In a public response to the announcement of Stephen Hawking’s death, the Archbishop of York, the second highest position of the Church of England, offered these words of condolences:

“Very honoured he came to my graduation at Cambridge. Sojourner Truth go well and may the Angels of God welcome you! Love and Prayers to your daughters.”

Did the Archbishop just violate Christian doctrine? Is Stephen Hawking in hell or has he been welcomed by the angels of God?

Stephen Hawking was an outspoken atheist; he did not believe in God. In an El Mundo interview in 2014, Hawking stated,

“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”[i]

But that didn’t stop him from also invoking God, “God is the name people give to the reason we are here…that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.”[ii]

In fairness, Hawking infused an incredible amount of thought into his worldview. But even though Hawking was a careful thinker[iii], his decision about God still has an air of personal bias:

There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either…for that, I am extremely grateful.

This leads us to the heart of the issue.

Let me be very clear, not everyone goes to Heaven. Jesus says in John 14:6, I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Let me also say that all can be saved. Paul discusses this in Rom 10; a critical passage to understand when thinking about whether Stephen Hawking, or any atheist for that matter, is in hell when they die.

In Romans 10, Paul reminds us to not ask who is in Heaven or hell when they die because to do so is to bring Christ into our shoes. In other words, when Jesus told us not to judge in Matthew 7, he did so in a way that called us, Christians, to look at ourselves first. And when we look at ourselves, we see sinners saved by grace—undeserved grace. In the parable of the unforgiving debtor[iv], the first man was forgiven far more than the second and, for that, the first was condemned. The same is true with Stephen Hawking.

Here is a man with a legitimate emotional hang-up: how could God allow such a disease as his? But he still devoted his life to seeking truth. Now I’m not saying he was forgiven, that’s between him and God, but I am saying that his heart was pure in focus. He was a kind, loving man, with a heart for truth.

Truth, which happens to be the exact thing Christians call Jesus: the way, the truth and the life (John 14).

Is Stephen Hawking in hell? Honestly, I don’t know, and neither do you; nor should we. But we can use his life as an example. Hawking fought through adversity. He continued learning for 51 years longer than doctors thought he’d live. He’s the epitome of courage.

Did he get the wrong answer—yes. Did he lead others astray—yes, again. But so did Paul, so did James. So has this author, and I’m willing to bet—so have you. Fortunately, it’s not our answers that save us, it’s the perfect intercessor between God and Man who saves us. So, let us rejoice that we have a High Priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses[v]. Only God knows the fate of Stephen Hawking. I do hope to meet him one day—though not in hell.

Stay strong, Christians, we have been forgiven far more than we give ourselves credit for. I love you, and I love Stephen Hawking—wherever he is.

[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/03/14/im-not-afraid-what-stephen-hawking-said-about-god-his-atheism-and-his-own-death/?utm_term=.7eae9ca1f933

[ii] https://www.yahoo.com/news/stephen-hawking-atheist-said-god-151210108.html

[iii] In an interview with Discovery Channel, Hawking stated, “We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God”

[iv] Matthew 18:21-35

[v] Heb 4:14-16

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. While we feel deep pity for someone who suffers as did Stephen Hawking he still had the same choices as did/do Joni Eareckson Tada and Nick Vujicic (and others) who in spite of incredible adversity have instead chosen to glorify God with their lives instead of denying and cursing Him.
    Stephen was a brilliant man who chose to exchange the truth for a lie, maybe even more than the average man because he studied creation closer than most so the evidence was even clearer to him and as you said lead many astray.
    God does make it clear that He will have mercy on whoever He will (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15) but He also makes it quite clear that His wrath is coming because of those who know the truth and exchange it for the lie (Romans 1:18-22).
    We should use this time of reflection on this man’s life that has passed as we should any other and have it compel us even more to be diligent in sharing the Gospel and be pleading with the lost and to be good stewards of the time we have here remembering this is not our home.
    Psalm 90:10-12 The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
    Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
    So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

    Your Brother in Christ,
    Michael

  2. Roger, what you said about us having to look at ourselves before trying to judge others really struck me. By nature I tend to lean more towards judgement than toward grace. Fortunately and because of God’s grace, the closer we get to Him, the more aware we become of our own sin… and when you do, you become too busy repenting of your own sins to judge others. I say, judge yourself, believe the best of others. Who knows what could have happened in the last moments of his life? Just yesterday I had a conversation with a paramedic who very often works with people who are too injured to respond but yet they don’t die. This man simply shares the gospel with them and pray for them anyway and in most cases according to him, the people die shortly afterwards as if they are now peaceful enough to let go of life… Paula, on facebook testified the same thing about her dad on our group. I think unless we know for sure as in the case of a Christian dying (I have no doubt that you are going to heaven when you die because I know where your hope lies) maybe it is better to not make any claim at all. What angered me about that article that you referred to is someone claiming that you can be a hard core atheist but the moment you die you go to heaven… WHAT??! I get angry when people are deceived and lied to. The person claiming such a thing is someone in authority. People listen to him and believe him and he is lying to them.

  3. There’s no god.
    There’s no god.
    This is life the only one you get so go and have a ball.
    There’s no god.
    There’s no god.
    Straight ahead and rest assured there’s no afterlife either.
    So while you’re here enjoying the view, keep on doin’ what you do, hold on tight we’ll muddle through one day at a time, one day at a time.
    So up on your feet.
    Up on my feet.
    Somewhere there’s reason bein’ spoken.
    In the halls of scientific inquiry.
    The truth will set all free.
    One day at a time.
    One day at a time.
    O day at at a na, na, na, na.
    One day at a time.
    One day at a time.
    One day at a na, na, na, na.
    One day at a time!

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