Under Judgment?

Doug Wilson posted about the recent deaths of Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il. His riff on this topic is a sort of apologetic along the lines that without an afterlife, Hitch, Havel and Kim all end the same way,

“We often say, when someone passes away, that they have ‘gone to their reward.’ But given atheism, what is that reward exactly? It is exactly the same for Havel, Hitchens, and Kim Jong Il. All three have now entered into nothingness, which is to say that, given atheism, there are no rewards for anything — good, bad or anywhere in the middle.

Havel was an anti-communist hero, Hitchens was a courageous but infidel journelist, and Kim Jong Il was a murderous and genocidal thug. They all graduated from this class called earth, and they all got exactly the same grade. Is that justice?


Think of it this way. Every day of his life that passed, Kim Jong Il was one day closer to getting away with everything. In the Christian universe, the day of his death was the day of his final capture and arrest. When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes (Prov. 11:7, ESV). The day comes when his life is required of him (Luke 12:20). But in the atheist universe, the day of his death was the day of his final and irrevocable escape.”

It’s all well and good to appeal to this sort of innate sense that most people possess about justice and how bad people ought to face some kind of reckoning. It’s a rather more complicated matter though when Wilson reflects elsewhere about Hitchens’ fate – it’s clear that Wilson had a great deal of affection for Hitchens and is careful to point out that no one knew Hitchens’ eternal fate at the hour of his death. So while Wilson doesn’t make any exception for Hitchens, he is also careful not to despair about his former sparring partner’s fate.

While Wilson is right to recall the thief on the cross, does this possibility not equally apply to Kim Jong-Il? There are mentions of Christians in Caesar’s household, whose to say that there weren’t any in Kim’s? Could he have heard about Jesus, could he have had some deathbed conversion? If it’s true for Hitch, it’s true for Kim Jong-Il. If one is a good Reformed sola Dei gratia-type then there’s nothing wrong with the idea that God can save Kim Jong-Il but not Christopher Hitchens – no matter who Doug Wilson or me or anyone else would want to save or punish. Here it appears that we’ve nothing to do but to defer to God’s will on the matter.

Does an appeal to some kind of need for an eternal justice enhance the claims of Christians or does it collapse on itself. Because the scenario I describe seems unjust, though I know that the standard apologetic answer would be that God is just by his nature, so whatever he does would be just. Why doesn’t that sit well?