“But the righteous man, though he die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age. There was one who pleased God and was loved by him. He was taken up, lest evil change his understanding or guile deceive his soul. For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind. Being perfected in a short time, he fulfilled long years; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took him quickly from the midst of wickedness. Yet the peoples saw and did not understand, nor take such a thing to heart, that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.” (Wisdom of Solomon 4: 7-15)
There are many “levels” of meaning in this intriguing passage, including messianic ones. But what I’d like to reflect on is the heart-wrenching phenomenon, touched upon here, of a young person dying “early.” While I think we generally don’t accept death; we generally say “no” to death, and are never really “ready” for it, whenever or however it happens, even if it is “expected” after a long-term disease, – because we are “wired” by God for eternal life, – we are particularly un-acceptive of an “early” death, i.e., the death of a young person.
But here the Scriptures offer us some consolation, as to the hidden meaning of an “early” death; a meaning hidden from us, but evident to God, in His perfect knowledge not only of the past and present of any given human being, but also of his/her future. This “wisdom” of Solomon suggests that a young person might be “taken up” because he/she “was loved” by God, Who foresaw “wickedness” in this person’s future. So, he or she was “taken up, lest evil change his/her understanding or guile deceive his/her soul.”
Perhaps some of you reading this post can offer better insights into the above-quoted Wisdom-passage, if you don’t mind leaving comments below. I’m thinking about it because of the story of the Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessaloniki (celebrated today on the NC) and his friend, the Holy Martyr Nestor, both of whom died at a young age. I’m thinking how remarkable it is that we celebrate their deaths not as traumatizing accounts of the violent, “premature” deaths of two young people, but as occasions for joy. We recognize, in their case, that God “knew” what He was doing, leading them through their unique vocations. I don’t know if this can help us with the trauma we experience whenever a young person dies in our midst, but I’ll try to hold these words in my heart today, with gratitude to God for all our loves and losses, “that God’s grace and mercy are with his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.” By the prayers of Your holy martyrs, Savior, save us.