Hello! Today I want to address another frequently asked question related to ultimate redemption.
Let me say first, though, that I know I’m jumping around a bit here. In a perfect world each blog-post would link in some way to the previous one, but such consistency just doesn’t always happen. I guess that’s okay, though. I supposed you don’t read it consistently either, and that makes me feel better.
So, here’s the FAQ for today:
What about Hitler?
Usually this question is not posed so politely . . . but it’s always Hitler. Of course it’s not without good reason he is the poster child for evil in the 20th century and I am in whole-hearted agreement that “evil” is the appropriate word for him, it being under-descriptive if anything. In no way do I want to minimize the deplorability of Hitler’s actions, and I realize I am in no position to say anything to those who were directly or indirectly affected by the results of those actions. However, since, by definition, ultimate redemption means even he will be saved, it’s important we discuss him.
However, first we need to consider our motivation for asking the question. What are we really saying, and what way of thinking lies behind our question? Why does it seem so hard for us to believe that God will ultimately save Hitler and those like him?
To think about those things, maybe it would be helpful to turn our question about Hitler into a statement. It seems to me what our question is really saying is this: If anyone is going to burn in hell for all eternity, surely it would be Hitler. Surely it would be the worst human-being we can think of, and Hitler comes to mind first. Underlying that thought, however, seems to be a belief that we deserve to be saved in a way that Hitler doesn’t. Somehow we think Hitler deserves hell because he is so much worse than we are, as though Hitler is evil but we are not. He deserves hell but we don’t. He has sinned greatly, and in comparison, we are good people. Hell is for evil people and we don’t think we’re among them. We have made salvation a works-based system.
Yet, in another context or conversation, we would be quick to agree that the Christian message says all of us are sinners. We are all sinners, we all deserve judgment and yet God has been gracious to us in Christ. You and I don’t deserve to be saved any more than Hitler does. Hitler is no less eligible for the grace of God than are we. We’re all in the same boat.
(In that regard, however, it seems we should be saying: if anyone is going to burn in hell for all eternity, surely it would be . . . me.)
Even from a traditional evangelical perspective we would have to agree there is hope for Hitler. Neither you nor I knew him or were there when he died, so we don’t know if in his last moments he repented of his sin and turned to Christ for salvation. While we may not consider it likely in Hitler’s case, we certainly hold up death-bed conversions as valid and find hope for people because of them. So, since a traditional perspective makes us unable to blindly consign Hitler to hell, it doesn’t follow that we should hold to a traditional understanding of hell just so there’s a place for Hitler to go.
Furthermore, while we quickly want to assign Hitler to hell, we are less willing to consider what our traditional perspective on hell means for Hitler’s victims. It’s not unreasonable to assume that most of the Jewish people tortured and killed under the Nazi’s had not responded in faith to Jesus, certainly not in a way our traditional evangelical perspective would consider sufficient for salvation. We have to admit our perspective would tell us that most of Hitler’s victims are suffering in hell along with him. They went right from Hitler’s fires into the eternal fire of hell. (It sounds ridiculous, but this is what we believe, is it not?)
It seems to me that doing away with hell as eternal conscious torment allows for the best possible outcome for Hitler and his victims. What would be best would be for Hitler to come to a point of genuine repentance and for his victims to come to a point of genuine forgiveness. This is redemption. This is the message of the gospel. This is what Jesus came to bring and I choose to believe this is what He will ultimately bring about.
Does Hitler deserve death? Yes. Does Hitler need to acknowledge and grieve over his sin? Yes. Does he need to seek forgiveness, make restitution and amends? Yes. Do his victims need to offer forgiveness, let go of bitterness and hurt? Yes.
Hitler doesn’t need to burn in hell for all eternity; he needs to repent. His victims don’t need to rejoice in his eternal damnation; they need to move toward forgiveness and find healing through Christ from the hurt.
I think God wants it to happen, is able to make it happen, and so I believe it will happen.
After all, He is going to wipe every tear from our eyes.
And that is really good news, really.