Adolf leaned back against a large rock and surveyed his surroundings, relieved to have a momentary respite from the horrors he had been experiencing. He had no sense of time, but since finding himself alive in contradiction to the atheism of his whole earthly life, a constant stream of people had appeared before him, almost from the instant that he had landed in this place. He was still wrestling with this new existence, having a hard time believing it, yet now fully aware of the truth of the faith he had despised in his life as a fairy tale believed by the mentally feeble. The last earthly thing he remembered was the sound of the gunshot and the feeling of the bullet tearing through his skull. He would not give the advancing Russian and American armies the pleasure of taking him alive. So he placed the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger . . .
and then there was the Light. Not the darkness nor the end of all conscious awareness, but instead a blinding, painful, brilliant Light, surpassing the most brilliant sunlight in the mountains of Germany. Instantly he understood from the depth of his being that the Light was the One who had called all things into being from the beginning. The Light bore in on him, tore into his consciousness, tormenting him with horrifying clarity – that he, Adolf Hitler was no great hero of the Germany people, but a miserable little speck of being in a universe beyond his understanding. He tried to push himself away from the Light and found that by simple thought of movement, he could transverse across the universe as fast as thought itself. But as fast as he moved from the Light, trying to escape the terrible reality it brought with it, he could not escape. The whole universe was filled with the Light. There was nothing but Him and nowhere to hide.
How far did he go, trying to escape the unwanted Being, before he realized the futility of the effort and ceased to move? It felt like he sped across a million galaxies wider than he could imagine, and yet it seemed to him that he hadn’t moved at all because the Light was still there, powerful, painful, unwanted.
“What do you want?” he screamed. “Leave me alone. Go away! I do not want you. I didn’t want you in life and I don’t want you now.” With all his being he directed his sheer hatred toward the light which would not go away.
There was no response, only the sense of an immense love encircling him, tormenting his entire being, calling him to surrender to it, to confess all that he had done in his life that was evil. The love that surrounded him felt like fire, burning the truth into the deepest part of his being – he was a murderer, a fornicator, a blasphemer and rebel against the truth of God which so many had tried to call him to. The more he resisted the Light, the more pain he felt.
He realized that a small girl, dressed in plain, grey clothing, was standing in front of him. Her blouse was embroidered with a familiar symbol – a bright yellow star. Her face was radiant with the Light. Without words he knew exactly who she was and was struck with the profound horror of he had done to her. The agony of this knowledge, of how his own insanity had starved her to death in Auschwitz, intensified his pain. His very being was consumed with the pangs of hunger she felt as she lay dying, covered in lice and sores. The truth bore in on him, the pain of it burning as if he had been thrown into a fire of a thousand degrees. Then he heard her voice:
“I forgive you. You did not know what you were doing.”
Those simple words caused in him a new pain, a pain which is beyond description. It is the purgative pain that every soul will suffer as it faces the evil it has done, and to each soul, that pain is specific and unexplainable. Other people began to come, one after another quickly appeared before him to let him experience fully what his wickedness had done to them on earth. It seemed as if no time had gone by at all, yet in an instant, he experienced the pains, tortures, and deaths of untold millions of people for which he was responsible. Each one saying the same thing to him before disappearing from his consciousness:
“I forgive you.”
The sheer pain of this was an unbearable torment. No words are sufficient to describe this pain. He cried out for it to stop, but people kept on coming, one after another. The whole of what he had done, the millions of deaths he caused, flashed in his being as if on a giant panorama. At first he fought against the knowledge, insisting that what he had done was right, but the truth would not allow this lie to stand. When did he surrender to the reality of it? Was it after a million people had appeared to him?
And suddenly, it was over and he found himself seated on a large rock, weeping copious tears and only able to mumble in exhaustion, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. ” over and over and over. Staring out at a familiar landscape which looked like earth, he felt a strange peace take the place of his torment. The Light which had so burned him now beckoned him. Bowing his head and closing his eyes, he turned within and responded, understanding what was wanted, hoping against hope that this prayer would be answered. With his whole being he responded with the deepest prayer he had ever said:
“Forgive me, Lord.”
When he looked up, he saw one more figure, walking towards him across a field of flowers.
“Hello, Adolf. Welcome home.”
“Have you come to torment me also?”
“No, I do not torment you. It is the knowledge of the truth that torments you. I have come to forgive you . . . and to take you home.”
“Home? My home should be in hell – forever.”
“You have been through hell. Do you not realize that hell was what you have just gone through? The pain and suffering of truly knowing what you did.” Bonhoeffer stopped in front of Hitler and reached out his hand. “I also forgive you. You were blind, just like the Jews and Romans who crucified our Lord.”
At the word “forgive,” a last surge of painful sorrow ran through Hitler’s being. “Forgive me, Bonhoeffer.” Then louder, Hitler cried out to the universe, “Forgive me, all of you. All of you I murdered. All of you I tortured. Forgive me, God, for the evil I did. Please, forgive me!”
“A lovely repentance, Bruder Adolf. You are forgiven.” Bonhoeffer’s whole being appeared to be Light. He took Hitler by the hand and pulled him to his feet. “Come, my brother, it is time for you to begin the eternal and never-ending journey into love.” The Light reached out to Hitler, encircled him, filled him, brought him a peace and joy he had never known. He opened up his heart to it, surrendering to whatever it wanted and wherever it would take him.
In the distance, angels sung the Song of Rejoicing.
At the suggestion of my spiritual father, I am reading a new book, GRATITUDE IN LIFE’S TRENCHES, still trying to get a handle on the anger that so easily causes me to sin. The idea for this little vignette came to me when I read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his peaceful acceptance of all that came to pass in his life. The author sets out Bonhoeffer and others as a model of acceptance of God’s will and complete trust that all that He allows to happen is ultimately for our good.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ sets forth the challenge for us to become like God. He tells us that to be so, we must not only forgive our enemies, but do good to them. Then, on the Cross, God Himself shows us the full reality of this when He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We were created to become gods, to act like our heavenly Father, to have that very forgiving love a part of our being forever. Who is to say then that we will not have the chance to meet in person the very people who deeply hurt us here on earth – some quite willingly and with deliberate malice – in order that we might have the opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness by forgiving them their evil? Just as Christ forgave those who brutally killed Him.
It’s interesting to see how many people bring up Adolf Hitler as the ultimate reason there must be an eternal hell of fire and torment. Somehow, they appear to have forgotten that we are to forgive those who do evil to us. Yet our Lord’s words are clear – Hitler was forgiven at the Cross when Christ uttered His plea for the Father’s forgiveness of all who participated in His death – which was every person in the human race. If God forgave all of us God-killers who mercilessly tortured Him, will He do any less for Hitler?
The deeply religious, the hell-lovers, the devout who at all costs want revenge, will no doubt sniff and spit at what I have written. David Bentley Hart writes of them as “belonging to an exclusive club,” which is to say that they are the special ones who are forgiven. The rest of us scruffy sinners deeply deserve an eternity of fire.
They do not realize that they were there at the Cross themselves, cursing Christ and wanting just one chance to drive the spikes into his hands. I was there. I was there when I spent four years pursuing every hedonistic pleasure I could find and jeering at the Christians who tried to convert me. It is something of a curse to be raised in a deeply devout household, for having never drunk deeply of the pleasures of sin, one you fail to realize just how easily you could have been like Adolf, given the right circumstances and opportunities.
It makes you forget that in the love of God, even Hitler has been forgiven.