Robin Williams’ death brought on the expected flood of tributes, but also a smaller wave of hellfire warnings by judgmentalists—because Robin lived a sometimes sinful life and died at his own hands. These warnings were countered by gentler folk who chose to focus on Robin’s many acts of kindness. But who’s right?
Eternity isn’t about goodness or badness.*
According to the Bible, it’s about relationships (although actions can reveal what’s in a person’s heart). King David was called “a man after God’s own heart” despite the fact that he was an adulterer and a murderer. The Apostle Peter disowned Jesus on the night of His arrest, but was later called to lead His church. According to Jesus, the unforgivable sin is not suicide, but “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” refusing God’s life-giving Presence. But if bad behavior is not a guaranteed ticket to Hell, neither is good behavior a fast track to Heaven: “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not [do good works] in your name?’ And I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” (Matthew 7:22-23) Reflecting on this, I recall an epiphany from my youth…
I was 10, and had reached the end of a gleefully misbehaving day…
My cronies and I had been lobbing olives at cars (our neighborhood was built on the site of an old olive grove), which would then erupt in purple explosions against windshields, causing reactionary curses and wild careens. It was all good—well, alright, evil—fun. Until my mom spotted us! She’d come to the door to call me in for dinner. There must have been some guilt in my pre-manly breast, for when she called me in, adding the proverbial “wait till your father,” I thought, “Why doesn’t she call Rory in instead?” (Rory was the only kid who’d refused to throw olives.) And then, lo, a marvelous truth fell upon me, “She doesn’t call him in because she’s not his mom, she’s my mom! And nothing, even the fact that I did really bad stuff, can change that!” Interestingly, this realization did not produce licentious behavior in me, but the opposite. Sure, I did other bad stuff, but I never threw olives at cars again. Because once I’d realized living with Mom and Dad was a gift, it made me want to do better. Of course, there would be hell to pay when Dad got home. But not hell to go to!
Heaven and hell are about who we know…
…not what we do: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.” John 17:3
Robin’s death hit me hard.
Only Steve Martin has had as much impact on me as a humorist (I had a whole first career in sketch comedy and still do guest speaking dates). I have a similar psychopathology (but with a less brilliant silver lining) and a like tendency toward ADDled monologuing. But what I always found most compelling was the humanity beneath Robin’s persona, the desire to make a connection with his audience, to be real and, yes, to be loved.
Did he long for the same with his Creator? There are indications he did: he was a professing Episcopalian and a fan of C.S. Lewis, whose books contain profound explorations of faith (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was reportedly his favorite book). I hope so. I’ll even settle for an 11th hour “Thief on the Cross” conversion. I so want to bunk with him and my other brother Steve when we’re all finally called Home!
* This article avoids the questions of what, where, or even if, heaven and hell are. We’ll explore that another time.