A recent article in the British publication, Telegraph, caused me to look afresh at the account of the two thieves crucified with Christ. All the Synoptic writers make reference to the two, but it is only Luke that gives the account of the conversation in the waning moments of their lives.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, ‘Art not thou the Christ? save thyself and us‘. But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss’. And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.’ And he said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.‘ (Luke 23:39-43)
Much has been said concerning the disparate relationships the two had with Christ. But what of the relationship between the two? My mind always filled in the blanks and assumed they knew each other, that they were cohorts in crime; captured, condemned, and crucified for the same offense. Furthermore, I always perceived the sarcastic thief to be the “leader of the pack”, partially because he initiated the conversation, and partially due to his commanding tone. Whether that be the case or not, if they did engage in nefarious deeds together they undoubtedly gave immoral support to the other in their lawless lifestyles.
Therefore, it must have come as quite a shock to hear his partner espouse : 1.) his belief that God exists, 2) that right exists, 3) that wrong exists 4) the justice of their punishment, and 5) a penitential plea for eternal mercy. The poor man looking on had to process this whiplash information moments before the Roman soldier performed the crurifragium, which broke the legs of the condemned, bringing a quick death. Whether he was able to, we do not know for Luke records not so much as a, “Me too”, from him.
Of course, we do alter our priorities as we sense our coming mortality. Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted hedonist in his day, who later became a Christian, described the change in his priorities:
I recognise, of course, that this statement of belief is partly governed by the circumstance that I am old, and in at most a decade or so will be dead. In earlier years I should doubtless have expressed things differently. Now the prospect of death overshadows all others. I am like a man on a sea voyage nearing his destination. When I embarked I worried about having a cabin with a porthole, whether I should be asked to sit at the captain’s table, who were the more attractive and important passengers. All such considerations become pointless when I shall so soon be disembarking.¹
At least Muggeridge gave sufficient signal to his followers of his unexpected spiritual U-Turn. Jean-Paul Sartre, whose existential writings led millions into faithless despair, also had a change of mind at the end of his life, but left his followers agape. In a much quoted article in National Review (June 11, 1982), writer Thomas Molnar quotes Sartre:
It is sufficient to quote a single sentence from what Sartre said then to measure the degree of acceptance of the grace of God and the creatureliness of man: ‘ I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, and prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God’
His followers must have been stunned when they learned he had been, at the end, unfaithful to his faithlessness, but it was up to his atheistic life mate, Simone de Beauvoir, to state it as a betrayal. Molnar quotes her in the same article:
How should one explain this senile act of a turncoat?” she asks stupidly. And she adds: “All my friends, all the Sartreans, and the editorial team of Les Temps Modernes supported me in my consternation.”
Which brings us to the aforementioned Telegraph article concerning a statement by Professor Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has been a prominent disciple of deterministic biology. He has written:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.²
Dawkins was in a debate with The Archbishop of Canterbury in February and announced that he was “6.9 out of 7 “sure there was no God . The writer, John Bingham stated, “There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.” Now a retreat of .1 is hardly an evangelistic conversion; and it should not be expected that Dawkins will cease advocating we all dance to DNA despite the downgrade. But in that .1 there is doubt. And doubt demands faith.
What should be worrisome to Dawkins’ adherents, and to all those following the hedonists of Hollywood, the skeptics of academia, or the secularists of our society, is that the Lead Lemming might just alter his course as he reaches the precipice. Thereby saving himself but allowing those following to go to their destruction. And like the thief on the cross, no time to utter, “Me too”. They would have every right to feel betrayed. And they would have a Godless eternity to ponder their consternation.
¹ Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered ² Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden