John Calvin was one of the principal reformers during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. He understood the reality of Christian persecution which caused him to flee France in the direction of Geneva. A few years later, one of Calvin’s friends brought Calvin some news which he thought would cheer Calvin up; one of the more ruthless persecutors in France had died. Calvin’s associate said something along the lines of “finally, that Godless man is getting what he deserves in hell.” Calvin immediately reprimanded his friend. Who knows, Calvin asserted, how the human heart might cry out in the last moments of one’s life? If this Christian persecutor pleaded for Jesus to save him in his last minutes, then he is with the other saints at this very moment. It is one of my favorite stories of Calvin.
Don’t misinterpret Calvin. He is not suggesting that we are clueless to the terms of eternity. Nor is he suggesting that eternity is not final. What Scripture teaches is clear; there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, if someone leaves this earth denying Christ, they will face separation from God in hell for eternity. On this we can stand with certainty. What we as humans are not able to discern is if someone asks for forgiveness minutes or even seconds before they pass. Dr. Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently reminded readers that most of the thief’s friends on the cross would have assumed he would wake up in hell. We are privy to the story; we know he is with Jesus.
Thus, if Christopher Hitchens went to his grave grasping the worldview he espoused during his lifetime, then the horror and dread of separation from God is his for eternity. But if the light was shone in his heart just moments before death and Christopher Hitchens believed, then he is with Christ today. The lesson for all of us who remain is not to judge Hitchen’s final destination, only God can do that. Our lesson is to be motivated to share Jesus with more and more folks. And to know that hell is real, heaven is real, and people are precious. Jesus saves. It’s never too late.