Robert T. Miller writing at First Things is made uneasy by word that the Roman Catholic International Theological Commission might abolish the doctrine of limbo, a "place" where children go if they die unbaptized.
The attempt to harmonize the standard theological doctrines of salvation with the perfectly understandable hope that children who die have eternal life has resulted over the centuries in a number of theological contortions, limbo being one of them.
Miller describes limbo as a state wherein, according to Thomas Aquinas:
...the souls of the unbaptized infants enjoy the complete fulfillment of human nature, including a natural knowledge of God, the greatest possible for unaided human reason. The only thing such souls lack is the supernatural vision of God that is possible only through grace, and, according to Aquinas, they do not even regret not having that supernatural vision because they understand that it is a gift over and above anything human nature could merit and so not something they could ever have reasonably hoped to attain. They no more regret not having the beatific vision, Aquinas says, than a peasant regrets not inheriting a kingdom.
In limbo the child neither suffers the torments of hell nor exults in the joys of heaven. It is neither heaven nor hell, which is certainly a better fate than awaits the unfortunate child according to those whose theology follows the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by by Christ....So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word (Chap. X, sec. III).
This suggests the inference that there are infants who die who are not among the elect and which therefore go to hell for eternity. This is difficult, to understate the matter, to reconcile with the notion of a perfectly good and loving God. That such a God would cause to be created persons who live for a few hours and are then consigned to suffer the agonies of hell forever simply because they are human and thus a descendent of Adam is not a proposition one would think to be easy to defend.
Other Christians, wishing to avoid treacherous apologetic terrain, simply assert that all children who die before the "age of accountability" are saved forever by God. This seems much more in keeping with the teaching of Jesus about the love, mercy and compassion of God, but it also presents difficulties of a different kind.
For example, what is the age at which one becomes spiritually accountable and is there Biblical warrant for such an idea? More significantly, if it is granted that children and mental incompetents are saved without having to make a decision for Christ because they simply can't, that seems to crack the door open for the conclusion that perhaps such a decision is not necessary for others as well. If children can't make a decision for Christ because of a lack of comprehension, then neither can those who were born both before and after Christ who never heard the gospel.
And if we allow the possibility that at least some of these might benefit from the work of Christ on the Cross though they know nothing about it, then why not those who have heard the gospel but who for reasons of psychology rather than spiritual hostility find themselves unable to believe it?
We have now wandered far from the reservation staked out by the Westminster Confession and into the regions of what is called Christian inclusivism. Inclusivism is the belief that Christ's death on the cross atones for the sins of all humanity, not just some as in the Reformed view, and that all people are born saved by God's grace until they themselves explicitly reject God and/or spurn His forgiveness and offer of salvation.
This notion may be completely wrong, although it's not easy to see that it is, but it has at least one advantage. It allows us to put aside notions like limbo and unelect children suffering forever for the sin of an ancestor over 10,000 years ago.
According to this view Jesus takes to his bosom every child who dies early. His sacrifice has covered whatever price must be paid for these little ones, so that they can enjoy the presence of God forever. No limbo, no eternal damnation, just unending joy and happiness in the presence of God.
This seems to me to be a much better fit with what the Bible tells us about God than the belief that God allows some infants to be born for no purpose other than to be dispatched to an eternity of misery. If this is wrong, though, and if the Westminster Confession accurately states the way things really stand then parents would actually be doing the moral thing by seeking to have their unwanted children aborted. If the aborted child is one of God's elect then the abortion would not succeed. If the child is not among the elect then the abortion spares them a completely meaningless eternal suffering. Unless, of course, the child is damned from the moment it is conceived in which case it becomes even more difficult to imagine why God would do such a thing.
For Miller's part, he holds fast to the doctrine of limbo:
So, in my view, the argument from the universal salvific will of God is inadequate to support the view that all unbaptized infants are saved....the view that all unbaptized infants are saved is decidedly a modern one, a view very much in the spirit of our times. Ours is a culture that can't bear the thought of anyone going to hell, even the people who, for all the world, seem to deserve it. Thus we have the near universal custom at Christian funerals of proclaiming that the decedent, no matter how morally dissolute his life, is now enjoying the banquet of heaven in the company of the saints, without even a short stay in Purgatory. The spirit of the age hates hell, and so hates limbo as well, which it cannot adequately distinguish from hell.
With due respect to Mr. Miller it seems to me that part of what it means to be a Christian is that one not be able to "bear the thought of anyone going to hell, even the people who, for all the world, seem to deserve it". Does Mr. Miller suggest that we should rejoice that our non-Christian loved ones are destined to everlasting suffering?
Indeed, the spirit of the age does hate hell. This may be the only point of agreement between the spirit of the age and Jesus Christ who Himself hated hell so much that He died so that men, and children, may be spared from it's terrifying maw.