Deathbed conversions it’s a feature not a bug

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you will see that on occasion I will describe a person who choose the world or rejects the faith and write something like this…

You can do XYZ for the rest of your life…

After that you’re on your own.

I readily admit that it is a bit of snark and it is in fact intended to make a person pause at their own mortality. I am going to die, you are going to die, my wife, my children and any grandchildren I have are all going to die and not a single one of us know when.

Each one of us has a finite amount of time to become one of the few who are chosen instead of the many who are called. The nature of God rejects compulsion. We must choose to follow him and remain faithful of our own free will. As the parable of the wages teaches us it is not when we make that choice that matters but That we make the choice.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. (And) he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day? They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’

When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’

He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? (or) am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matt 20:1-16

During life many chances are given by God to do right, to follow him, to choose the narrow path, but as one gets closer to death and damnation the urgency of eternal truth becomes greater. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit, as we near the end of our amphibious life that spirit or soul within us becomes more acute as it’s final fate is being decided. That is the opportunity that God gives, that final push that last peek that anguished cry of a father trying to convince their rebellious child to make the right choice. It is the point when the enemy deploys pride, fear and distraction to keep us from accepting it.

This is why to the Athiest a sickness like cancer is a dangerous thing and why Damon Linker’s column reeks of fear. Not of Chris Hitchens impending death, but of his possible redemption:

Any such conversion, if it happened, would be the product of a brain consumed by cancer and a body wracked by pain. It should not be taken seriously, in other words, as a genuine expression of the beliefs and desires of the man known as Christopher Hitchens. It should instead be dismissed as the deluded ramblings of someone driven out of his right mind by suffering and disease. And the statements of a man in such a state tell us nothing worth knowing, either about him or about God.

Ah the comfort of denial, the attempt to explain away the actual nature of death, the fear that if Hitchens actually choose the narrow path than one might have to abandon the accolades of the world one sees for a reward one cannot.

C. S. Lewis pegged this perfectly in ScrewTape 5:

Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

Alas for poor Linker, Hitchens is too honest to discount the likelihood of his own death and even worse, too brave to deny a truth once he believes it. The question is: Will he believe it in time?

That is the greatest contradiction here. Those friends like Linker need Hitchens to remain firm in his unbelief for the sake of their own. It is their shaky faith and comfortable worldview that is in danger. Meanwhile those who pray for his conversion have nothing to gain but Hitchens salvation, and that if achieved belongs to him, not to them. It will not place any believer one step closer to the gates of St. Peter. In point of fact if they trumpet it with pride, it might actually retard their progress. On the other hand, his conversion could divert many others off the road of disbelief. The enemy knows this and will fight with all possible strength against that eventuality.

Who will win? I don’t know. I’m hoping and praying for the best.