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.


  1. yes--we are too familiar with tragedy aren't we? Your "meant for life" explanation is powerfully true. We are surely caught trying to live life in all its best forms in a system that is driving us to destruction. It is a difficult tension--

  2. So, Lyn, I assume then that you are not one of those people who sees a young child die and says, "It was God's will."

    I have never understood when people do that. God doesn't kill children, nor will them to die. Does He bring good out of those situations? Absolutely. And He will do so with the death of Rick Warren's son. But you are so right--this "ought not" to be.

  3. I had been thinking about this topic all week. A local 20 month old girl was mauled to death by the family's six dogs while her grandma slept inside. She had gone out a doggy door. I grant that I blame her parents and grandparent for her death. Regardless, when I see her pictures and how she is the same age as my daughter, well, I've been a mess about it all week. In this situation, God gave them this precious gift and they messed it up. Not God. I see it as the use of free will. All amazing concepts like free will, come with the chance of great positives and shocking negatives. Will good come of this for this family? I don't know but I know it has profoundly impacted several of us local mommas. It provided me with more patience and compassion for a temperamental toddler.

  4. Difficult tension indeed. Thanks for the comment. And Kat, you read me correctly, this is never "God's will" nor did God want another little angel in heaven. Gag. June, the shocking nature of freewill is a conundrum, I grant you. And while God can bring good out of it, sometimes there is no good to be found. It's not a given.

    That's why when we have these appalling feelings, these "oh no that can't be" feelings, to me they are pointers to something that should be and ought to be but isn't yet. Classic CS Lewis illo - hunger prompts one to think of food - likewise - "oughts" ought to prompt us to think of the reality that one day will exist. The one day that death will be swallowed whole and shat out the back side. Sorry for the vulgarity, but to me it's that profound.


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)