Christopher Hitchens held views diametrically opposed to mine and spent most of his life fighting against that which I hold most dear. He was an avowed atheist always ready to attack belief in anything other than science and reason.
But in the end he looked much like any other person fighting cancer. He had sunken eyes, a gaunt look in his face, and hair loss due to the chemotherapy he was undergoing. But despite these characteristics he still retained his pugnacious spirit towards all things related to faith and God.
I had held out hope, as slight as it was, that Hitchens would bend a knee to God before he lost the battle with cancer, because I knew he wouldn’t have that choice after he died. I prayed for Hitchens, that God would heal him of the cancer that was wreaking havoc on his body and that Hitchens would recognize God as Lord. But Hitchens passed away without seeing God as anything more than a myth.
It has, unfortunately, become the practice of many Christians to exultantly proclaim that such an end as Hitchens experienced--one filled with pain and suffering due to esophageal cancer--is fitting for anyone who defies God for his whole life. While I cannot do anything to silence such foolish and repugnant Christians who seem to have forgotten the meaning of grace, I can offer another viewpoint.
I won’t deny that the Bible clearly clearly teaches that unless Hitchens experienced a death-bed conversion--a highly unlikely occurrence no matter whom you ask--he is condemned to hell. That sentence is certainly not one that I delight in or wish for, but it is reality. However, I want to temper that harsh statement with a softer view of Hitchens.
When I read Hitchens’ articles or viewed pictures of him as he fought cancer, I couldn’t help but be overcome with a sense of compassion. I empathized with Hitchens. He was not the anti-Christian monster that he was sometimes made out to be. Rather, he was a man who didn’t recognize his need for salvation but had just as much worth than any of us and much more talent, intellect, and influence than most of us--and certainly me.
I don’t mean to be condescending to Hitchens as a man or thinker when I say that he was lost. He, like all of us, needed a Savior, but he couldn’t recognize that need or see the Fulfillment of it in Jesus.
Upon hearing the news of Hitchens’ death, I was taken aback. He no longer had a chance to turn to God. Then I started thinking about all of those around me who don’t know Jesus. As Christians there are three possible reactions we can have to the news of Hitchens’ death: we can celebrate it, we can mourn it, or we can let it break our hearts like it breaks God’s heart.
Any Christian who fits in the first category is a disgusting excuse for someone who claims to have been saved by grace. It is understandable that someone could fit into the second category of mourning his death, but that person is missing the whole picture. Where we need to be, where I believe God wants us to be, is in the third category. We must let Hitchens’ death break our hearts.
At this point you and I have no control, no influence, no ability to change Hitchens’ temporal or eternal end. But we do have some control, some influence, some ability to change the eternal outcome of those around us.
God loves Hitchens no more or no less than your coworker who doesn’t know Jesus, your family member who denies God’s existence, or the person in your church who hates his fellow Christian. While have no ability to help Hitchens come into contact with the life-changing power of Jesus, we can help those in our sphere of influence meet Jesus, and then let Him take control of their lives.
Hitchens is gone from this earth, his eternal destiny decided. But there are millions of people around us whose eternal destinies are still undecided. It is our job--yours and mine--to lovingly share Jesus with them. Eternity is on the line.