Today brought news that the legendary radio host and provocateur Rush Limbaugh had died. Almost immediately after the announcement, phrases we will not print on the pages of OFB trended on social media as many gleefully celebrated a man’s death. A shocking number wished Rush an eternity in Hell. What has happened to us?
Set aside your own personal position on Rush for a moment. Someone died. As Genesis 3:19 says, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words, said so many times amidst Ash Wednesday observances today, remind us that as one person dies, so too will we.
To wish someone eternity in Hell subsequent to death is the most horrible thing anyone can wish for another. It isn’t just to wish someone a bit of “comeuppance” for perceived wrongs. It is to say, “When the inevitability of death arrives for you, I wish you the absolute misery of eternal separation from all that is good. I wish you no way to correct your flaws. I wish you the absolute absence of hope.”
We have increasingly reached a point where when we disagree with someone, we fight not just vigorously for our perspective, but we utterly seek their destruction personally (and, apparently, eternally). We dehumanize our opponents and eventually that allows a moment like today where “funny” animated GIFs tied to heaping eternal condemnation upon someone somehow became a trendy thing.
Today’s case was one of the worst I’ve observed thus far, but this sort of behavior has been mounting on both sides of the aisle for some time. These comments are terribly revealing, not of Mr. Limbaugh or his career, but of those wishing him to experience Hell and, perhaps, all of us as part of the present cultural moment that encourages such attitudes.
What does this really say about us?
We can only wish someone else eternity in Hell if we do not understand the weight of our own sin and our own need for God’s mercy. I am far from immune to this: as a sinner, I deserve the eternal separation from God that so many were wishing on Rush today, but in my pride, I like to pretend that’s not so. I’m not so bad. I deceive myself in such moments. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Rush fell short. I fall short. You fall short. We all do. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus offers us rescue from that.
If I am decidedly not holy and decidedly not deserving of God showing me mercy and yet He does, it should change the way I treat and talk about others. The problem is we do not take up the invitation that days like Ash Wednesday offer to wrestle with our own failings and thereby understand our own need for mercy. How can I see my own need for grace and yet wish with glee that someone else would receive none at all?
Jesus addresses such an ungrateful attitude in a parable in Matthew 18:21-35. One servant is forgiven an enormous debt by his master, but then seeks the full power of the law to go after a fellow servant who owes much less. The master angrily calls the first servant back, saying, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
That is the question we should all ask ourselves as we respond to others.
I do not usually follow Marianne Williamson and, I suspect, she and I would disagree on much about the nature of who God is. However, in the sea of vitriol today, she offered a more thoughtful response:
I believe in a God who is very tenderly explaining some things to Rush Limbaugh right now. Limbaugh I assume is very quiet and taking it all in.— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) February 17, 2021
I like that picture and appreciate Williamson’s approach to the death of someone that probably agreed with her on almost nothing. May I always hope even those I disagree with most know Jesus and have His redemption. May I wish them the joy of Jesus’s gentle correction.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).
Jesus offers such great mercy. I am dust and to dust I will return. Times reflecting on the fragility and brevity of life should remind all of us of how much we need that mercy. As I see my own need on this Ash Wednesday and every day, may I show like mercy to all around me.