Summary: Is there any truth to the old saw, "Only the good die young?"
“Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
“Only the good die young!” This old saw was commonly quoted when I was a mere lad. Usually, the sententious quote was delivered at a time when I was complaining of fatigue, injury or pain. My dad would insist that because I was a man, I was to laugh off whatever problem I faced and keep on doing whatever it was that I had been doing. I wouldn’t die, he assured me, because only the good die young.
Candidly, the answer to the question is that people die, regardless of character; moreover, people die at every stage of life. Nevertheless, the question deserves a response, which I shall attempt to provide at this time.
THE CERTAINTY OF DEATH — Let’s establish an uncomfortable, though undeniable, truth. Death comes to all mankind. The Word of God is quite pointed in stating this truth. We read in the Word, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” [HEBREWS 9:27]. The Apostle to the Gentiles makes a dark statement that applies to all mankind when he wrote, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” [ROMANS 6:23]. Paul also affirmed the universality of death when earlier he penned these words, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” [ROMANS 5:12-14]. James, the brother of our Lord, also spoke of the inevitability of death. “Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” [JAMES 1:15].
When New Testament writers speak of the universality and inevitability of death, they echo the writers of the Old Covenant. God warned our first parents that disobedience would bring death. Early in the account of man’s creation, we read God’s command. “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” [GENESIS 2:16, 17]. God richly provided for man, and gave him all that was necessary for life, placing but one proscription on man’s activity—he must not eat from one particular tree.
Apparently, the man whom God had created understood this prohibition and had in fact communicated the divine proscription to the woman whom God gave him for companionship. When she was tempted, she repeated this proscription with the attendant statement of consequence. “The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die”’” [GENESIS 3:2, 3].
Of course, our first parents did sin, eating some of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As He had warned, God pronounced a curse on mankind.
“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
From this point forward, the theme of our existence is that we toil and labour until we die. In fact, this becomes a recurring statement throughout the Old Testament.
Elihu cautions Job and his comforters that should God withdraw His Spirit,
“all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust.”
It is the Spirit of God that gives us life. The statement accords with what we learn concerning the Master when Paul writes, Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” [COLOSSIANS 1:17]. A similar statement can be found in PSALM 104:29.
The Wise Man concerned himself with man’s frailty; and in light of mankind’s frailty, he provided excellent advice for all who would honour God. You may recall that Solomon wrote, “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” [ECCLESIASTES 3:20]. People are moving inexorably to their long home, if the physical is all that matters. If this is all there is, we had better make it count. However, there is more to life than the mere physical.