Did My Baby Go to Limbo?
THE funeral was over, but not the ice-cold shock. That snow-white coffin lay buried beneath the scorched earth. It seemed incredible that only a few weeks earlier my little boy had been taking his first steps, his small face aglow with a grin of sheer triumph. But now Andrew was dead!
As Andrew’s mother, imagine my shock on discovering him lifeless in his cot, his deep-blue eyes staring upward out of a sickly face. The doctor had injected two ampuls of nikethamide straight through the rib cage into the heart. But this had failed to start it beating again.
Yes, there were letters and telegrams of condolence, but there was little comfort. Night after night the sleeping pills prescribed by the doctor were unable to bring the required relief to my tired brain. I kept standing by the window, looking out into the night, searching the heavens. “Where is the little fellow now?” I wondered. “Is he somewhere up there in heaven among the stars?”
My eldest child was home from boarding school for a short stay. Faced with the tragedy, almost her first words were: “Andrew is in Limbo.”
This heartrending experience took place in the year 1956. But it is vividly etched in my mind. It all happened at Empangeni in the heart of Zululand.
Young Andrew had never been baptized and so there was deep concern. Was an unbaptized baby lost forever in Limbo, as the Catholic Church taught? As a heartbroken mother, I simply had to know the truth. Did God really demand that all people, including babies, be baptized? What is Limbo, anyway?
What Is Limbo?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia says under “Limbo”: “Today the term is used by theologians to designate the state and place either of those souls who did not merit hell and its eternal punishments but could not enter heaven before the Redemption (the fathers’ Limbo) or of those souls who are eternally excluded from the beatific vision because of original sin alone (the children’s Limbo). . . . The word in our times refers to the place or state of infants dying without the Sacrament of Baptism who suffer the pain of loss but not the pain of sense. At times its signification is broader and denotes a state or place of natural happiness for these infants as well.”
However, this reference work also states: “The fate of infants dying without Baptism is indeed a very complex problem. . . . The question of Limbo still belongs among the unsettled questions of theology. An official endorsement of Limbo’s existence by the Church is not to be found.”
Be that as it may, Limbo is accepted by devout Catholics in place after place throughout the earth. Surely, you can understand why a bereaved and grief-stricken mother needed to know whether Limbo did indeed exist.
Learning About the State of the Dead
I continued to pray very earnestly for the right understanding about the condition of the dead. Not long after the tragedy our family moved to the city of Pietermaritzburg. One Saturday there was a knock at the door. On opening it, I discovered two ladies with a small boy. Why had they come? To discuss the Bible. Once invited inside, before long they were telling me what the Scriptures had to say about the state of the dead.
For instance, my attention was drawn to Ecclesiastes 3:19-21. Though a Catholic, I had been using the Authorized Version (AV) or the King James Version Bible. It read: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?”
Indeed, man may think he has a soul that goes upward to heaven. But in this, I could see that he errs, “for that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts,” and ‘as the one dies, so the other dies.” Hence, Andrew must be in the grave. It was just as the psalmist said: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”—Ps. 146:3, 4, AV.
The two ladies also showed me these words from the book of Ecclesiastes: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”—Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10, AV.
Now it was evident that the dead were not suffering torments in a burning hell. The visiting witnesses of Jehovah clearly explained that the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek term Hades, sometimes rendered “hell,” denote the common grave of mankind. Moreover, my visitors pointed out that “God is love,” and that it was an insult to the Creator to believe that he tortured people, either for a little while or forever, in a burning hell.—1 John 4:8.
But then I wanted to know more. Was the grave the end for those who had died?
Is There Nothing More?
“To the contrary,” I was told, “the time is coming when the dead will hear Jesus Christ’s voice and come forth in a resurrection.” What comfort there was in the words of Jesus Christ! “Marvel not at this,” he said, “for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28, 29, AV) The prospect of a resurrection was wonderful! But there remained the burning question . . .
“Will Jesus Resurrect Those Not Baptized?”
My visitors assured me that, according to God’s Word, unbaptized babies, like little Andrew, were not excluded from God’s marvelous provision of the resurrection. Indeed, the vast majority of the dead in memorial tombs will be raised to life here on earth under the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ.
To me, what those ladies had presented was fantastic. It was something I had never heard before. When they offered to help me to search for further Bible truths, I gladly accepted. And as time passed, much more was learned about baptism.
For instance, Jesus Christ had said to his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) This meant that before a person was baptized he would have to be acquainted with God’s name and purposes. He would have to learn about the role played by the Son, Jesus Christ, in God’s arrangement of things. The individual would also need to know something about the working of the holy spirit, God’s active force. Obviously no infant could understand these things. So it became plain to me that baptizing a babe in arms was unscriptural.
Moreover, I learned that Christian baptism was not a mere sprinkling. Jesus himself was fully immersed in water to symbolize the presentation of himself to Almighty God. (Matt. 3:13-17) And when the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in symbol of his dedication to God “a certain body of water” was the chosen place of baptism. Both he and the evangelizer Philip “went down into the water,” and Philip baptized the eunuch by dipping him under the water and then raising him up.—Acts 8:35-39.
But imagine my great delight on realizing that little Andrew was not in Limbo! In fact, the New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: “The word [Limbo] is not employed by the Fathers, nor does it appear in Holy Scripture.” It is not found in the Bible because there is no such place or state. What joy there has been in learning these things!
Within a year of little Andrew’s death, I gave birth to a baby girl. Unhappily, however, that infant lived only some twenty minutes. Yet, how grateful I was to know of Jehovah God’s marvelous provision for ransoming imperfect mankind and resurrecting those in his memory!—Matt. 20:28; Acts 24:15; Rom. 5:12.
Some twenty years have passed since the untimely deaths of little Andrew and his sister. But I now have a sure hope for the future. And what a pleasure it is to share this grand hope with others, telling them about Jehovah, the God of the resurrection, and pointing to the marvelous gift he gives—“everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord”! (Rom. 6:23)—Contributed.