Christopher Hitchens, one of the most prominent writers of our age and an atheist, has esophageal cancer. Hitchens announced in June that he was dying from the disease. In an August 2010 column in the “New York Times,” Liesil Schillinger wrote that Hitchens “was not going gently.”
The celebrated writer for “The Nation,” and other major publications, Hitchens initially said he didn’t mind other people praying for him, unless they are praying for his death.
Evidently, some have written Hitchens saying they are praying for his death to come at the earliest possible moment, or that Hitchens will see the handwriting on the wall and convert to Christianity.
In a recent blog post, Hitchens wrote, “Leaving aside those who thanked god (little “g”) for giving me cancer and a future in the eternal inferno, the offer of prayer can have only two implications: either a wish for my recovery, or a wish for a reconsideration of my atheism, or both.”
There are enough flaws in Hitchens’ atheism to exploit them to the full, but the direction of this column is not aimed that way. Instead, its direction is aimed toward people who profess belief in God and his son Jesus.
Let’s face it. People who believe in God are opposed to atheists like Hitchens. But, when we pray that someone should suffer an agonizing death at the earliest possible moment, are we being Christ like? The answer is obvious.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV).
Prayers asking for the quick death of Hitchens not only sends the wrong message, but they also give rise for the recipient to further blaspheme God. Hitchens used the remarks sent him to belittle prayer and to accuse those who pray as “those who practice incantations.”
Blaise Pascal wrote, “Kind words do not cost much; they never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured, they also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is.”
Kind words and the truth are needed in this instance, not the vitriol or condemnation. If our Lord was not in the business of condemnation on earth, why would some think they have a license to wish a painful and swift death for someone?
Instead, our task should be to pray for recovery, that Christopher might hear the truth and obey it. Oh, we can be assured someone will come up with a bit of homespun wisdom and say, “A leopard can’t change his spots.”
How many times, though, have we seen people who we believe are the hardest cases obey the gospel? Do we doubt the gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16)?
So, sometime soon, please pray for Christopher Hitchens because we are sons of our Father in heaven.