The Greatest of Sinners

One of the things to be discovered in our Lord's intercourse with the Pharisees is that his test of their souls (and hence of their destinies) involved their reaction to sinners. It is not that people the Pharisees identified as sinners were not sinners in fact, nor simply that they were hypocritically wrong in refusing to count themselves as among the transgressors, even though they were. What is most striking is the Lord's obvious disgust with people who could not and would not rejoice when a sinner repented and began his journey on the road to righteousness. They seemed to be vitally concerned (like their father, the devil) that sinners remain members of that class. Their reasons for this one can imagine, but the indication is that this kind of person will not show up in heaven because it is chock-full of people whom God has delighted to forgive the most grievous of sins because there is nothing that gives him greater pleasure ("joy in the presence of the angels").

C. S. Lewis has a good chapter on this sort of person in The Great Divorce, who preferred lodging in hell to keeping the offensive company she found in heaven, salvation and cleansing notwithstanding,but I find myself pondering it whenever I hear someone carrying on about some of the really great sinners of history. Monstrous they surely were, but we should test ourselves by asking whether we would be pleased if a person like Adolf Hitler, in the last moments of his depraved life, reached out in repentance to grasp the merciful hand of God and was taken up by it. Where Hitler has gone I do not know, but I do know that (if our faith is true) we shall find many among the redeemed in heaven whom we had the pleasure of identifying on earth as immensely wicked. If we have not kept our hearts so that we are pleased by this, our Lord will have none of us, for he has declared that if we will not forgive others their sins, we shall not be forgiven our own.

So—you among the damned who believe yourselves to be followers of the True God, remember and cherish the wrong that was committed against your people a thousand years ago, along with your righteous hatred of a great many really bad characters. Remember and cherish—but understand that you can't do it in the presence of God—only in hell.

S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor.

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