They say only the good die young.

I don’t know if it’s true.  But it sounds good.  And it’s a gentle way of talking about those whom we should not have lost.


There’s a world of meaning in that ‘should,’ a universe of expectations.  We expect the very old to die.  But when the young depart, it’s impossible not to feel cheated, like we had only begun to see the sunrise before the rainclouds washed it away.

We have a funny way of thinking about life and death.  We talk about our rights to life, and dying with dignity.  But both obscure the raw and radical contingency of the world.  We are not, except what we have been given by another–by our parents, and by God.

Today, a man died.

He was young.  Younger than me.  His name was Justin Key, and you probably don’t know him.  And that means you probably don’t realize how your life is the worse for not knowing him.

They say only the good die young.  And Justin was one of the best.  An MBA student at Darden, Justin had an infectious love of travelling and had the stories to prove it.  More than anyone I knew, Justin was the consummate adventurer.  He understood, if only a little, how short his time on earth was.  And he knew to make the most of it.

So he gave.  He was deeply interested in the plight of young men within the church, but even more interested in doing something about it.  He joined ideas and ministry in a way most of us only dream about.  He founded an effective young men’s ministry in his church, and argued passionately about how the church should reach a difficult demographic.

But he was also patient.  And kind.  He frequently reached out to listen and offer comfort.  He cared deeply about making the outcasts feel welcome, and so frequently sought them out.

They say…

Justin’s life, and his death, are poignant reminders not only of the radical frailty of our human frames, but of the tremendous and powerful goodness of existence.  Justin’s life was not his own.  He had been bought with a price, and he lived like it, devoting himself to the pursuit of the Kingdom and of Christ with abandon.

So we sorrow at what we have lost, but rejoice for what we had.  And at what we shall yet have again, for we shall yet meet him again when we are seated at the table in Christ’s heavenly kingdom.

Justin Key will remain unknown to the rest of the world.  But the Kingdom of God continues to go forward on the backs and shoulders of men and women like him, the stewards and saints who labor diligently without recognition or fame. But they are not unknown to Him who is, and when we meet again on the far side of death, we shall all learn the names of this silent army of God.

Today, a good man died young.  Those who know him shall never forget him.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetuam luceat ei.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


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  2. Amen. God bless the Key family and all of the students that were given the honor of discussing with him during that time, especially during this holiday season. I remember the trials all too well. May God’s grace reign supreme.


  3. In the Orthodox Church’s reading from Wisdom for the commemoration of the saints at Vespers, it says we take the death of the young as a tragedy, but it is joy because God takes them early because of the purity of their heart so that they will not be corrupted by years among the wicked. Justin sounds like such a man. May God grant him rest among the saints and us joyful grief in his departure from us.


  4. S-P,

    Thank you for that. It’s both interesting and comforting, and it encapsulates very well the sort of conflicting emotions that have accompanied the news of Justin’s passing.




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    They Say Only the Good Die Young. – Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture


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    They Say Only the Good Die Young. – Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture


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