There is a biblical teaching known as the age of accountability that refers to people who are not yet able to comprehend God’s gift of salvation. Whether we are talking about young children or adults with mental deficiency, the age of accountability idea says that if these people die, they will go to heaven even though they may not have ever asked the Lord to save them, based on the fact that they were not yet accountable for their actions.
The biggest problem with this notion, though, is that the phrasing does not appear in the Bible. The most often used verse to promote its biblical authority is in the loss of David’s week old son. In this blog I want to visit David at his time of grief over this baby, but then contrast that with the loss of his adult son.
1 The loss of David’s baby son
In 2 Samuel 11 King David commits the act of adultery with a married lady named Bathsheba. After he finds out that she has conceived his child, David arranges for the murder of her husband Uriah, then marries Bathsheba himself. Six months after the “shotgun wedding” Bathsheba delivered their baby boy, and David’s sin was exposed.
In chapter 12 David is confronted by the prophet Nathan. The king is told that he will not lose his life or his crown, but that he would lose his infant son. Notice his reaction:
“David, therefore, besought God for the child, and David fasted…and lay all night upon the ground…And it came to pass on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, ‘Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not harken unto our voice; how will he then vex himself if we tell him the child is dead?’”
And after David found out the child had in fact died:
“Then David arose from the ground, and washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped.”
He worshipped? The servants were confused. They asked him:
“What thing is this that thou hast done? Thou didst fast and weep for the child while he was alive, but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread?”
David answered by giving this incredible verse that has been used to support the age of accountability. He replied:
“While the child was alive I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now the child is dead—why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he shall not return to me.’”
David, a believer, knew that he would one day dwell in the house of the Lord forever following his death. His declaration that he would see his son again could only mean that he would see him in the Lord’s house.
Some have argued that these are just the words of a grieving father who was distraught and had not eaten in a week. But I would argue that this is the inspired Word of God, and the Lord allowed this to be in His Word for our benefit.
2 The loss of David’s adult son
Unfortunately for the king, that child was just the first of his to die. Rebellion among his own sons led to the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Amnon, the murder of Amnon by his son Absalom, and then the rebellion of Absalom. Absalom, now the crown prince, led a revolt to kill his father and take the throne.
In 2 Samuel 18 Absalom is killed by one of David’s generals, Joab. When David gets the word that the war is ended, his first question is, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” He is told that Absalom was dead, and David began to shake violently and yell, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! I wish to God that I had died for thee, O Absalom my son, my son!”
Then in chapter 19 David has to be scolded by his general. He left his army and continued to mourn for his son until the troops were humiliated. Joab told David, “I perceive that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it would have pleased you.”
Look at the different ways David reacted to the loss of these two sons. David never mentioned that he would go see Absalom again, as he did of his other son. David did not worship in the death of Absalom, and Absalom was trying to kill him!
There is no evidence that Absalom lived for God. Even though his murder was no different than David’s, we see David’s heart, including his repentance in Psalm 51. Absalom, on the other hand, died in rebellion, and we never see evidence that he had ever repented or lived for the Lord. The only time Absalom references his walk with the Lord is when he lied to David about making a sacrifice, and that was the lie that launched his coup.
So it is clear that David mourned for Absalom because he knew his son was in hell. He worshipped at the loss of his infant son because he knew he was in paradise (and later heaven).
This helps us keep life in perspective; it is short, but eternity lasts forever.
It also shows us the age of accountability is very much a biblical concept (I spend an entire chapter on this topic in Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery, available here).