Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Would Hitler go to heaven if he believed in Jesus right before his death?

Sam & Socrates


Would Adolf Hitler be saved if he accepted Jesus as his Savior right before his death?

Sam: I was talking to a Christian and they said that if Adolf Hitler accepted Jesus as his Savior right before his death, then he would go to heaven.   I found that offensive and shocking.   How could they say that?

Socrates:  Well let us carefully think about what Christianity does teach and then we can apply it to this particular case.  

Do Christians believe that God will hold people responsible for their actions at their deaths and face a just judgment?

Sam:  From what I understand all that matters is if you trust Jesus as your Savior and there is nothing just about it. 

Socrates:  That may be true of some contemporary versions of Christianity.  But is that what was originally taught?

Sam:  I really don’t know.

Socrates:  Well going back to the early source materials of the first century, which represents the foundational basis of Christian thought,  we would find from the Hebrew Bible and the writings of the Apostles some thoughts on this issue. 

Let me see if I can find some examples:

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

""Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."  Daniel 12:2

""But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.""  Matthew 25:31-46

"But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of a man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God."  Romans 2:5-11

"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:27

So the basic theology of the Hebrew Bible, Messiah Jesus, and the early teachers of Christian faith seem to all be in agreement that the Creator God will judge every human being and will justly render to each person according to their deeds.   This seems to be the underlying philosophy that the people who originated Christian teaching hold to as a foundational truth upon which all their other thoughts are based. 

Sam:  So you are saying that the originators of Christianity taught that God would judge people for their moral actions when they die and every person would get a fair and just judgment according to what they did I this life.  

Socrates:  Yes, some speculate that Plato may have been influenced by Jewish thought when he also speculated on a final judgment following a death in the Republic. In the Myth of Er   [1]

The philosopher Kant also felt that the only way to maintain a system of justice and order in society that was rational was if one held to the reality of a final judgment by God.  [2]  So this idea of a final day of judgment on all human beings is one that has existed from ancient times until today. 

Historic Christian thought seems to be in agreement with these ideas.

Sam:  If that is the case then why isn’t what we hear?  Clearly from this point of view then Hitler could not be saved but would face just punishment for all the evil he did.  Justice would be fulfilled in this final judgment.

Socrates: I think that is a correct conclusion based on this foundational truth.  Christian philosophy said that there would be degrees of reward in heaven and degrees of suffering in hell.  No one would suffer more than would be just for him or her to suffer. 

The main point is that God will ultimately be fair with every human being. 

Sam:  So then original Christian sources teach that good people will be rewarded and go to heaven and bad people will be punished and go to hell. 

Socrates:  Yes and no.

Sam:  What do you mean by that?

Socrates:  While in theory all good people will be rewarded, there is extreme pessimism by the early Christians thinkers that people actually successfully achieve living righteous lives.  From the originators of Christian thought, the idea is that none of us would do well at judgment day based only on our own efforts.  Let me see if I can find that quote from on of the early Christian scholars.  Yes, here it is.

"What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." "THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; "WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS"; "THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN." "THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES." Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin."  Romans 3:9-20

So while good people will be rewarded, the viewpoint of the founders of Christian faith is that “none are good.”  So based on a totally fair judgment of moral performance, all have fallen short and need underserved forgiveness for their moral failures in order to not come under a just and fair condemnation of our moral performance in this life.

Sam: Then this would mean that  all of us  would face just and fair judgment for our moral failures at death?

Socrates:  From the Christian world-view this would be the truth.

Sam: Then how do Christians feel we can gain forgiveness?

Socrates:  This is where they expand upon the sacrificial system of Israel and connect it to the vision of a suffering Messiah who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the moral failures of God’s people as spoken about by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53).

"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way, But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him."  Isaiah 53:4-6

The converted Jewish theologian Saul reflects on this idea when he writes.

"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus the Messiah for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Messiah Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law."  Romans 3:21-31

Now the faith that is spoken about by Saul is a morally transforming conviction that has deep regret over past wrongs, desire to make restitution for past moral failures, and a hunger to now live a right life.  This is no mere intellectual thought about Jesus but a deep and life-changing encounter with the Messiah Jesus.

Sam:  So forgiveness is gained because the Messiah Jesus has suffered the penalty in the place of those who seek God’s mercy on the judgment day and trust in the Messiah to be the mediator between them and God.   So God is just in forgiving moral failures because the Messiah suffered in their place. 

Socrates:  I think that is a fair summary of Christian thought. 

Sam:  So does that mean that Adolf Hitler would be saved if he accepted Jesus as his Savior before he died?

Socrates:  The problem here is that Adolf Hitler had committed his life to destroying historic Christian faith and recreating the Messiah Jesus into the picture of a Nazi who was not Jewish.   He actively attempted to destroy not only the Jews but also every person who opposed him due to their commitment to the historic Christian faith.   

Hitler’s worldview was largely secular and materialistic.   It would have been impossible for him to have a true conversion without a complete change of mind about every aspect of his worldview.  Christian conversion to be genuine must include a radical change of mind and philosophy in which Hitler would have renounced his Anti-Semitism and taken full moral responsibility and guilt for the torture and murder of millions.   It is hard to conceive how such a total and radical transformation could take place just before death. 

Sam:  So the reality is that Adolf Hitler faced the just judgment of God for committing himself to an unloving and anti-Christian worldview, which led to the deaths of tens of millions of people. 

Socrates:  That would seem to be the case. 

Now if we totally fantasize another history, if Hitler had really repented and been transformed he would not have killed himself but would have ended the conflict, freed the prisoners in the concentration camps, and plead guilty before a world court to face human justice. 

He would have attempted to use all the resources at his command to make restitution to the victims of he Holocaust. 

In theory then the mercy and grace of God could have been applied to Hitler due to the sacrifice of the Messiah.    It would mean that Hitler would have to accept a Jewish Messiah as his Savior and accept the Hebrew Bible as God’s Word.   These ideas are against the core of Hitler’s convictions about life.

So while we can speculate about forgiveness in extreme cases we must understand that historic Christian faith does not endorse “cheap grace.” In which such great destructive immoral actions are not serious and cry out for justice.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor martyred for his efforts to have Jews escape Germany and for his attempt to support the assignation of Hitler stated the important of making clear that historic Christian faith does not hold to “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.

Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or
fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins….

In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace, therefore, amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye, which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel, which must be sought again and again, and again, the gift, which must be asked for, the door at which, a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is, therefore, the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[3]

Sam:  So Hitler could not be saved by “cheap grace”?

Socrates:  No one is saved by “cheap grace” according to historic Christian teaching but only by the real costly grace experienced in the real way with the real Messiah Jesus.  So the reality is that after Hitler’s suicide he confronted with all of his evil deeds and faced divine condemnation and just punishment for them. 

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