Not too late for the unbeliever

Faith & Inspiration
by La Shawn Barber
Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, at 4:17 pm

“If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”

Christopher Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer in 2011, wrote these words in the final chapter of Mortality (Twelve, 2012) as he was dying. The publisher described them as “fragmentary jottings … left unfinished at the time of the author’s death.” Hitchens’s widow, Carol Blue, said in the afterword that he wrote the “jottings … in bursts of energy and enthusiasm.”

When a professing atheist dies, high-profile or obscure, it’s natural to wonder whether he repented before his final breath. Did the atheist remain adamant in his unbelief, or did he accept Christ as Savior at the last moment? Douglas Wilson wrote that Hitchens [emphasis in original] “assured interviewers” that if he’d ever made a deathbed confession of faith, “we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo or something had gotten to his brain.”

Larry Alex Taunton, author of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist (Thomas Nelson, 2016), said Hitchens “was contemplating conversion.” The two became friends in 2008 and went on road trips together. “For the first time in his life, he was engaging evangelical Christians,” Taunton told “He found them to be different from the veneer of Christianity in Britain. When he began debating these evangelicals, he began to like them.”

Believers do worry about unsaved family and friends. We want to know that we’ll see our loved ones again and don’t want to think of them suffering from eternal separation from God. It’s in our nature to question how effectively we shared the gospel with the unbelievers in our lives. Maybe I’m not the person to reach them. Was I gentle enough? Was I too gentle? Did I sound unloving? Did I preach the whole gospel? Maybe if I approach them just the right way …

But we know the Holy Spirit convicts. We share the gospel and our personal testimony. We warn of the coming judgment and how the repentant have been spared this judgment through Christ. We speak of God’s grace and mercy, and how the unbeliever may come to Christ in his present state, no matter how wretched. God begins a work in that person’s heart, a good work He will complete with that person’s glorification in heaven.

Or the person might die in rebellion.

Our time here is fleeting, and we believers have wonderful assurance. We say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” For the unbeliever, it’s not too late to partake in this promise:

“Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:27-29)

La Shawn Barber

La Shawn writes about culture, faith, and politics. Her work has appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Christianity Today, the Washington Examiner, and other publications

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  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    Trying to reason God out of the universe is an exhausting task.  I liked the part about liking those he debated.  Sometimes the tension of an argument (or debate) makes us forget that the person we are talking with is really the object of the discussion.  He/she is valuable and possibly a future convert.  I notice on Twitter that when folks debate they use the word "idiot"  a lot.  In our troubled and divided world calm loving discourse during a disagreement is rare.  God help us!!

  • SueQ's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Thank you for your insight. I guess we forget that it isn't our job to save people or to judge whether they were saved at the last minute. I thought about Prince, who I didn't know, but wondered if he had a conversation with God before he died in his elevator. I wonder about my own son and many who have professed belief but show no or little evidence of change. Then, there are the theologians that change their minds about homosexuality being a sin and Enns book called "The Sin of Certainty".

  • nevertheless's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Moving, thank you.