Why (Some of) the Righteous Die Young

Posted on February 27, 2019

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By David Ettinger

A Valid Question
I recently wrote a blog about President James A. Garfield (1881), a preacher and lover of the Lord Jesus Christ who was assassinated at age 49. Some readers wondered why such a godly and righteous servant of the Lord perished at so young an age.

It’s a valid question, but as we will soon see, sometimes death is a glorious gift of grace bestowed upon those God loves so dearly.

The Fear of Death
We have a natural fear of death because it is “the unknown.” For unbelievers, one’s guess is as good as another’s as to what happens once this life is over. For believers, the Bible tells us what comes next, but being mortal, we have no idea how to process our immortal fate.

Yet, we are better off than the Old Testament believers to whom death was dark, mysterious, and dismal. Job writes, “My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave [Sheol] awaits me” (17:1).  King David also lamented the prospect of death: “Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?” (Psalm 6:5). To David, there was no communication, worship, or praising of God in Sheol, or the grave. The grave, or Sheol (the Old Testament abode of the dead, both righteous and wicked) was seen as a place where the dead were separated from God; where communication with Him was nonexistent.

The Christian View
In contrast are two monumental truths spoken by Jesus. The first comes when Jesus tells His disciples, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). The idea is that after mortal life, the destination for the immortal soul is warm and inviting, and Jesus is the one making the arrangements!

If you want a name for this place, Jesus says to the thief on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). If we know nothing else about this place, we know it is what Jesus called it: “Paradise.”

What we learn from these two verses is that the place where departed believers in Christ go to is a paradise in which we have our own residence, arrive at just following death (“today”), and are forever in the presence of Jesus (“with me”). What an incredible destiny!

Not New
However, it did not take New Testament revelation to give us a marvelous view of the afterlife. Isaiah wrote 700 years earlier: “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (57:1-2, emphasis added).

Part 1 tells us that most people regard death as natural and nothing of note; it is the normal course of things. Part 2, however, tells us something else. To those who shrug off the death of righteous men and women, God says: “You don’t even realize that this is my special doing. I love this man and I desire to have him with me. He is too good a man to endure the nonsense of this world any longer; his place is in paradise with Me.”

Part 3 tells us that for the believer the rule of eternal paradise is “peace” and “rest.” According to Isaiah, “peace” and “rest” come as a result of being separated from evil and discord. Isaiah’s vision of the afterlife is far sunnier than those of Job and David, who must have been pleasantly surprised when they reached it. “Young” President Garfield would have been as equally pleased.

A Wonderful Reward
If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior but worry about what awaits you when you leave this world, I hope this brief study has taken some of the sting out of your fears. It is clear that for the believer death is a wonderful reward for our faith in Christ. It will be a place of eternal peace, rest, and communion with Jesus.

No matter the age of believers age at the time of earthly death, we have much to look forward to!

Read my blog: “The U.S. President Who Preached Christ”

“Addendum to My President Garfield Blog”