Do children lose their guardian angels if they reject Christ?

Q. I’ve heard it suggested that children lose their guardian angels if they reject Christ once they reach the “age of accountability.” I would be interested to know what you think.

The Bible doesn’t say explicitly that children have guardian angels. I’ll discuss in a moment where that idea comes from. But let’s suppose that they do. What would be the purpose of that?

For one thing, angels would be assigned to guard children from danger, because children are inexperienced, they lack information, they don’t always reason well, and so left to themselves they can make unsafe choices. However, I think that beyond that, angels would be assigned to children to help steer them towards faith, using their mysterious invisible influence towards that end. This would be consistent with what the book of Hebrews says about angels, that they are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.”

If that is the case, then I can’t imagine an angel abandoning a child, or for that matter God taking an angel away from a child, because they didn’t make use of an opportunity to accept Christ. This would only make the child less likely to make use of the next opportunity that came along. I’ve just suggested that the very reason for assigning an angel in the first place is that children typically don’t make the best choices because they are immature and not fully informed. So I don’t see why God or an angel would regard a choice that a child made when they barely knew right from wrong (i.e. they’d just reached the “age of accountability”) as so fully informed, mature, and therefore definitive that influences that might help lead them to salvation should be withdrawn, as if of no further use. If anything, I can imagine God sending more influences into a child’s life to help them understand their loving Savior better so that they would embrace him at a future opportunity.

The idea that children do have guardian angels comes from something that Jesus says to his disciples in response to their question about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The Gospel of Matthew records that he called a little child over to sit among them and then said, “Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then went on to tell them,  “Be careful that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. I say to you that their angels in heaven are always looking into the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (This means that the angels “always have access” to the Father in heaven, as some translations put it.)

If these are guardian angels, then presumably this would mean not only that the angels pray for the children, but also that they protest any mistreatment and ask God to punish it. It’s possible, however, that by this point in Jesus’ teaching, “little ones” means not “children” but “young believers” or “simple believers.” Even if it does mean “children,” it’s not necessarily the case that there is one angel assigned to each child. Instead, there could be a group of angels whose role was to pray for the salvation and protection of children.

We simply don’t have enough to go on to make a definitive case from the Bible that there are or are not guardian angels. But as I’ve said, if there are, I can’t imagine God pulling a guardian angel away just when one was needed most—when a child failed to recognize and answer the loving call of their Savior. It seems to me that instead the guardian angel would roll up its sleeves, rub its hands together, and say, “Let’s see if we can’t help some more here.”

The traditional role of guardian angels, to protect children from danger, is illustrated in this 1920s print by the German artist Lindberg. Such pictures were often hung above children’s beds.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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