Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
My post yesterday prompted a good question (cf. the comments) about spiritual maturity, and if that was dependent on age. Certainly some aspects of life are directly related to age and experience. Generally speaking this is also true about spiritual maturity. But it is not universally and always true. Please continue reading the question followed by my response.
My question relates to the section where you state that you are not there yet either physically, spiritually or age wise. The spiritual part I am torn about. Is it possible for a young person to be up there spiritually to know about transitioning to be with the Lord since death knows no age. Thanks for your usual answers which are very helpful to my biblical understanding.
Thank you for your question. Let me respond in a bit of a roundabout way.
All grief associated with death is real, deep and intense. But it also explains why we grieve differently for one who dies young as opposed to one who dies in old age. We will often refer to the death of one who is young as premature (granted “young” is a bit relative and seems to be older than previous generations noted by the expression the new 60 is the old 40). The reason for this is that we often think of life and death based in a natural (actually every breath we breathe is supernatural, a gift from God!) or common way, and that would be a generally normal life-span of 75-85. A death that occurs prior to that is considered a bit unnatural and uncommon.
This, of course, is not reflective of our great God who is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), as He knows all of our days before one of them came to be. In fact, the Psalmist informs/reminds us that “Your [God] eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16).
As human beings limited in and by time with a normal lifespan of 75-85 years, dying at any age less than that, especially in the “prime of one’s youth” (20? 40?) is considered a significant loss of so much of that earthly life. But when we think of the millions and millions of years in eternity with the Lord (if one can speak this way), those few short years earthly years, even when they are lived to the end of what is natural or common, are like nothing.
The other thing we experience is that all death, whenever it happens, even in old age, feels premature. We will never know this person again in the same and only way we have ever known them in their earthly existence. It will be so much better, there will be both continuity from the present and discontinuity in that we will, when we are also with the Lord, know them and relate to them, and they to us, in our glorified bodies.
One final thing before responding directly to your question. Often when young die it is without suffering and/or pain because their deaths are sudden, say for example in a car accident. That did not require any special grace to undergo suffering for an extending period of time so it did not require spiritual maturity to experience this. It certainly would be required for parents, family and other loved ones. For those young who suffer from an extended illness, in those instances it would require God’s greater grace and a depth of spiritual maturity to walk through it, maybe even a maturity beyond their years, which would be evidence of God’s sustaining and persevering grace in their lives.
With all of this as important foundational truths, we can now turn to your specific question. Can a young person face death with a godly maturity beyond his or her years? Most certainly! I find it interesting and instructive that even the Lord Jesus Christ “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Lk. 2:52). Jesus grew and matured. So do we. This is the way God has ordered and designed us and the world.
But it is also important to know that God is the one who gives a greater grace (Jms. 4:6), He will not give more than we can handle (1 Cor. 10:13), He will give grace that will be sufficient for the day and hour, for the experience one is undergoing (2 Cor. 12:9), and this grace is sufficient for today, not tomorrow (Matt. 6:33-34). This means that in our lives we will not experience today the grace that we need tomorrow. The grace we need tomorrow will present tomorrow, when tomorrow has become today.
This is often why when we observe how one walks through this with a strong and unwavering commitment to God who is good and has a good plan, we are thankful and amazed. We give thanks to God for the way He has strengthened and sustained their faith. And we often conclude that there is no way we could respond in that way. Both statements are accurate. On the one hand, God has given a greater grace to the person who is dying so that they trust in the goodness of God and rest in Him to the end. On the other hand, since that sort of grace to face that sort of trial is not needed today in the other person’s life, that kind of grace is not present. But the truth is that for those who walk with the Lord we can be assured that it will be at just the right time, the “today” when it is needed.
We can be assured of this because “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9)!