A question that is frequently posted on my Facebook page is: Why, if there is an all-powerful, all-loving God, do good people die while they are still young? Here’s a recent example:
A famous Christian singer I admire, very passionate about his faith, died young from cancer. Doesn’t the Bible state that God will not let you suffer and will grant you long life if you are his faithful child? Why did this singer die of cancer? This death is messing up my belief in God.
From my scientist’s perspective, here is how I briefly answered this question:
First, none of us is “good” in a biblical understanding of goodness. Only God is perfectly good. However, God is on a mission to make people good who want to become good.
God subjects all humans to the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, and electromagnetism as tools to discourage us from committing sin and evil acts and to encourage us to come to him for redemption. These laws ensure that the more sin and evil we commit, the more pain, more work, and more wasted time we will endure. These laws and our biological makeup are such that we find extra work, pain, and time unpleasant and, thus, are motivated to avoid sin and evil. As we discover our inability within the laws of physics and our physical and spiritual makeup to entirely avoid sin and evil, we are motivated to seek deliverance from our sin and evil by the Redeemer-God who created us. I explain all this more completely and in greater detail in my book, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is.1
Humans need continual exposure to the laws of physics to have any hope of deliverance from our sin. Because of these laws of physics, though, we all experience decay, suffering, declining health, and eventual physical death. On rare occasions God miraculously intervenes to deliver someone temporarily from the consequences of the laws of physics, but only when that deliverance brings about a stronger response to his offer of redemption than allowing the laws of physics to run their course.
Isaiah 57:1–2 may apply to the singer you admire. God knows the future for each one of us. If that future involved suffering for the singer, God would have known it and may have decided to allow him to “graduate” early. Another possibility is that God used the death of this singer in a similar way he used the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), to bring others to faith in Christ.
As finite creatures, death can be perplexing to humans. As such, we can identify four categories of mystery: (1) Why does God allows “good” people to die young? (2) Why are “good” people required to spend much longer lives on Earth than what they desire? (3) Why are some evil people permitted to live long lives? and (4) Why do other evil people have their lives cut short? In each case there are Scripture passages that explain why. What follows are selections of Bible passages that first address the physical death of humans in general followed by lists of Bible passages that address each of the four categories of people.
Background References on Physical Death
Genesis 2:16–17 Isaiah 65:19–25
Genesis 3:22 Ezekiel 18:20–32
Genesis 6:3 John 16:5–11
Proverbs 16:4 1 Corinthians 3:12–15
Ecclesiastes 7:2–4 Hebrews 9:27
Ecclesiastes 8:8 Revelation 20:11–15
The righteous sometimes die young
—to protect from future torment
—to protect heavenly rewards
—as an instrument for good
1 Kings 14:6–13 Isaiah 57:1–2
2 Kings 20:1–21:16 Acts 4:32–5:11
2 Chronicles 32:22–33:6 Acts 7:54–8:4
Isaiah 36–39 Acts 9
The righteous sometimes die old
—to maximize heavenly reward
—to protect a spiritual heritage
—to provide an opportunity to achieve an ignored priority
Psalm 116:15 Ephesians 2:10
1 Corinthians 3:12–15 2 Timothy 4:6–8
Philippians 1:21–26 Revelation 14:13
The wicked sometimes die young
—because of a lack of wisdom
—because they are led astray by folly
—to stop the spread of wickedness
—to limit judgment on the wicked
—to limit the grief of their relatives
—to transfer wealth to the righteous
Genesis 38:6–19 Proverbs 5:21–23
Job 20:4–11 Proverbs 29:16
Psalm 55:15 Ecclesiastes 2:26
Whenever I conduct a funeral or graveside service, I always hand out these Scripture passages. Afterward, I hear from many people how much comfort, assurance, and understanding these passages bring. They also get people thinking about the most important issues of life, issues that all too often those who are “living the good life” ignore.
- Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 147–181, https://shop.reasons.org/product/276/why-the-universe-is-the-way-it-is.