Are you saying that Christ’s work on the Cross extends forgiveness to all people, then even Hitler will be in heaven?
Thank you for such a straightforward and penetrating question! It actually comes up regularly. Few questions are further above my pay grade than that! Even so, I’ll do my best to imagine a response.
First, I especially love how you began the question. You started with Jesus and his work on the Cross. I want to start there with some core convictions. I believe that the Cross is a demonstration that God’s love is infinite and all-powerful… wider, higher, deeper, and longer than we can conceive, glimpse, ask, or imagine. I believe that the blood of Christ (meaning his self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love) is immeasurably effective in cleansing every sin-stain imaginable. There is literally nothing in heaven, on earth, or under the earth that he cannot wash. Amen.
Now we come to Adolph Hitler, one of history’s most malevolent creatures. His war crimes should never be forgotten by those who, in this world, would hope to prevent them from recurring. Sadly, they have. And probably will. The level of wickedness, malice and violence is nearly unfathomable. By contrast, the sacrifice of Christ is infinitely unfathomable. The difference is all-important. I cannot imagine Hitler’s hatred and evil trumping Christ’s immeasurable love. The beauty and power of the Cross forever exceeds and even swallows up the grotesque brutality of the swastika. And it’s not just that divine power is greater than Nazi power. Jesus shows us that perfect Love is more powerful than hate and his Life more enduring than death so that the true Light overcomes every darkness.
Hitler in Heaven?
That doesn’t quite answer your question, though. We know that Christ defeated satan, sin, and death at the Cross. But does that victory extend to unrepentant madmen whose track record of extreme violence culminated in his own suicide? See above regarding the severe limitations of my pay grade. I’m not qualified to render such a judgment.
However, if you were to ask me to imagine Hitler in heaven, I would have to ask how he got there. And in my imagination, here is what it would take…
- I imagine Hitler would need to appear before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, the Jew who was slowly tortured to death by soldiers bearing the same eagle standard that Naziism would adopt. On that “great and terrible day,” Hitler would have to face the meaning of his life and the harm he had done without denial or justification. He would be unable to run and hide, to numb out or disassociate. The horror of every death he caused, every family he destroyed, every sin for which he was responsible would be laid bare before his eyes. He would experience the full weight of the hell he ignited and the oceans of blood on his hands (including the inspiration he continues to feed to this day).
- I imagine Hitler would need to appear before that throne in the presence of those he had harmed. I imagine he would have to look into the eyes of every Jew, every Romani, every disabled person, every gay person, every soldier, every widow, every orphan… every last person he sent to the gas chambers, death camps, gallows, firing squad, and front lines, and all their devastated survivors. I imagine him having to face each one, listen to their story, absorb their victim impact statements, and grieve their losses as deeply as they had. I imagine that over ages of ages, his conscience would awaken (to his great horror) and his capacity for empathy restored.
- I imagine Hitler would need to repent without excuses, without manipulation, without “white tears,” and without hope of extracting anything further from God or from his victims. His sorry would have to be entirely authentic and without any agenda of reciprocation. A miracle would be required that his remorse be entirely not self-centered and that his unilateral apology would come without a single hook.
- I imagine that Hitler’s victims would need to be so healed, so redeemed, so restored that their scars would shine like gold and their faces like the sun. And only in that condition, where they need nothing from him because what they receive from Christ far surpasses what he stole from them, I imagine they would need to unanimously volunteer to serve as Jesus Christ’s agents of reconciliation, willingly pleading for him, praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on him. Show Adolph the same superabundant mercy you offered Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, Longinus, Saul of Tarsus, and every one of us. Father, forgiven him, even when he knew exactly what he was doing.”
- I imagine that Hitler would pass through the scorching fire of such grace that everything in him that is not of love’s kind would melt like wax. I imagine his “undragoning,” like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I imagine him being stripped of his Nazi uniform, his swastika armband, and his trademark mustache. I imagine him being reduced to the boy whose father broke his arms in spite and whose heart was hardened and deceived by resentment. I imagine him regressing to the child who once knew dreams and hoped to belong somewhere… to the one whose craving to be loved is satisfied in Christ alone.
- I imagine that Hitler would need to experience the magnitude of these grace gifts fully and receive them completely, though it might seem to take “forever” and would surely feel like burning coals heaped on his head (Proverbs 25:22). I can imagine receiving grace would be the hardest thing he’s ever had to face and would resist it to the bitter end… but the fire of divine love consumes every resistance to love and heals the most damaged wills and restores the faintest desire for the good.
- I imagine that having passed through this process, in the end, Hitler would behold the face of the One who “every eye shall see” and fall to his knees in humility, vanquished by love, cleansed by mercy, and surrender to his verdict. And what comes from Christ’s mouth and is echoed by every witness may shock you. “Salvation!” which in German is rendered “Heil!”
This is what I imagine. But that is not the punchline.
The takeaway is that I imagine I, too, must pass through the very same pattern of restorative judgment. A great and terrible day or age or ages of ages, where I, too, am cleansed by Love and discover, with both Hitler and Anne Frank, that mercy triumphs over judgment. Or so I imagine.