Not capable of committing sin?

A seven-year-old boy confessed to beating his seven-month-old sister to death. Is this not a sin because he was under eight years old? Is he accountable for this act? Surely a seven-year-old (unless totally pathological) understands that it is wrong to kill. Does this have implications for our thinking about what consitutes sin (in other words, what factors are required in order for an act to be considered a sin)?

39 thoughts on “Not capable of committing sin?

  1. It is a transgression of the law, but he is not accountable for it. Christ’s atonement covers it, with no repentance necessary. It is automatic.

    As many define the terms, a transgression is a violation of the law, regardless of knowlege or motive. A sin is a transgression of the law knowing that it is evil. Under this definition, the boy did sin, since he knew it was wrong, yet he is not accountable for the sin, since Christ extends the cleansing power of the atonement to all transgressions committed by those under the age of eight. Thus if you define sin as a transgression for which one must repent or for which God holds you accountable, then this action would not be a sin. It depends on your definition.

    All children under the age of eight are always pure before God, since all their transgressions/sins are covered in advance. But I would still say that children under eight are still capable of knowingly transgressing the commandments, i.e., sinning.

  2. Jonathan’s statement is hard to swallow unless you thicken it with context. I know it sounds awful to just exonerate the boy after an act so brutal. But moral responsibility is not only measured by one’s knowledge, but by other forces at work in one’s life. Mental illness might be a factor, but I’m guessing there’s got to be other environmental issues as well- upbringing, trauma, etc.

    The trickier part is holding those above the age of accountability guiltless for similar acts, based on the same factors of a harsh environment. But I have no doubt that these are always applied in God’s judgment of such people.

  3. I agree with Ryan but not Jonathan. The boy very likely is suffering from some issue (abuse or mental illness) that renders him not culpable of this crime. But I don’t think Christ’s atonement works in such a legalistic way (i.e. if you’re seven and 364 days you’re covered, 8 years, not covered). This is not sin insurance, it’s the atonement. God has perfect knowledge of all of us, so he knows when and to what degree we became responsible for our actions. I think this is much more important than our chronological age. We can’t know if this boy is morally culpable of this crime; only God can. A more interesting question is what should be done with him legally.

  4. Oh, I read about this. So terribly sad. Now don’t you think this sort of thing is worse than it used to be? I don’t remember hearing about little kids killing each other years ago.

    Boy, I have no clue what the Lord is going to do with this. But what that boy will have on his shoulders until the day he dies…and his parents.

    When my husband and son died, I was of course devastated, but it took years for me to realize the extent of my culpability in their deaths and how mistakenly I had lived my life up to then. That waking up to the awfulness of my actions has threatened to destroy me emotionally at times.

    So now I look at people, maybe we call them “low life” which is what I was, and feel so sorry for them when they wake up to what they’re doing with their lives.

    One of the things I am glad of in the blogging is others share about things that have affected me, like this terrible tragedy. The people around me don’t discuss these things much. So it’s not so lonely.

  5. I’m with Ned on this one. I’m glad not to have to pass judgement, legal or otherwise.

  6. NFlanders, while I agree that children arrive at an understanding of good and evil gradually, and at different paces, I must disagree with the idea that God does not automatically forgive those children who have not reached the age of accountability.

    If a child under the age of eight is accountable for his transgressions of the law, even knowing transgressions, then he is in need of repentance and baptism. Without it, he would remain condemned. Yet the Lord has said that “little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten” (D&C 29:46), and “little children are holy, being sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ” (D&C 74:7).

    Children under the age of eight are explicitly forbidden to be baptized. Yet D&C 137:10 clearly and unequivocally states that “all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven”.

    So, if a child under the age of eight (even 7 years, 364 days) can be accountable for his sins, yet cannot be baptized, then how is it possible for him to be saved? The answer is that he is not accountable. His transgressions are covered by the atonement of Christ. Like you said, it’s not “sin insurance”. It’s the atonement, and it is scriptural.

  7. I’m confused. Ryan and NFlanders, do you believe that the age of 8 is recognized by God as the age of accountability, or do you think that it was just a number pulled out of thin air? If it is indeed the age of accountability, then it clearly means that those under it are (by definition) not accountable, regardless of whether they were abused and had mental illness or not.

    I suppose one could make the argument that the “8 years old” idea is somehow metaphorical rather than literal, but then it seems to lose a lot of its meaning, especially in the context of all the scriptures in which it is referenced. After all, we know it goes back at least to Abraham, since the 8 days until circumcision was instituted as a symbol of the eight years until a child is accountable for his sins.

    Thus the redemption of children under the age of eight is a true gift; the point is not that little children don’t sin; it’s that they are redeemed from their sins through Christ’s atonement without need of baptism or repentance.

  8. Is the age of eight being the age of accountability a matter of policy or doctrine? If it is a matter of church policy (as a church we won’t baptize children until the age of eight), then it seems that children could be accountable to God before that time. If it is a matter of doctrine, then it seems that God himself has given significance to that age as a bright line between accountable and not accountable.

    I believe it is doctrine and not policy. Do others disagree? What in church teachings or the scriptures would indicate that it is policy and not doctrine?

  9. D&C 68:25–27
    25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
    26 For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.
    27 And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.

    What sins are being remitted when eight-year-olds are baptized? As far as I can tell, the scriptures do not clearly teach that eight is “the age of accountability” (though there is one scriptural passage that seems to imply it). Rather, it seems that there are varying degrees of accountability:

    D&C 29:46–48
    46 But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;
    47 Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;
    48 For it is given unto them even as I will, according to mine own pleasure, that great things may be required at the hand of their fathers.

    (Side note: That last part of verse 48 is very interesting; I’m not sure what it means…)

    The one scripture speaks of the sins of eight-year-olds being remitted through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, while the other says that “little children” cannot sin.

    It seems to me that eight years old is a pragmatic line drawn that is arbitrary to some degree (though not entirely). If accountability comes gradually, then there needs to be some point at which we say, “most people are reasonably accountable by this age, so this is a good point at which to allow them to be baptized”.

    As Jonathan points out, this seems to create a dilemma: if children become accountable to some degree before age eight, but cannot be baptized until age eight, how can they be saved? And it seems to me that the answer is that their parents are responsible to teach them repentance, and their repentance is accepted by the Lord without baptism. I think this parallels how “those who are without the law” are judged, such as those with mental deficiencies who are not baptized. I am confident that many of these people are accountable to some degree; they are over the age of eight (by which point we assume they have arrived at “the years of accountability”), they have some degree of understanding that some things are right and some are wrong, and they can understand the concept of repentance (again, perhaps to a more limited degree than the average person). I think the Lord accepts the repentance of these people without baptism. I am confident that my children have begun to understand these same things and practice repentance before they are eight years old, and the Lord accepts their repentance without baptism.

    Without knowing any more about the situation described in the news story I linked to than what is in that story, my best guess would be that the seven-year-old boy is accountable to some degree and will be required to repent, just as my seven-year-old son has begun to be accountable and is learning how to repent. When he (my son) is eight, he will be baptized for the remission of his sins, though this requirement will be waived if, God forbid, he were to die before his birthday.

  10. Christopher, you have an interesting point with the “baptized for the remission of sins” on children who just turned eight. At I agree that the scriptures regarding the age of accountability can be somewhat vague. I had never heard anyone say that the age of accountability in some verses (such as D&C 137:10, saying that those under the age are saved) is different than the age of eight, which in other verses and certainly in church tradition is accepted as THE age of accountability. I will have to think about your analysis.

    So your position is that the age-8 accountability concept is a matter of church policy and not salvation-related doctrine?

  11. I agree with NFlanders.

    The Lord is the only one who knows all of the factors in this boy’s life and mind. Even if he were a few months or weeks older and was 8, my answer would be the same. The age of 8 is not arbitrary, but I do not believe it is some magical event that changes a person the minute they turn 8 years old. If that were the case, we should be baptizing kids on their birthday, not waiting till the first Saturday of the next month. It is an age when most kids are capable of understanding the basics of the covenants they make, but exactly how accountable they are for which actions will still be individual. I would say that even extends to adults; we are accountable according to our knowledge and understanding. And only the Lord really knows what our knowledge and understanding is. Thank goodness we are not the ones tasked with judging the eternal consequences of others, for, with our limited understanding of all the factors involved, we would be carrying out a lot of injustice.

  12. As usual Ned’s right on target. We know so little of our own spiritual development, it’s impossible to analyze the situation from a formulaic point of view. Great, great question, though.

  13. Jonathan Stone,

    Basically, yes, though this policy is obviously based in revealed scripture, unlike some church policies. And I wouldn’t call it “age-8 accountability”; rather, I would call it “age-8 baptism”.

    And while I agree that the scriptures teach that little children are redeemed through the atonement of Christ, I wonder: does the atonement make redemption from sin (or transgression) possible without repentance? It seems to me that we teach that repentance is required in order for the atonement to take effect. In cases where people have ignorantly transgressed (such as little children or those without the law), repentance may be simpler than for those who wilfully rebel against greater knowledge and understanding. But it would seem odd to me that sin (or transgression) could be forgiven without repentance.

  14. “And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old.” – Genesis 17:11, Joseph Smith Translation

    I think the age of accountability and the age of baptism are exact, and they are the same for a reason. Baptism is clearly important and not merely symbolic, or we would not be performing baptisms for the dead. All those who reach the age of eight are required to be baptized to reach the celestial kingdom. If a child dies at the age of 7 and 364/365ths, he needs no baptism. If a child dies at age 8 but in the week before his scheduled baptism, then a proxy baptism must be performed.

    I see two competing ideas:
    1) Willful sins of a child under the age of 8 are forgiven without repentance.
    2) Willful sins of a child under the age of 8 are not forgiven without repentance, therefore a child who dies before the age of 8 might not go to the celestial kingdom.

    The only way that I can see the second option as not contradicting the scriptures is to interpret “the years of accountability” in D&C 137:10 to not mean eight years, but instead, some kind of graduated scale of accountability for each child. But that adds to the second idea the requirement that children under 8 must repent to be forgiven, but they need no baptism. That seems totally extra-scriptural. There seems to be no provision for forgiveness dependent upon repentance but without baptism.

    It seems to me that option 1 is the most scripturally sound. That is, while the idea that a child is forgiven for a willful sin without repentance seems odd and unjust on it face, it seems to agree with many scriptural declarations that children before the age of accountability are “redeemed” and “sanctified” through the atonement. Both seem to indicate that they are in need of help, but that the help is given freely, without requirements on the part of the child.

  15. All those who reach the age of eight are required to be baptized to reach the celestial kingdom.

    I’m not sure this is true.

    Moroni 8:22
    For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing

    “All they that are without the law” is something separate from “all little children” in this scripture. Yet for these, also, “baptism availeth nothing”.

    The fuller context of this verse is also interesting:

    Moroni 8:19
    Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.

    How little are the “little children” spoken of in this verse? My seven-year-old can repent. This seems to indicate that the reason “little children” are alive in Christ is precisely because they cannot repent. So it appears to me that if they can repent, they must; otherwise, the mercy of Christ provides the justice that takes into account their lack of the ability to repent.

    Moroni 8:20
    20 And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.
    21 Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.
    22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
    23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
    24 Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.

    This passage is interesting, because it does not make clear who falls into the category of “all they that are without the law”. The practice of baptism for the dead seems to ignore this principle, except perhaps in cases of mental deficiency (we don’t perform proxy baptisms for those who were not baptized in life for reasons of mental deficiency). Maybe if we had a better idea of who “they that are without the law” are, we could understand more clearly the analogy being drawn between them and little children.

    We can read this scripture as saying that little children are not “under condemnation” or “under the curse of a broken law”, and thereofre “cannot repent”. But two questions arise for me: 1) If I have taught my child a law (don’t lie, don’t steal, etc.) and he understands it and breaks it, is he not under condemnation? 2) If not, why not? What is it about “little children” that exempts them from condemnation if they knowingly break a law? Perhaps we say that it is impossible for a little child to knowingly break a law. But this is clearly not the case in my experience, and it seems absurd to say that a child one day shy of her eighth birthday is not capable of knowingly breaking a law, while the next day she magically is capable of doing so. And here again the question surfaces of what sins are being remitted when an eight-year-old is baptized.

    It seems reasonable to me to read Mormon’s condemnation of the baptism of “little children” as speaking of infant baptism, in which case his logic makes good sense. But it seems difficult to make the kinds of distinctions he does between a child one day shy of eight years old and one a day past eight. And, unfortunately, Mormon doesn’t give us an indication of what he meant by “little children”.

    In verse 8, Mormon teaches that “little children … are not capable of committing sin”. This is a difficult matter, I think, when we draw lines at eight years of age. If we say that a little child is not capable of committing sin the day before he turns eight, but is capable of committing sin on his eighth birthday, then the meaning of “not capable of committing sin” is merely definitional: by definition, no acts of a child prior to age eight are considered sin, while the same wilfully disobedient act a day later would be considered sin. But this seems to undermine the force of Mormon’s argument. It is far less forceful if all we’re talking about is the definition of what sin is than if there is truly some lack of capacity on the part of the child. This is why I asked in the initial post whether this has “implications for our thinking about what consitutes sin (in other words, what factors are required in order for an act to be considered a sin)”. And Mormon’s addition of “they who are without the law” complicates matters further.

  16. So when the Lord says that children are not accountable before him until they are eight years old, what does that mean? I interpret it to mean that they are not accountable for their sins. You seem to be saying that it means they should not be baptized, but if that is the case, why didn’t the Lord say it?

    The Lord could have said, “Eight is the age of baptism, but before that age, children can be accounable for their sins and must repent. They might need baptism and they might not, but I’ll judge that, and you can perform the proxy baptisms for them later.”

    But instead he has said, “Eight is when children become accountable before me. At that point in time they need baptism, unless they are without the law. Before that time, they are automatically redeemed and sanctified through the atonement, and if they die, they will be saved in the celestial kingdom.”

    I realize that I have combined and paraphrased different scriptures, but I think I have done it fairly. Am I wrong?

  17. Jonathan,

    I think your interpretation is reasonable, but (obviously, since I’m arguing for a different one) still problematic, given the apparent inconsistency between various scriptural passages.

    With regard to the JST, there are a couple of ways to reconcile it with my interpretation. First, we can interpret “accountable before me” more narrowly: either as “accountable for the choice to be baptized” or “accountable enough to be baptized”. Verses 4-7 of the JST also refer to accountability, but it is not clear to me what the reference is. However, it does seem very clear that the objection is to infant baptism, as Mormon’s:

    4 And God talked with him, saying, My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers;
    5 And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them;
    6 But have turned from the commandment, and taken unto themselves the washing of children, and the blood of sprinkling;
    7 And have said that the blood of the righteous Able was shed for sins; and have not known wherein they are accountable before me.

    Another way to reconcile this passage of the JST is to ask whether this is a final inspired revision or a work in progress, in which Joseph was still working through ideas. I realize that this opens a can of worms as far as the JST in general is concerned, but I think it is still a valid question.

    I, too, sometimes wish that the Lord had spoken more explicitly and clearly on some of these questions.

  18. The reality is that this boy did not, could not, have had any clue what he was doing. Isn’t any sin based upon the motive, the amount of awareness we have about the sin?

    If we add to that equation the fact that he was not baptized, only seven, certainly, he will have the opportunity to overcome this terrible sin.

    It is fair. And God is fair. I guess that’s a terrible fairness.

    And then, do we go on, speculate about the baby, was she a perfect spirit who was only destined to live a short time because she didn’t need to be tested? That’s an argument that has never made sense to me.

  19. For me, anyhow, the analysis is simple:

    1. Baptism is for the remission of sins.
    2. Sin requires accountability.

    So what we’re really talking about is when someone becomes accountable. It seems a bit silly for us to designate a single age across the board. Some clearly are older before becoming accountable, if ever (e.g., learning disabilities). By extension of this logic, it seems reasonable to assume that some could become accountable at a younger age (think of Moroni, commanding the Nephite armies — I could easily see a young Moroni becoming precociously accountable). So for us to see the 8 years as an on/off switch is, I think, something of an overreliance on the scriptures on point. Yes, my kids will likely get baptized at 8, but when we’re examining the accountability of a child for a given act, I think we err if we rely solely on age and not other contextual matters.

  20. We also err if we think of Moroni leading the Nephite armies at a spectacularly young age. It was his father Mormon who holds that distinction (Mormon 2:2).

    Moroni was the captain of a Nephite army (Mormon 6:12) but there’s no indication of his age, and he was not the head of all the armies, but of one of the groups of 10,000 listed in Mormon 6.

  21. As a parent, who has had 3 children (the oldest is 7) I think that this boy was probably aware that what he did was wrong (while he was doing it). However, my 7 year old would not fully comprehend the sin of murder. She is totally aware that if she says “stupid” she made a bad choice. If she hits her brother, she made a bad choice.
    But she is NOT fully aware of DEGREE of bad choices.

    Let’s remember that this kid was jealous of a new sibling. And he was not in a necessarily loving family unit. This new kid belonged to his and a “new woman”–a woman who wouldn’t necessarily care as much about him and the new baby. The new baby perhaps took his room at his dad’s house. The new baby got to live with his dad.
    Most loving parents go out of their way to ease the transition of new baby in the house for children. However, did the dad and girlfriend help him through the transition? Or was this little boy left alone to deal with all the hurt and anger of his new family situation?
    Was there a divorce? Was he still dealing with the hurt and anger from his dad leaving him?
    This was very possibly a child in pain, who was trying to sleep, and the baby kept crying and crying. He reacted without the wisdom and judgement and knowledge of consequences.
    I am SO sad for him and how this will affect the rest of his life.

  22. “and” should have been “as”
    a woman who wouldn’t necessarily care as much about him AS the new baby

  23. My first thought from reading this article wasn’t the 7 or 8 years old aspect. It was the fact that the parents were not in the house with two children at midnight. “Visiting” with neighbors is a terrible whitewash for neglect. They didn’t hear the baby crying, they didn’t hear the brother’s pummeling fists. The parents are responsible for the death. And I am a parent of two small children.

  24. Interesting discussion. I have never heard that children are *held* accountible before age 8. Do they know what sin is and what is wrong before then? No doubt. They learn it as they grow up, but they are not held to that knowledge until age 8. This has never been taught differently. Here is a quote from McConkie.

    What is the age of accountability?Accountability does not burst full-bloom upon a child at any given moment in his life. Children become accountable gradually, over a number of years. Becoming accountable is a process, not a goal to be attained when a specified number of years, days, and hours have elapsed. In our revelation the Lord says, “They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.†(D&C 29:47.) There comes a time, however, when accountability is real and actual and sin is attributed in the lives of those who develop normally. It is eight years of age, the age of baptism. (D&C 68:27.)

    Bruce R. McConkie, “The Salvation of Little Children,†Ensign, Apr. 1977, 3

    Doing a quick search on LDS.org, all talks concerning “age of accountability” all state 8 as the age that they are held to that accountability.

  25. “And then, do we go on, speculate about the baby, was she a perfect spirit who was only destined to live a short time because she didn’t need to be tested? That’s an argument that has never made sense to me. “

    annegb,
    I don’t believe that God kills babies because they don’t need to live. I don’t think he causes “trials” in someone’s live because they “need” to grow from them. I think he allows things to happen in the mortal way, and only intervenes when it is necessary to his purpose. ANd when it would make a difference in our salvation.
    For instance, my son has a speech disorder. As I struggled to accept it (having no idea of the extent of his limitations whether they’d be small or very extensive) I wondered “why?” But I don’t think GOd gave him this on purpose.
    However, in God’s view, it makes no difference to his salvation. What GOd was is to bring to pass my son’s immortality and his eternal life. (I had wanted my son’s life to be all that I dreamed…..happy, smart, successful, loving, talented, active in the church, and, of course, normal). A speech disorder affect his life her on earth, but obviously the Lord thought he could still obtain eternal life.
    If that baby had lived, she would have learned and experienced and been saved just as equally as if she died as a baby.
    DOes that make sense? (Sometimes it is so much easier to talk, than to write).
    Whenever death comes prematurely, we have to trust that the Lord KNOWS each of us, he knows our hearts, our circumstances, and his “judgements” will be right and fair. We don’t need to worry about that.
    I think sometimes we overthink the whole “test” aspect of mortal life. Like we have to complete a multiple choice test and get the right answers. Like there is an end result with an oral report that we are graded on.
    We return to him with our souls, our hearts. And I don’t think our hearts are a multiple choice test. And only He can grade them.
    That baby didn’t have to die. That baby could have lived a wonderful life. But it is OK that she died, because the Lord can see her heart and that is what is important.

  26. If an embryo is really a person (Lyle and Matt have argued this, I believe), then shouldn’t we be talking about the date 8 years after conception, when personhood begins?

  27. N Miller, it’s nice to see someone agrees with me. The Bruce R. McConkie quote is a perfect summarization of my views–yes, children under the age of 8 can transgress the law knowingly (sin), but the Lord does not hold them accountable for those sins. The Savior redeems those sins because they have not yet reached the age of accountability.

    Some people seem to object to the idea that turning 8 years old can be a moment of great significance to the Lord. Yet there are many moments of great significance, such as the moment of baptism or being conferred the priesthood. Each of these is a single moment in time that carries great significance, and after that moment, one’s actions before God take on a new meaning. Why is it so strange to think that turning 8 can be another moment of significance to God?

  28. Kaimi, is your question serious?

    I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to interpret the Lord’s statement to Abraham that “children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old” as meaning eight years after birth, but it would be very strange to think that the Lord meant eight years after conception. Especially since circumcising the child when he is eight days old would be somewhat problematic under your interpretation.

  29. I agree with Jonathan. I think that Ryan Bell and NFlanders are both arguing that the boy had to be insane because of the how heinous his act was. I don’t buy this argument when it’s offered for adults, and I don’t buy it when it’s offered for children. Accountability is accountability, and children are not accountable for what they do before the age of accountability (tautologically). The person who will be held accountable in this instance is the one who was responsible for teaching the child, but didn’t.

  30. Just checking back thirty comments later, and I mostly just want to say that this is a very edifying discussion, full of people changing nuanced views and lots of good doctrinal explanation.

    One little quibble: Why does remission of sins have to be retroactive? We know from the scriptures that a person must “retain a remission of sins,” meaning that the baptism continues to operate to remit my sins many years after the event of baptism. To me, this defeats the proof some have used above in which childhood sinfulness is inferred from the fact that we use baptism to remit sins at age 8.

    DKL, I’m not saying the boy was insane. I’m saying that it’s 95% probable that this boy is not accountable for his act, not because he hadn’t passed his magic birthday, but because it’s rare for a person to just be that evil. More likely, he was pushed in that direction by a thousand environmental factors, the application of which could have pushed you or me to the same end if our places were switched. Thus, he’s not accountable by virtue of his childhood, and because being a child, he shouldn’t be expected to see past all of the other pressures that pushed him toward this awful crime.

  31. “The person who will be held accountable in this instance is the one who was responsible for teaching the child, but didn’t. “

    David King Landrith
    The problem with that is that teaching a child does not guarentee results. All children (7 year olds included) have agency.
    And if this child had been eight when he had done it, it suddenly is no longer the parent’s fault, but his alone.
    There was probably very bad parenting, or at least difficult situations were not handled well.
    But even with good parenting, a 7 year old makes mistakes. I am sure he knew he was making a mistake. But I am also sure he didn’t fully understand the ramifications of beating a baby. WOuld he have understood them more at 8, yes. But much, much more? No.
    Good parents try to prevent their children from being in situations where they are TOO YOUNG to make good decisions. We don’t want our kids dating at 14. We think they are too young. We don’t want our kids living on their own at age 16. We think they are too young.
    They may be accountable for sin at age 8, but they are not very mature and their mistakes are many. They don’t fully comprehend much in this life.
    Even at age 34, I don’t fully comprehend all that much.
    And no matter how much I teach my children, they will make bad choices both before age 8 and after. Which of those mistakes will I be accountable for? Definitely an interesting question.

  32. “The problem with that is that teaching a child does not guarentee results. All children (7 year olds included) have agency.
    And if this child had been eight when he had done it, it suddenly is no longer the parent’s fault, but his alone.”

    I agree that kids have agency, but I think any 7-year old (and I’m going to go out on a limb and say 8 year old too) who would do something that extreme has been failed by his parents. Kids can begin to learn empathy from a young age (from parents showing them love, and from parents and others teaching them to have compassion), and by 7 or 8 it might not be fully developed, but if a child who is that age hasn’t been loved, taught, or cared for, or if the parents are negligent enough to leave a child that young (who’s been through some major upheaval at home recently) at home alone with a baby, I have a hard time believing the Lord would judge that child more harshly than his parents. Who, in my book, are definitely to blame for that baby’s death.

    Also, I think the idea that when a child’s eighth birthday happens, presto! he’s magically completely accountable is bunk. The age of eight is when a normal child is capable of making right or wrong choices (thus, he can be held accountable), but most eight year olds are not going to be able to think things through to the extent that an adult can, or understand suddenly that things his bad parents or others may have taught him (either explicitly, or by example, or neglect) are wrong. Surely God will be able to differentiate between a sin an 8 or 9 year old commits while still heavily influenced by his parents and the sin an adult commits. I strongly believe the Lord is both smarter and far more compassionate than I am, thank heaven, and loves children, so I think he’ll be capable of making more nuanced assessments of people’s hearts and situations than, “Well, he got baptized last week, so now he’s completely to blame.”

  33. JKS, I don’t either, that’s my point. That–I said argument, but it’s a point people bring up–just doesn’t wash with me. I believe these children of course do go to God, but I don’t believe their terrible deaths are foreordained.

    Yes, this is terribly sad.

  34. It’s hard to imagine a child doing such a horrible act unless they had themselves been seriously messed up either by abuse, brain damage, or other mental illness. In any case, I don’t think we’re in a position to know how their brain was functioning at the time. However cases of young children doing horrible acts makes me suspect most of the time that they are victims.

  35. I wonder if, like Carrie said, this little kid was left alone, his sister was crying and he was frustrated and trying to stop her. If he’d been abused or seen violence, what else did he know? How then could he be responsible? I just can’t believe he was thinking, “I’m now going to kill my baby sister.” I think he might have been thinking, “It’s midnight, she won’t shut up, I’m afraid and frustrated and I don’t know what to do.”

    Grownups kill babies who cry. A 7 year old, my grandson is going on 7, he’s too small to realize the full implication of his act, even if he somehow knows it’s wrong.

  36. annegb,
    I agree. My seven year old would know hitting was wrong, but does she understand that you could beat a baby to death? No. Or cause brain damage even? No.
    She shares a room with her little sister. When there was a brief period where the baby cried a lot at bedtime (not that she never does now). Once I think my 7 year old even yelled at her to stop crying so I tried to make it clear that if the crying bothered her, she could go sleep in our bed whenever she wanted. Crying babies make ME crazy, I didn’t want her to deal with that frustration and be very angry at her little sister.

  37. This is a very good thread, with many insightful comments. However, I saw no reference to grace. And yet, in spite of all our strivings, and our repentance, we cannot enter the celestial kingdom without the grace extended to us by the Savior through the atonement. In the end it is a gift from God.

    “I, the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive.” I believe that there is no magical time at which one becomes aware of what is good and what is evil, but that there is a gradual progression toward it (line upon line, precept upon precept). But because there needed to be a defining moment, and the Lord has set it at eight years.

    Because for every one, salvation and exaltation is a gift of God through grace, he will bestow it on whom He chooses. Not arbitrarily, but in harmony with an internal concordance which only He knows. Our goal is to live the most Christ-like life that we can, in the light of the knowledge that we have. I have no way of knowing what inner demons drove a seven year old to such a tragic act; but God does. And if, in His infinite wisdom, he bestows the celestial kingdom on that terribly afflicted young boy, God is just and His judgment will be righteous judgment.

  38. Soyde, I think you are entirely right and I think that God is far more merciful than we as a people will accept. For some reason, we harp on works, and judgement, and leave out mercy and grace. I wish we would give more hopeful messages to each other and ourselves.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what Janey said about taking time off and just thinking about Christ and His grace. That sounds so wonderful.

    JKS, yeah, crying babies make me crazy, too. I can understand, although not condone, those who just lose it when a child cries for a long time.
    This is a very terrible situation, I can only pray for that little boy. He is a child after all.

    You know, it seems like it was on this thread awhile back we argued over whether times were worse, but I think they are. It’s like a fulfilling of prophecy, that men’s hearts will run cold. So many awful things, I don’t remember hearing about these things when I was younger.

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