A Prayer for Mr. Hitchens

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

When I read this last bit of the canticle during this morning’s Lauds, I thought of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is most likely going to die of esophageal cancer. The fact that one of the world’s most famous atheists, notorious for his devotion to smoking and Scotch, is facing his own end, may seem like an opportunity to some.

For those inevitable religious who may indulge in schadenfreude, I am ashamed for you in advance. I know it’s hopeless, but I plead with all the faithful to deny the media that kind of hypocritical spectacle. And I don’t join those hoping for Hitchens’ deathbed conversion, especially those who seek it for what it would do for “the cause” of Christianity. If Hitchens has a change of heart, I hope it is a private one. I hope his defiant intellectual integrity remains intact at least in public.

But here’s what I do pray for, aside from his healing and peace — that God will shine on Mr. Hitchens in his darkness and in the shadow of his death.

I hope that whatever love Mr. Hitchens has in his life, whatever kindness, gentleness, and empathy, is his salvation. I imagine him waking in the presence of God thoroughly astonished to be there. Though Mr. Hitchens intellectually denied the existence of a supernatural deity, I certainly hope He had Love in his life. God, regardless of what he called it.

And I hope the God of Love, in His tender compassion, finds a place for the unrepentant and defiant atheist. The doctrine of my faith tells me it is not likely, but what we do not know of God’s power and mercy dwarfs what we can doctrinally say about His justice. If anyone can do it, God can.

Too bad saints cannot issue retractions from Heaven. It would be one I would love to read.

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