an infant. Rather than go through intellectually questionable exegesis, he would feel much better if he held the orthodox belief about Baptism. But this is not about how anyone feels, but, ultimately, about the infant.
So let us then continue, with the Church of all the ages, to teach that infants should be baptized, that in baptism they are made new creatures and members of the Kingdom of God, that it is God’s will that all people should be saved, and that His grace and mercy are far beyond anything we can conceive.
Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart
December 8, 2009 at 11:05 pm
Thanks again for commenting here. I think there are a lot of good things in your comments. I will be reflecting on this more…
“Therefore, He established laws for both. Within the civil kingdom, God established certain rules; among them, the age at which men become responsible for their actions. Therefore, he did not punish any of those who were below that age when the rest of the people committed them. But this has nothing to do with salvation; otherwise you would have to believe that all of those who died during the wanderings went to hell. It’s that simple.”
I think that you are right here – I wonder if there are others who think differently about this? I always take comfort in the fact that Moses also “died in the wilderness” so to speak, but still made it to the eternal kingdom – I pray that there were many more as well!
I think you are right about Dr. Mohler actually having much discomfort due to his rejection of infant baptism. I note that this discomfort extends not only to the infants of believers who die early, but to all infants.
As I absolutely delight in babies, I share that discomfort. I desire that somehow, all those little ones would be given the gift of faith. Still, I know that we need to endeavor that persons would see the importance of each one of these little ones hearing explicit words that proclaim the saving work of Christ…
George, I probably won’t be able to comment again for a while. Busy, busy.