Beckett: Does My Miscarried Baby Have Salvation?

Design: theSkimm | Photo: Stocksy

A conversation on Twitter had prompted my thoughts on this question. It was in response to my column, “What About the Thief on the Cross?” The question had to do with babies who died before having the chance to be baptised, such as miscarriage, which led into more difficult, unrelated questions I will get to in the second section of this column. First, on the question of a child’s salvation when miscarried, stillborn, etc., in the case of believing parents, let us turn to the wisdom of Luther in his brief writing, Comfort for Women Who Have Had A Miscarriage.

If You’ve Had A Miscarriage

“One cannot and ought not know the hidden judgment of God.” Nevertheless, “these mothers should calm themselves and have faith that God’s will is always better than ours, though it may seem otherwise to us from our human point of view.” God is not angry with them. “Rather is this a test to develop patience” (LW 43:247).

I’m sure mothers who’ve suffered a miscarriage, etc. have wondered, “Why did God allow this to happen? Did I do something wrong?” No, you did nothing wrong, which Luther says as much. As far as why God allowed this to happen? God only knows; I cannot tell you why because I’m not God. Nevertheless, I do know His will is always better than ours, even when we do not comprehend it or especially like it. “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature… and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die” (SC, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, How is God’s will done?). Who knows why? Perhaps God prohibited some great evil from falling upon them, though I realise this is hardly comforting and quite difficult to accept. Thus, let us move on.

“Because the mother is a believing Christian it is to be hoped that her heartfelt cry and deep longing to bring her child to be baptized will be accepted by God as an effective prayer” (LW 43:247-248). Luther then quotes two passages.

  • Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts know what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” And why stop there? Verse 28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
  • Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”

Thus, Luther continues, “What [a Christian] prays for, especially in the unexpressed yearning of his heart, becomes a great, unbearable cry in God’s ears” (LW 43:248). He then gives the example of Moses in Exodus 14:15. Moses gave no verbal cry, yet still God heard the groaning of his heart because “Moses did not know how or for what he should pray” (LW 43:248). Likewise, Isaiah and all the other prophets accomplished much by prayer as well—more than what they asked or thought. Luther continues:

Who can doubt that those Israelite children who died before they could be circumcised on the eighth day were yet saved by the prayers of their parents in view of the promise that God willed to be their God? God (they say) has not limited His power to the sacraments, but has made a covenant with us through His Word. Therefore we ought to speak differently and in a more consoling way with Christians than with pagans or wicked people (the two are the same), even in such cases where we do not know God’s hidden judgment. For He says and is not lying, “All things are possible to him who believe” [Mark 9:23], even though they have not prayed, or expected, or hoped for what they would have wanted to see happen… Leave such situations to God and take comfort in the thought that He surely has heard our unspoken yearning and done all things better than we could have asked.

LW 43:249-250; emphasis mine

Psalm 50:15 also brings us comfort, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Because of this unsearchable graciousness of our Lord, we mustn’t condemn such infants, especially because “The prayers of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on earth” (James 3:16b-17). Never underestimate the prayer of a Christian who has received the righteousness of Christ by faith, especially the prayer of a righteous mother. It is for this reason that, though I do not agree with the Catholic veneration of Mary insofar as they pray to her and ask her to pray for them, I empathise with it. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. She is the theotokos—the Mother of God. He had immense love for His mother, so much so that just before He died on the cross, He gave His mother into the care of John His disciple (John 19:25-27). I don’t think I go too far to say that Jesus has a special heart and compassion for mothers and therefore listens intently to their prayers, especially when they cry out for their children just as I’m sure His own mother cried out when she witnessed her son die on the cross. That isn’t to say He listens to the prayers of mothers more than any other’s, but that He most certainly hears them and intercedes for them before the Father.

Moreover, Elijah, though a great prophet, was still only a man like you and me. And God did far more abundantly than he asked or thought in his prayer. Just so with the prayer of a righteous mother.

In summary,

  • God only knows.
  • God’s work of salvation is not limited to His Means of Grace, that is, the Sacraments, but He saves foremost by His Word. As I often say when asked this question, I often read aloud Psalm 139:13-16. Studies show that classical music can benefit a baby’s brain development in utero. Imagine what God’s Word can do—the Word that created the entire universe!—when a baby hears the Word of God preached or read to them in utero.
  • The baby can be saved because of the righteous prayers of the mother (more on this below). Because God hears the prayers of a righteous person, which are powerful, He does abundantly more than we ask or think, even working faith in the unborn baby upon hearing the Word of God in utero.
  • Mark 9:23, “All things are possible for one who believes.” Again, yes, even saving an unborn baby. Who are we to put limits on God’s sovereignty? There is no limit to the word, “All things.”
  • In short, yes. Your baby has heard the Word of God, dear mother, and His Word does not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:10-11). Be certain and take comfort in the fact that you shall see him or her in the resurrection of the dead.

What About Unbelieving Parents Who Abort?

Now for the more difficult questions alluded to earlier, which were, “What about those who couldn’t hear God’s Word because their parents were unbelievers when they were miscarried/aborted?” And “If God knows them before they’re formed [Psalm 139:13-16], why would He give them to evil parents?” These are two separate questions and I will do my best to answer both simultaneously and as succinctly as possible:

  1. We all have evil parents, so that is a moot point (cf. Matthew 7:11).
  2. Luther: “God accomplishes much through the faith and longing of another, even a stranger, even though there is still no personal faith. But this is given through the channel of another’s intercession” (LW 43:250). In the case of pagans (unbelievers) who either miscarry or are so wicked as to abort their child, even the prayer of a righteous believer is powerful enough to intercede for the person’s—the baby’s—salvation! Consider those friends of the paralytic who brought him to Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). When Jesus saw the faith of his friends, Jesus first forgave the man’s sins, then He healed him (vv. 5-11). Consider also the many times Moses interceded for the unbelieving Israelites by his prayer and God saved them, who stands as a type of Christ. So then, because God hears the prayers of thousands—perhaps millions—of His righteous people praying and crying out for those murdered in utero because of their parents’ unbelief, imagine the great work of salvation Christ is accomplishing despite the iniquity of such wicked parents! Furthermore,
  3. Stop trying to understand the mystery through your fallen human reason and instead exercise the rule of faith—that is, what do we know about who God is? According to His self-revelation to Moses, He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). We also know He makes exceptions because He’s God and He can do that, like with Enoch and Elijah, whom He took up into heaven, neither having experienced death. “The wages of sin is death,” writes Paul (Romans 6:23a), except for those two guys. Even Jesus had to die! Considering all we’ve seen about the power of a righteous person’s prayer above, perhaps God makes exceptions with these little ones too. I don’t know if He does—indeed, even my reason wants me to reject it! Nevertheless, I exercise faith in who He is. That is just what grace is, after all: God makes exceptions. Paul put it best when he said “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). God’s enemies deserve condemnation, not reconciliation, but He made an exception with all of us. I do not believe for a second that babies whose evil parents did not bring them God’s Word are beyond the shadow of the cross that shines before the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2). After all, the Word of the Cross is not a Law of rules to be followed but the folly that God does His exceptional work of making gracious exceptions to the rule of Law. I would also be remiss not to re-emphasise Luther’s strong point that God’s work of salvation is not limited to His Means of Grace. If God wants to save a miscarried or aborted baby whether it’s heard His Word through its mother’s womb or because of the powerful prayer of a righteous person—that is, through intercession just as Christ intercedes for us before the Father—He can do that because He’s God.

The Theology of the Cross and Suffering

Before I conclude, I would like to say a little bit about Luther’s theology of the cross. Although his 95 Theses posted on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church on October 31, 1517 have historically been understood to mark the anniversary of the Reformation, I agree with others that Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation just a few months later in 1518 gives us a better understanding of Luther’s theology. The disputation arose out of his pastoral concern for people’s souls and he emphasises two major points: first, that paradox and mystery are what guide the Gospel, not human logic, making theology not about “therefore” but “nevertheless”; and second, he focuses on idolatry rather than ethics and immorality. Both of these are especially related to suffering, which Luther is chiefly concerned about in the theses (we will only be looking at the first here).

“For Luther, our suffering in this life was viewed as a continuation of Christ’s suffering for us. Our suffering forces us to depend on Christ and His cross alone, and others see our suffering and wonder where our confidence lies” (Marrs, 39). All our suffering—whether miscarriage, abortion, depression, anxiety, physical ailment, same-sex attraction, whatever—ought to draw us to our knees at the cross and depend entirely on Christ who suffered for us. At the cross, God is both hidden and revealed in suffering.

Many have viewed, and still view, suffering as evidence that they no longer have God’s favour because of some sin they’ve committed (Job’s friends thought this way, and the lesson there is that they were grossly erroneous). Luther strongly disagreed. He based this on 1 Corinthians 1:18 ff., “For the Word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The Word of the cross—that Jesus suffered for you, and therefore you also suffer as you pick up your cross daily and follow Him—is God’s power of salvation. We suffer in this life; nevertheless, God is with us and uses our suffering to draw us closer to Him, not farther away from Him.

Luther called this God’s “alien” and “proper work.” God’s proper work is that He delivers to us His grace. His alien work, which we can say is the work He does not want to do, “reveals to us our weakness and frailty, our sinful predisposition, and the sin-filled world we live in” (Marrs, 45). At times, God does His alien work that He may do His proper work. Dr. Marrs gives a great example of this:

…a medical doctor enters the profession because she wants to help heal people. That is her “proper” work. Yet at times, she has to tell a patient, “There’s nothing else we can do. Your injury (or disease) is about to take your life. I’m sorry.” The need to break this bad news to her patient is an “alien” work to her, not something she wants to do, yet it has to be done. In another sense, surgery is an “alien work” for a doctor, whereby they must cut and destroy healthy tissue to get at the true injury and suture it, preparing it for healing.

Marrs, 45

At times, God may do His alien work and permit our suffering that He may do His proper work of delivering His grace to us and thus remember who He is. This is how He reveals Himself, just as He is revealed in Christ. What remains hidden is why He chose that specific suffering, just as it is hidden to us the reason why the giving of His only-begotten Son was the only way to save us from our sins.

Luther wrote this brief treatise in 1547—29 years after presenting his disputation at Heidelberg. When he wrote above, “Rather is this a test to develop patience” (LW 43:247), perhaps he had the theology of the cross in mind. “Nevertheless” is the key word in Luther’s understanding of the theology of the cross, and it fits best into the pattern of lament in the Psalms. If you read any psalm of lament you’ll notice a threefold pattern. Let’s use Psalm 13 as our example: (1) statement of complaint (vv. 1-2), (2) reason for complaint (vv. 3-4), and (3) trust in the Lord (vv. 5-6). Thus, a theologian of the cross laments like this, “Why is this happening, O Lord?! How long must I suffer this thing? I am beset by all these things. Nevertheless, I will trust in You.” In the nevertheless, we exercise the rule of faith, remembering who God is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6), and remembering especially how these are all revealed in Him on the cross. We move from “Why is this happening” to “I don’t know why this is happening; nevertheless, I will trust in Your mercy and steadfast love. I believe my child is with You, for you are not a God of the dead but God of the living [Mark 12:27]. All things are possible with You. I believe in You.”


I hope this is helpful. These are difficult questions with difficult answers, and ultimately ones we don’t really have the answers to. Even me. Whatever the predicament, my hope here is that you cling to God and His Word of promise—that He works His exceptional grace that does impossible things beyond our comprehension, and He accomplishes far more abundantly than what we ask or think in our prayers.


Marrs, Rick W. Making Christian Counseling More Christ Centered. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2019.


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