When I heard that Christopher Hitchens had died a selfish, base and primitive bit in me almost jumped up and punched the air. I should have but I didnt. The reason I didn’t rejoice is because I myself know what I deserve.
On the question of death of tyrants and atheists, Russell Moore does a fair and commendable job in his blog post:
Hitchens expected this moment, of course, but he anticipated, wrongly, a blackness, a going out of consciousness forever. Many Christians today are sadly remarking on what it is like for Christopher Hitchens to be now opening his eyes in hell.
We might be wrong.
The Christian impulse here is exactly right. After all, Jesus and his apostles assured us that there is no salvation apart from union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, a union entered into by faith. And Hitchens not only rejected that gospel, he ridiculed it, along with the very notion of anything beyond the natural order. The Christian Scriptures are clear: there is a narrow window in which we must be saved, the time of this present life, and after this there is only judgment (2 Cor. 6:1-2; Heb. 9:27).
But I’m not sure Christopher Hitchens is in hell right now. It’s not because I believe there’s a “second chance” after death for salvation (I don’t). It’s not because I don’t believe in hell or in God’s judgment (I do). It’s because of a sermon I heard years ago that haunts me to this day, reminding me of the sometimes surprising persistence of the gospel.
Fifteen or so years ago, I heard an old Welsh pastor preach on Jesus’ encounter with the thieves on the cross. The preacher paused to speculate about whether the penitent thief might have had any God-fearing friends or family members. If so, he said, they probably would never have known about the terrorist’s final act, his appeal to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). They never would have heard Jesus pronounce, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
These believing family members and friends would have assumed, all their lives, that this robber was in hell, especially dying as he did under the visible judgment of God (Deut. 21:22-23). They would have been shocked to meet this man in the kingdom of God. “We thought you were in hell,” they might have said, as they danced around him in the heavenly places.
That sermon changed everything for me about the way I preach funerals for unbelievers. Now, deathbed conversions are very rare. Typically, a conscience is so seared by then, so given over to the darkening of the mind, that the gospel rarely is heard. We shouldn’t count on last-second repentance.
But, however rarely, it does happen, and who knows? Perhaps you have relatives who, in the last seconds of breath, breathed out a silent prayer of repentance and faith. You might be as surprised as the thief’s believing cohort.
And, who knows? Christopher Hitchens heard the gospel enough, often while debating believers. Maybe the seed of the Word might have embedded in his heart somewhere and maybe, just maybe, it broke through sometime in the night, as he gasped for last breath.
Christopher Hitchens was a blasphemer, true enough, and a nasty character. Aren’t we all, in our different ways. Christ Jesus came for nasty characters like us. And the same blood of Jesus that can deliver us from wrath could do the same for Hitchens had he, if he, at any point, embraced it. It’s not likely, but it’s possible, and, if he did, then Christopher Hitchens’s past atheism would be no barrier to communion with God. It would be, like my sin, crucified with Christ, buried, and remembered no more.
I don’t know about Christopher Hitchens, about what happened in those last moments, but I do know that, if he had embraced it, the gospel would be enough for him. I know that because it’s enough for me, and I’m as deserving of hell as he is.
Hell is real and judgment is certain. The gospel comes with a warning that it will one day be too late. But, as long as there is breath, it is not yet too late. Perhaps Christopher Hitchens, like so many before him, persisted in his rebellion to the horror of the very end. But maybe not. Maybe he stopped his polemics and cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I don’t know. But I do know that the gospel offers forgiveness and mercy right to the edge of death’s door. And I know that the kingdom of God is made up of ex-thieves, and ex-murderers, and ex-atheists like us.
If I get to heaven, the biggest surprise will be this: That God would be so merciful and gracious to sinners.
Especially a sinner like me! That alone would be reason enough for me to glorify and enjoy Him for ever!
Great post! Merry Christmas!
I prayed to God to have him in His glory, shortly after I saw the news and learned about his life (I did not know him while he was alive but browsed a couple of places to learn about him…) May God bless his soul…
The children of the the Lord are royalty. Who can harm royalty without facing the full force of the crown? The truth is that Mr. Hitchen’s words and actions could never harm or dissuade those called by the Lord. Ours is not to to judge those outside of the church until the appointed time. That means he is free from our judgment until all are raised. It is as you posted, let no Christian judge this man or slander his name in the name of editorialization! When it comes to such men, I remember Romans 9:21, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”
Are not some used to test our own spirits so that we know that we follow the spirit of the Lord and not one that attempts to fool us?
My first thought when I heard of Hitchen’s death was that finally he will know the truth. Sadly, if he is to be taken at his word, it won’t set him free.
Nobody likes you except other Evangelicals, and you know it.
But let me get to the juicy part. I’ve just been informed via Twitter. Christopher Hitchens is now King God. He is a He now, spread the word!
Satan is like the god of sin right? Satan doesn’t scare me anymore! Hitchens! Hitchens! Hitchens!
Folks…As Christians we are supposed to love our enemies…Yes…even those deserving punishment in hell…
This man’s Faith, Hope and Love are incredible! It humbles me to see I don’t reach that mark…
I hope he found grace; he was my favorite atheist!
You are right. The Bible tells us not to call anyone else a fool (a fool means someone who does not know God) or WE are in danger of the fires of hell. Noone really knows a man’s heart but the One who searches man’s heart. What needs to be at the forefront of our minds is this, “Do we love our neighbor as ourselves”? If we truly love someone in Godly love, then we should not want to judge them but rather love them. “Love your enemies” is pretty straight forward. So it is not a question of Hitchens’ life but a question of ours. Speculation is not a practice promoted by our King, but the Word of God is unchanging, and pure, and a hope for ALL men. When a man leaves this earth, he is in God’s able hands and his family and friends should be in our prayers. THAT is a great testimony…not the “pointing of the finger” as referred to in Isaiah 58…
Fantastic! I wish that I had the commitment to Christianity that he had to atheism. He was die-hard in his beliefs…yet I waver from day-to-day (sometimes minute-to-minute). Thanks for this.
Thanks for sharing. I hope he is there…we can always hope.