I was listening to BBC World News last night, when I first heard the news of Christopher Hitchens’ passing. As with any such loss, sympathy must go to his family and colleagues.
I never got around to reading any of Hitchens’ books. They aren’t the sort of thing I would pick up for casual reading, as a rule. My response is to comments that Hitchens made that were replayed on the BBC last night. Hitchens was famously resistant to the idea that he might have a death-bed conversion. In the event that rumors of one got out, he implored the public to consider his actions the result of the illness and medications. In the replayed interview, Hitchens responded to a question by stating that IF God does exist, and Hitchens did indeed find himself being judged by such a person, his only plea would have to be that he did not insult God with insincere and self-serving last-minute prayers. Otherwise, he did not know what defense he could make, but that he certainly wouldn’t be “servile” about it.
That Hitchens wouldn’t say a prayer to hedge his bets was probably the closest he came to good doctrine. Jesus had a term for prayers that were said without faith or sincerity – vain repetitions – and warned that God wouldn’t answer prayers that were noise and no substance. What stunned me about Hitchens answer was the notion that one could address God with servility. Clearly, Hitchens understanding of God-ness left something to be desired.
Atheists operate under that assumption that Christianity is one of many mythologies and, having lumped the Christian God in the same category as pagan gods, they assume that the Christian God must be just as limited in personality and power. If one were addressing the womanizing Zeus, or the mummified Osiris, or the harlot Ishtar, a certain independence of thought might be rightly considered a virtue. These gods did not create the cosmos; they were born out of it. And they certainly unfit to be the moral judges of humanity.
The Christian conception of God, however, is that there is a Being of limitless power who willed and created everything that exists. Science, therefore, cannot contradict our knowledge of Him, but it can refine and expand that knowledge, because God is the author of science. He wrote the rules and designed the systems that scientists discover. Because He created space and time, He exists outside space and time.
Does anyone have any idea what such a Person must be like? How about this: Go to pbs.org and watch the four of episodes of The Fabric of the Cosmos. Do we really think it would be servility to pay homage to a God who could invent such a universe or even multiple universes? If there really is a God, and I believe there is, then He deserves the worship of those He has made, whether we understand His judgments or not.
And would we dare to disagree with Him to His face? God told Job to stand up and answer Him like a man (Job 40:7), and Job’s answer was to repent “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). God told Ezekiel to stand up and answer Him like a man, but Ezekiel had already fallen flat on his face, and he was unable to get up until the Holy Spirit lifted him up (Ez. 1:28, 2:1). A person may resent the fact that there is Someone with the right to judge us, but that does not make it any less true. The fact that we must say it with fear and trembling does not make it any less true.
Believe me when I say that, if Hitchens was guilty of arrogance in how he spoke of God, I have been guilty of the same arrogance. How often have I complained about the circumstances that God has put me in? How often have I questioned the goodness of God, or been angry or bitter about the injustices of the world I live in? And, yet, I too must stand before this God and give an answer.
I went to bed last night thinking about my own defense before God. It is what it has always been. God has pardoned me for the sake of Christ, and my defense is in Christ. He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Him (Heb. 7:25). I hope, therefore, to see God with awe, but also with joy. But let me also remember, when I am most inclined to complain about life, that it is God who will someday judge me, not the other way around.