Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and the Glory of God's Mercy

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     Christopher Hitchens is dead. He died yesterday (Dec 15 2011). He was an Atheist; a loud one. He was 62. He was an author, and a father and a husband; in that order it seems.

If the name and picture don't ring a bell, he's known for saying (with an English accent) things like:

"My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either."

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

“Thus, though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with.”

    I respect the man for being vocal about his beliefs (though he wouldn't have called them that) and I can even admire him for the veracity with which he kept them, but there's a section of his Globe and Mail obituary that caught my attention:

"In response to Mr. Hitchens’s outspoken and steadfast atheism, the faithful clamoured to the heavens, organizing prayer groups and even going so far as to designate Sept. 20, 2010, as Pray for Hitchens Day.

Don’t bother, unless it makes you feel better, he told the devout, insisting that he wouldn’t recant his atheism so long as he was lucid and rational. And he issued a plea asking people to forgive him if he did make a deathbed conversion, arguing that if such a thing happened, it wouldn’t be him speaking but a “half-demented” entity racked by pain and riddled with drugs."

     It's his desire to be forgiven by his friends if he recants his Atheism, that gave me pause. It's almost as though he's leaving the possibility for such a conversion... open?  That can't be right, the man was one of the most fervent and outspoken of Atheists yet here he is making a theological statement?

     Hitchens saw the possibility of recanting Atheism and espousing God, if he were "half-demented", drugged up, and in incredible pain. He saw the possibility. What if the Holy Spirit was starting to get to him? Would such a conversion be valid? Could it be? Many would say that it would only be an attempt by Hitchens to "hedge his bets" perhaps as an extreme version of Pascal's wager. Theological misunderstandings of Blaise Pascal aside, what if Hitchens' (hypothetical) conversion was legitimate?

     I have said this many times: the question eternal destination for any person is out of my pay grade. I am not the Lord. I know though, that God gives Grace to the humble though he opposes the proud.

     What if that's really what it took to humble Christopher Hitchens, esophageal cancer, his own death, great pain? What if it happened?

      What if he believed?

     Then I'd have a new brother, that's what.

I hope I do.

Thankful for Grace


  1. I have heard nothing to suggest that he had a deathbed conversion, but as you stated, I hope he did. Thought provoking article my friend.

  2. Like the thief on the cross, the Spirit can use pain, suffering, agony - to get our attention. Hutchins most definitely could have come to know the Lord on his death bed writhing in pain. In the end a sovereign God will prevail in saving - even at the last breath.

  3. why does God need to inflict pain to get attention, why not show mercy and end suffering?

  4. Because at its core, our sin is one of pride and hubris. For many of us, our hearts are so hard that they have to be sofened by humility and in some cases we can only be made humble through suffering. There is comng a day when God will end all suffering with an untimate act of mercy, and the heavens and earth will be made new again, but until then we wrestle with pride and humility.

    Great question, I'd love to hear some other responses.

  5. Good question Anonymous, and one that a lot of people ask I think. I think Kevin's response covers part of the answer. The other part is that God doesn't "need" to inflict pain to get attention, he also often gets our attention through the incredible creation He's given us (why many people feel there must be more than just the physical when they get back out into the grandeur of nature), and through His generosity to and love for us.
    However He does use hardship as well, for the reasons Kevin gave and also because suffering is the consequence of our own sin, and so it is deserved. We don't deserve it to be taken away, but in his mercy and grace He still blesses us anyway and will ultimately remove all suffering for those who believe in His Son Jesus.

    Any response thoughts Anonymous?