Sunday, April 07, 2013

Children, Death, and "Oughtness"

In light of Rick and Kay Warren's tragic loss of their son, I was prompted to reflect on 5 friends and family members we know who have seen their children die "prematurely" (quote marks explained below) in the past few years. Dear friends whose losses include:

  • A son to a roadside bomb in Iraq.
  • A missing son who was found...too late.
  • A daughter in a traffic accident.
  • A daughter serving on the mission field.
  • A son to suicide.

If I thought about it, I could add 3 or 4 more children of acquaintances of ours - but these 5 are children of friends, people we know. And we knew these young people. They were friends as well.

This ought not to be.

Children should not die before their parents. I think we all realize this - that there is a certain timeline to life which generally follows the path from birth through childhood and adulthood into old age and then on to death. Yes, this borders on cliche, but there is a "time for everything" which renders such tragedies among our youth premature.

Of course, "premature" requires a "mature" to which it is contrasted. It assumes that the death of a child is an exception to the rule. That life doesn't ordinarily follow that path. That young people ought not, should not die before "their time."

Thus the quote marks - for how can one talk of premature death unless the standard for life (the "given") is that people should die when they are old? Or put another way, how can one talk of "oughtness" if there is no rule by which such things in life (and death) are measured?

I can, with a fair amount of confidence, say that such tragedies as mentioned above ought not to have happened. I can say this because I believe that certain things occur in life that should not occur. Some things should not happen because there is a rule in place that states otherwise. But not just a generic rule that children generally outlive their parents, but a real Rule. A Rule that states how things really ought to be.

Premature death (indeed, Death itself) is one such transgression, because the Rule is that we are made for life. Anything that opposes that Rule is in the wrong. For when something breaks a Rule, it is a moral transgression - it ought not, it should not (moral language, to be sure). It is in the wrong because it is a Rule-breaker.

As humans, we know these Rules, by the way, whether we acknowledge them or not. But I think occasions like the death of a young person, or a beloved public figure, or any abrupt disruption to our innate feelings of "oughtness" will remind us to ponder such things. They might, indeed, they should prompt us to consider some of those immutable rules that govern our lives.

And perhaps (ought?) prompt us to consider the Rule Giver.

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