I read Mr. Butler’s piece with great interest, because he’s a great friend, and I know that he’s a touch more conservative than I am politically. If I’m honest, when Rush Limbaugh died, I thought, “good riddance,” and I caught myself.
The truth is that in all the time that I had identified myself as politically conservative, I had probably listened to Rush Limbaugh for less than 10 hours. He didn’t have much new content in each show that I could tell. There was a fair amount of repetition that I did not necessarily enjoy. In any case, my belief that he was a reasonable person was rooted in my own ignorance, rather than any political sympathy for him, or antipathy for his erstwhile opponents. There is an ignorance of generosity, which assumes someone is more reasonable than they actually are. In the intervening time, I read collections of Rush Limbaugh’s most outlandish statements, and my reaction continued to grow less sympathetic with the passage of time. In all frankness, it is probably better that he is not here to offer his opinions over the radio waves. Still, even if I were to conclude that his was a life wasted, I should hope for mercy for him in those final moments.
Even if we were to exclude any physical punishments traditionally attributed to the damned in hell, hell is eternal separation from God, and anything resembling love, forever. Theologians in earlier centuries supposed that besides this suffering, the damned— gifted with a now perfected intellect— are now perfectly aware of their rejection of God, and the fullness of their faults. They can express remorse, but not regret, and their wills— fixed permanently against God— permanently despise Him. I see the appeal of a thoroughgoing universalism, because the starkness of the reality of hell is so horrifying that any reasonable person may be tempted to banish it from their thoughts, as well as committing oneself to avoiding hell at all costs.
We have the remnants of a Christian culture, and so you will hear people casually mention those they don’t like, or those who have made them very angry, and they will say, “I hope he rots in hell.” No, you probably don’t. But it is likely that people who say this have trivialized the concept of hell. I would like to think that as clever as so many of us are, we could find a better way to say, “I am very angry with that person, and what that person said.”
Those who have been the victims of violent crime may be more tempted to say something like this, and possibly even mean it, but with reflection, they can see that they probably wouldn’t wish hell on the worst person they have ever encountered.
I don’t even have to respect Rush Limbaugh, or his career, or his ideology, to hope that he found mercy in the time of judgment before the throne of grace. I can’t even say that I was moved to anger by anything he said in particular. I can say that I make a judgment of intellect, based on what I’ve read and seen. We need to recognize our need for mercy first and foremost, even if Mr. Butler’s take of, “all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God” is a bit inadequate for any particular situation. That is, it’s still true, even if somebody thinks that it’s lazy, in any one case.
More than this, I personally have never met anyone who was not beloved by someone, even if that person is not beloved by me. If the highest end of every human being is communion with God, then every single person you meet— to borrow St. Thomas, and CS Lewis— is infinitely more than they appear to be.
I don’t mean to preach at you, because I know I can leave that to Pastor Butler, but I think that all of us who would like to recover a workable Christian society should remember the things that Christ has in fact taught us. I have always hoped that I would not end up on the wrong end of the parable of the unmerciful servant, or the parable of the sheep and the goats, from Matthew chapter 25. And it is something of a heart-check: Would I feel happy, if I got to heaven, and I found Rush Limbaugh there? I’ll answer now: Of course I would! The alternative hurts the soul just to think about it. That’s how any Christian should react, and it has nothing to do with my opinions about him, or his life, which frankly, tend toward the negative.
If anyone despises me, I hope they find mercy to begin healing that, for their sake. Hatred is a poison that does not fade easily with time. What kind of life do I intend to lead, no matter what judgments I might make about other lives?