I lost a friend that I’ve known for close to 20 years today, or at least I got defriended by her on Facebook. She did not let me know that I was defriended; however, she did private message me to send me an article entitled “Robin Williams and the Christian Response” by former Cedarville University President Bill Brown, who chastises Christians for using the tragic death of the late actor/comedian as a “preaching moment.” and lumps Christians who would speak in anything other than glowing terms about the man and his life with those who apparently bullied Baptist minister Ergun Caner’s young son Braxton so badly that last week the teenager, like Williams, tragically took his own life.
My friend did not leave words aside from the article but given the content of the article and the defriending, I can only suppose I was being scolded. However, I would submit that she has it, and Brown has it, completely wrong.
Robin Williams was by all accounts a comic genius. His quick whit and lighting fast improvisation skills would often leave his audiences with aching sides and tear stained faces from laughing so hard. Listening to him, one was immediately struck by his sheer energy; and yet, there was a very serious side to him as well – a side that we saw glimpses of on the screen, but which mostly remained hidden from his public who are remembering him with a fondness and adoration this week rarely seen.
For 37 years, Williams was been a fixture on the American stage showcasing a talent that labeled him as one of the greats, and deservedly so. When he died on August 11th, it was as if Don McLean’s iconic song American Pie got a new verse – the day the laughter died. It was tragic. It was heartbreaking. And, it was final.
When I heard that Robin Williams had passed away, I was on my computer talking to a friend and my very first thoughts were not to hurl insults towards Williams. Rather, my first thoughts were towards His soul. I wondered if there was any evidence anywhere that he knew my Savior. I hoped somewhere to find evidence that he could have gone to heaven. So, I got on that repository of information, Google, looking for comments he may have made about his religious beliefs. There were very few. However, there were segments of his comedy routine in which he made a joke of Jesus, His betrayal, His virgin birth, His death, His burial and His resurrection. The routine was blasphemous, though not out of the ordinary for modern stand up; and, it told me pretty much all I needed to know. Williams was loveable, funny, highly applauded, successful, wealthy, had a great family and a great career – and, by all appearances, he died lost.
Meanwhile, Facebook and the news stations were all ablaze about the shocking cover story and I watched people, Christian and non-Christian, talk about his impact and the great loss they were feeling. A part of Americana was gone. This was a time of mourning.
So, I guess that is the point in which I stepped in it with my friend. I was not ugly about it, but I was not covert either. I simply stated that here was a man who had everything that this world craves, and in one moment, he’s in eternity and all of it is gone. In 20 years, they will remember him as a funny guy in old movies who killed himself. I was not judging him or his depression or his suicide in any way. My only brother committed suicide when I was a teenager and I am acutely aware of the high price and devastating affects of depression in a person’s life. So I am not like some ignorant people who would condemn him because he decided to put an end to his life. Rather, I felt compelled to speak up because I live in a world in which billions of people believe if you are good enough, if you are generous enough, if you are kind enough, you will be able to work your way to Heaven – and here I was witnessing many people, including Christians, proclaiming that this is where Williams went. Why? Because he was devoutly religious? No. Some have said he may even have been an atheist, though listening to him, it sounds like he leaned more towards agnosticism. No, it was because they liked him. In fact, given the intensity of the outpouring, many idolized him. They identified with him through films, even though they didn’t know him at all. And, the thought of him dying and spending eternity in Hell was more than they could stomach – so, they skipped the cross, the skipped his sin, they skipped all of that and immediately put him at St. Peter’s gates or as the Laugh Factories marquee stated “Robin Williams Rest in Peace Make God Laugh.”
But you can’t skip the cross. You can’t skip your sin. You have to face up to it – as painful as that is for many to come to grips with. There are no shortcuts due to good works or personal popularity or gregariousness. None of us has even a thimble’s full of goodness that could stand up under the light of the glory and holiness of God. None of us is worthy of Heaven, though we would like to make it so. Williams himself couldn’t conceive of anything different. If there was a heaven, he believed he would be there and imagined what it could be like. He was not unlike a figure in biblical history whom Jesus simply referred to as “the rich man.”
Luke 16 says
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
It has been noted that this story does not fit the pattern of a parable since Lazarus is called out by name. So, in all likelihood the rich man in the story is someone that lived and may have even been someone some of Jesus’s listeners was familiar with and maybe even admired.
In verse 19, it speaks of this man’s lifestyle and speaks of how he fared sumptuously. In Greek, the words mentioned essentially speak of the joy and gusto with which this man lived his life. He truly had it all, and then in a flash it was all gone. He had gained the whole world – but he had lost his soul. Now, he was in Hell. And, he who had lived so lavishly was now the beggar – only there was no relief for his pain. There was no turning back. The realization that this was now his fate for all eternity became starkly clear; and the horrors of hell drove him to desperation.
Notice, the rich man was not necessarily an evil man by worldly standards. It has been said that the kind of sinner you were here is the kind of sinner you will be in Hell if that is your destination. After his immediately bodily needs were not met, his first thought was towards his brothers. Tell them about this place. Please. Keep them out of here. Go tell them that they may repent and live! In addition to his wealth and joyous living, this rich man had a heart; and yet, here in eternity, it merited him nothing. It was too late. Just as he never turned to God to live, Abraham solemnly declared “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
And Lazarus, the rejected one, well he truly was no longer in pain and no longer felt the scourge of a sin-scarred world upon his body. He was free. And he had joy beyond what we can comprehend today. He who had nothing was now clothed in princely garments. He who was alone in this world felt the permeating warmth of the love of God through his every pore. And, he who was possibly homeless was now home for eternity and was ever blessed.
I do not know what the final state of Robin Williams’ soul was. Perhaps he remembered some of what God’s Word said through his Episcopalian upbringing and maybe in the end, in the closing moments of his life, he made peace with Christ. I truly hope that he did, for I would not wish Hell upon anyone, and certainly would not wish it on this man who seems to have been a genuinely kind and gentle soul.
Still, regardless where Robin Williams is tonight, I know one thing for certain. If you were to ask him what message he would like to get to his adoring fans and the world during this moment of mourning, he would say this – TELL THEM. TELL THEM. DON’T LET THEM DIE LOST WITHOUT KNOWING ABOUT CHRIST. TELL THEM ABOUT THE SAVIOR.