I was sad to hear about the passing of Christopher Hitchens last night. He was a unique public intellectual with a rapier wit and an even sharper pen. He seemed to be able to hold forth on almost any topic put before him, and he was as charismatic as they come.
Hitchens always fascinated me not merely because of his intellect and prose, but also because of his independence. He was a liberal, but he didn’t always follow the liberal script. He was a darling of the left, yet he remained a firm supporter of the Iraq War. He was an avowed atheist, yet he insisted on the superior literary quality of the King James Bible and chaffed against gender neutral translations. He wanted to ban religious arguments from rational discourse, yet he wrote a book with Calvinist intellectual and pastor Doug Wilson—for whom Hitchens appeared to have a genuine respect and affection (their mutual admiration for P. G. Wodehouse was one of the best parts of the documentary “Collision”).
In the last year of his life, Hitchens wrote some searching essays about his cancer and impending death (here, here, and here). He seemed to stand ever resolute in his atheism and to insist that the hour of his demise must be the proving ground of his unbelief.
I would like to think that perhaps his skepticism didn’t win out in the end. I would like to think that the gospel he heard from Wilson and others might have broken through just in time—just as it did for the thief on the cross. Stranger things have happened, and the Lord’s arm is not too short to save even in such a moment (Isaiah 59:1). Nevertheless, we may never have any evidence this side of glory that the light finally broke through to Hitchens. Would we be surprised in heaven to find out that it did?
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Indeed He shall just as He always has.
4 LORD, make me to know my end,
And what is the extent of my days,
Let me know how transient I am.
5 Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight,
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.
6 Surely every man walks about as a phantom;
Surely they make an uproar for nothing;
He amasses riches, and does not know who will gather them.
7 And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in Thee.