When A Young Christian Dies:
Fathoming the Unfathomable
By Doug Kutilek
(Used with the author’s permission)
Recently, a fine, committed faithful Christian man in his mid-30s, a husband and father of four (the youngest just seven months old), died tragically in an accidental fall during an outing in the Ozarks. Shane and his family are members of the same church my wife and I attend. This was not the first tragedy to strike this family. Indeed, this accident was in great measure the consequence of an earlier event. Almost three years ago, this man (whom I first met almost a quarter century ago when he was one of my students in history class in a Christian high school) contracted meningitis which nearly took his life, and did rob him of nearly all of his sight (he was left with a very small field of poor vision in one eye). This ended his career as a police officer, a career he greatly loved.
Shane was by all accounts an excellent Christian in conduct and faithfulness, and was a ready and effective witness for Christ. Both before and remarkably after he lost his sight, he was cheerful and pleasant (I am nearly certain that I would not have reacted to loss of sight with the same demeanor). He loved his family and delighted in having his children around him, and they were equally devoted to him. Frankly put, if I were choosing someone to depart this life at such an age, it surely would not have been this man, who was a positive witness for Christ, and a crucial component in the life of his wife and children. But then, I am not God, nor do I see what He sees or know what He knows.
Christian history is replete with many examples of other faithful believers who departed this life “too soon,” in the midst of doing a great work, and with many more labors for the Lord remaining to be done, in a hoped-for life of “three score and ten” years. I think of David Brainerd (1718-1747), who displayed unmatched intensity in prayer and earnestness and effectiveness in seeking the conversion of the Indians of the American middle colonies, but was snatched away in death at 29, but left behind a still-active legacy and influence through the pages of his journal.
There was Henry Martyn (1781-1812), a remarkably gifted linguistic who quickly learned Hindi and Persian and made translations of the NT into both languages and was very effective at reaching Moslems with the Gospel, but died at age 31.
Robert Murray McCheyne (1813-1843) was a saintly Scottish preacher who died less than a decade after he began his labors. His published writings and an account of his life have impacted many more than his direct influence in life.
Jim Elliott (1927-1956) and the four others, all in their 20s and 30s, gave their lives in martyrdom so that the Auca Indians might be reached with the Gospel. Their story was heard by and influenced literally millions through the account Through Gates of Splendor written by his widow, Elizabeth Elliot.
I could easily expand this list tenfold. So, then, the death of one of God’s choicest saints at a comparatively early age is no new or even truly rare thing, which fact does not, however, make the grief and puzzlement at its occurrence any less. It should be no great surprise to us if we are unable because of our limited perspective to explain fully the “why” of such a case as this. We can, however, offer some at least corollary lessons from this tragic loss–
1. Christians are not spared the trials and tragedies of this life. We are as subject to them as anyone and everyone else (and those who make bold but bogus claims that God wants believers to be always healthy, happy and prosperous grossly misrepresent what the Bible teaches). The difference between the suffering believer and the suffering unbeliever: we have the promise–and the reality–of God’s personal presence through the trials.
2. Many fellow law officers (who daily face a higher potential for sudden death–from violence–than the average person) heard a clear presentation of the Gospel message at the funeral service which they might not have otherwise heard, a message which re-enforced the witness that Shane had been to many of them directly or indirectly.
3. In this tragedy, there is a clear opportunity for the world to see whether God is true to His pledge that He is the “husband to the widow and father to the fatherless,” which we fully expect will be the case.
4. It is also an opportunity for Christians to see just how real our Christian commitment is, as revealed in how well and fully we fulfill the command “to visit the orphan and the widow in their troubles,” (James 1:27). This is the acid test of our devotion–does it spontaneously and faithfully meet the need of those in genuine need?
5. There is also an opportunity for the world to see if personal Christianity is real and genuine, for if it “works” in time of such deep tragedy, then it is the true article. Any old religion works fine when everything is going well, but what about in the crucible of intense sorrow and matters of eternal consequence? That is the real text.
While these feeble thoughts fall far short of a full and satisfactory explanation as to the reason that God chose to take Shane to himself at this time, we can rest assured in the fact that God does indeed know exactly what He is doing, that He is “too wise to make a mistake, too good to do wrong, and too loving to be unkind.” Though we may not understand the “why,” surely we can trust the “Who.”
Biographical information about Doug Kutilek: