Scripture says that it is better to go down to the house of mourning than to the house of laughter (Ecc. 7:2). The reason given in that passage is that this enables the living to “lay it to heart.” The death of Christopher Hitchens should in the first place remind us of our own mortality. We should lay it to heart. As Donne so memorably put it, “ask not for whom the bell tolls.” Every funeral is our own. These are issues that affect every last one of us.
Those who hold to the gospel of Jesus Christ must always remember that the good news of Christ is set against the backdrop of the bad news — we are all of us sinners, and we all need cleansing and forgiveness. Christopher Hitchens did not need to come to Christ to have his arguments refuted (although that would have happened). He needed to come to Christ to have his sins forgiven.
There will be a CanonWIRED clip out shortly, in which I caution Christians against two errors — and both of them are errors of speculation. The possibility of last minute conversions must never be turned into actual last minute conversions. No one is wished into Heaven. There have been too many unbelievers preached into Heaven at the funeral, and we ought not to give way to the false tenderness of that impulse. At the same time, the likelihood that Christopher never called on Christ should not be turned into a hard-line dogmatic statement, followed by “good riddance.” No one is wished into Hell either. We ought not to greet the news of Christopher’s death the way he greeted the death of Jerry Falwell’s, for example.
The bad news is that we are all under judgment. The good news is that the one who has faith in Jesus may be forgiven. We must unashamedly declare these terms to the whole world — but declaring the terms of judgment (which Scripture requires us to do) is not the same thing as playing the Judge ourselves. We leave the soul of Christopher Hitchens (and he did have a soul, despite all his arguments) in the hands of God, who will do nothing but right.
All of this is of course consistent with the affection I had for Christopher. Our prayers and condolences are with his family and friends.
Here are some further reflections on Christopher’s passing that I wrote for Christianity Today.