***DISCLAIMER*** This is not an exhaustive, universal post that addresses all similar tragedies. I was asked a question regarding the tragic story of 5-year old Tommy Jones’ death in 1900. The questioner asked me why God would let a “lovely, innocent little boy” die in such “awful, heartbreaking circumstances” (read the story from the hyperlink to get more details on the tragedy). The questioner also asked why God did nothing in this scenario. Below is my answer as it pertains to this situation (this could also apply to other situations, but that is no guarantee). This is also a brief series; I was asked followup questions in response to the below answers. When finished with part one, you can read part two here.
God most certainly could have sent Tommy on the safe path home. After all, God is the maker of heaven of earth and He does what He pleases (Psalm 115:3, 15). Furthermore, He has sovereign control over all things (Colossians 1:16-17; Psalm 135:6; Daniel 4:35). To simply state “God works in mysterious ways” is to both short-change the specificity of His sovereignty and ignore what the biblical texts have to say about who God is.
That being stated, it is hard to determine why God did not spare Tommy’s life in that incident. However, this does not necessarily mean that God did nothing in this situation. After all, His thoughts and ways are not like ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). When tragedies like this one strike, one must take God’s character into consideration. God does not wish for any to perish; He desires for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He is a loving God. After all, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16; see 1 John 4:8-10; Romans 5:8; Genesis 1:26-31). However, God is also a just and holy God who must punish sin (Exodus 34:7; Revelation 19-20; 9:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Tommy, like all of us, has this sin nature from birth (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; John 9:34; Ephesians 2:3; Genesis 2-3). Because of that, to call him an “innocent little boy” is to ignore the sin nature that he has inherited.
That being stated, while God is both a God of justice and a God of love, He is also a God of mercy. Furthermore, God is definitely merciful to infants and younger children (including the 5-year old Jones).
Although no Bible passage states per se that younger children whose lives end prematurely automatically go to heaven (i.e., aborted babies, infants that die as a result of a terrorist attack, etc.), one can take comfort in God’s mercy. This mercy is demonstrated in no less than three passages. First, in 2 Samuel 12, David learns that the child produced by David’s affair with Bathsheba would die (verses 1-14). After the child died, David got up and worshiped (verses 15-20). When asked of his behavior, David replied in verse 23, “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” In light of David’s proclaiming in Psalm 23:6 that he would dwell in the LORD’s house forever, we clearly see how this child, who died as an infant, would also partake in heaven alongside David.
Another passage showing Jesus’ mercy for children is found in Matthew 19:13-15 (see also Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10:13-16). In Matthew 19:14, Jesus Christ Himself says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Finally, in Jonah 4:10-11, the LORD tells Jonah of His love for Ninevah, a place that featured over 120,000 people who did not know their right from their left. It is possible that children represented a portion of this number. In the Old Testament, little ones are referred to as those with no knowledge of good or evil (Deuteronomy 1:38-39; Isaiah 7:15-16). God said in the Deuteronomy passage that these little ones who had no knowledge of good or evil would enter the “good land” (Deuteronomy 1:35-39). God is most definitely capable of sparing young children. If this indeed was the case with Tommy Jones, then Jones had become absent from the body and at home with the LORD (2 Corinthians 5:8). God has a love for little children. This includes Tommy Jones.
At this point, it is speculative why God let Tommy take a path that ended his life prematurely. While Tommy is not entirely innocent because of the sinful nature he inherited at birth (the same sinful nature everyone has inherited), the Bible has clear instances of God’s mercifully sparing younger children and infants. It is certainly possible that God mercifully brought Tommy home with Him by using a tragic circumstance. What is certain is that God did something instead of nothing. Believers will simply need to ask God what that “something” was in the case of the tragic death of 5-year old Tommy Jones.