Billy Joel said, with considerable cynicism, that only the good die young because goodness can’t be maintained. One must die young in order to have a chance of dying while still good.
The purity culture—driven by those who believe we are born “innocent” and thus fashion their daughters with virtual chastity belts at Purity Balls, Daddy/Daughter Dances (“No Mommies Allowed!”), and Guilt—might agree. But as a Calvinist (i.e., as one who believes we begin and remain, to one degree or another, skewed in our view of life, biased, self-interested, or, more harshly stated, “depraved”), I would say that goodness is something we are brought into, something we could grow to know personally, something we then might even begin to give and exude ourselves. In a word, this is the Christian notion of sanctification. And we are sanctified, we believe, through love (Love), through the trials and errors of life (“Fallor,” says St. Augustine, “ergo sum.” I err, therefore I am), and through living our passion (that for which we are willing to suffer).
So perhaps the good die young not because that’s the only way to die in a state of goodness, but because those who display their goodness so obviously to us have distilled that process, sped it up, and their goodness is condensed in our eyes. Perhaps “the good” who seem to die so young ran the race quickly and arrived at the finish line before we tied our shoes.
In other words, maybe the good who die young are the ones who heard and faithfully responded to the call on their lives more readily than the rest of us. They accepted who they were to be, didn’t hide it under a bushel, gave of it selflessly, and arrived at the destination while the rest of us squander and resist, delay and hesitate, thinking we are saving ourselves, thinking we are cleverly “surviving” another day in this odd and cruel world. They, the good who die young, they rushed ahead (did they not?), they despised the shame and did it anyway, while we the skittish keep ourselves from that great finish line thinking it a tragedy (and to us who live on it truly is). Maybe we imagine it a punishment, a thing to be avoided at the very least.
But the death of Rachel Held Evans, and the other young good who have gone before her, should make us question our trepidation and our lethargy. They should make us stop and wonder if the early finish line isn’t also where Grace sometimes overcomes those good who have so bravely lived into their authenticity, who ferociously, fiercely, and passionately spent all the life they were here to spend. It should make us wonder if it is there where Grace transformed them even more fully into their Wholeness, a wholeness that cannot be witnessed by those of us still stammering at the starting line, or lumbering around the first turn.
Perhaps I err (and therefore am), but while we can see only the still body of a good one who died young, it cannot be wrong to let our hunger for her goodness give us courage to dash more headlong into our own.