Two Brothers, Two Criminals, One Cross

Dr. Karen Gushta

Two Brothers, Two Criminals, One Cross

The following story often gets circulated on the internet around April 1.

An atheist filed a lawsuit in Florida. He objected to the Easter and Passover celebrations and stated that atheists have no holiday to celebrate. The judge dismissed the case, stating that atheists already have their own holiday, April 1, April Fool's Day, for “The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).

Referring to this joke, one atheist blogger said:

To this day, it is not unusual for Christians to claim that April Fool’s Day is the atheist’s holiday. Some make this claim maliciously, but many are just honestly fooled by the April Fool’s Day prank. This is not surprising given what it says in the atheist holy book: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him will believeth in anything.” --Hitchens 3:16.

“Hitchens 3:16” is a reference to Christopher Hitchens, outspoken atheist and author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

When Christopher was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June 2010, Christians across America began praying for him. Randy Alcorn, whose book Heaven is a detailed study of biblical theology on the topic, posted a prayer on Facebook, which included the following:

May he [Hitchens] find forgiveness and spiritual restoration through the person and power of Jesus Christ. Although he has mocked and marginalized Him, may he know that He stands at the door and knocks. And may he discover there is a difference between religion and a personal relationship with Jesus.

Speaking of the prayers on his behalf, Hitchens said, “I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts.”

Christopher Hitchens died December 15, 2011, of pneumonia brought on by his cancer. He was adamant to the end that he would not make a deathbed conversion. In an interview, Anderson Cooper asked him a question — a version of Pascal’s wager — inquiring if “there might be a moment where you might want to hedge your bets.”

Hitchens responded that this could only occur “when I’m half demented by drugs or pain and I won’t have control over what I say.”

“I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor,” he said. “These things happen and the faithful love to spread the rumor that on his deathbed. ... I can’t say that the entity that by then wouldn’t be me wouldn’t do such a pathetic thing, but I can tell you that, not while I’m lucid. No.”

Christopher Hitchens apparently never acknowledged the truth that he will be judged for his sins and suffer the fate of all unrepentant sinners, which, as Jesus stated in Mark 9:45, is “to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.”

By contrast, Peter Hitchens, Christopher’s less well-known younger brother, at one point in his life admitted what he had for many years rejected — that he would be judged for his “large catalogue of misdeeds ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling.” Standing as a tourist in front of a 15th-century painting of The Last Judgment in Beaune, France, Peter was suddenly confronted by the reality of God’s wrathful judgment against sinners. He saw himself among the stumbling, retching, naked figures that were “in shock and fear at the sound of the Last Trump.” That experience set him on a path to seek the One who alone could save him from that judgment.

Two brothers — one now knows, despite his protests, that God truly is great. The other has acknowledged the truth of the words he read from Thomas Cranmer’s Prayer Book as a youth, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

“This terrible thing called sin inevitably draws upon itself the wrath of God,” wrote D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe in Cross Purposes: Discovering the Great Love of God for You, for “God is infinitely holy and has an infinite hatred for sin.” And because God is just, he must punish sin. “If you take the sin of man and the justice of God and bring them together, you’ll inevitably produce hell. Nothing else can come out of that combination,” state Kennedy and Newcombe unequivocally.

Most Americans do not expect to experience hell first-hand. Although 71 percent according to Barna Research believe there is such a thing as hell, “just one-half of 1 percent expect to go to hell upon their death. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) believe they will go to heaven.”

In 2006, Barna Research classified 45 percent of American adults as “born again.” This is the percentage of those who claim to have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and who say they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. This compares to 78 percent of Americans who claim to be Christians.

As lay evangelist Charlie Hainline said: “The chief problem in America today is not getting people saved. It is getting people to realize they are lost.”

This year, April Fool’s Day fell on Palm Sunday — the start of the week Christians celebrate as Holy Week. Each of the gospel writers devotes significant space to the events of this week — Luke gives a fourth of his gospel, Matthew and Mark about a third, and John one half. The events of this week are central to the gospel, the “good news” that Jesus came to bear the wrath of God’s punishment for the sins of those who repent of their sins and put their trust in Him.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” But it is equally foolish to believe that we are “basically good” and don’t deserve God’s wrath and punishment for sin. Dr. D. James Kennedy called the belief that man is basically good a “modern myth.” But even those who see sin in others often have a hard time seeing it in themselves. In fact, only one-third of Christians make confession of sin a regular practice. 

Christopher Hitchens couldn’t see that he was lost. His brother Peter did. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus “blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us’” (Luke 23:39). The other acknowledged that he was receiving “the due reward” of his deeds and asked Jesus to remember him.

Acknowledging our own sinfulness can make an eternity of difference.

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Truth in Action Ministries, author of The War on Children, and co-author of Ten Truths About Socialism. As a career educator, Dr. Gushta has taught from kindergarten to graduate teacher education in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and Masters degrees in Elementary Education and Christianity and Culture.

Publication date: April 6, 2012

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