This is a question someone had recently shared on Reddit. The answer is a lot more complicated than a simple “yes or no.” Let’s begin.
Would God have forgiven Hitler?
You have to understand the terms of God’s forgiveness. For a person to be saved they must turn from their evil ways—repent. Repentance, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, means:
a change of mind: as it appears in one who repents of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done…especially the change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life, so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment, the tokens and effects of which are good deedsv
“Seeking forgiveness” in a Biblical sense is not to just go “Hey man, I’m sorry.” It requires a wholehearted effort that bores down to the very marrow of ones soul. It requires a total and complete conversion of ones heart and mind that is only possible through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
God knows the heart of man
Read the story about John Newton and Amazing Grace. It’s a good example of a man who did very evil and terrible things (captain of a slave ship) and later was consumed with the guilt and shame. He humbled himself before God and repented of his sins. God later used John Newton to influence and guide William Wilberforce in abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire.
God knows the heart and intentions of man. He knows when someone is just trying to get out of trouble and when a person is genuinely repentant.
We are all guilty
The fact is we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfection. All sin, whether it’s a lie or murder, is punishable by death. Jesus Christ took our punishment because of his unmerited favor towards us. Christians aren’t saved because they are more religious or more righteous, but because they’ve humbled themselves before God and repented. A process that requires a heartfelt realization and admittance of our sinful state and the acceptance of a life committed to and in service of Christ.
The New Covenant with mankind that was established by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross is one of redemption, atonement, forgiveness, and repentance. But it comes at a cost. It’s not something that one can click a box and suddenly be opted into “just because.” God expects you to submit and dedicate your life to Him.
So, yes, if Hitler had come to God in abhorrence of his sins and turned completely away from them and submitted Himself fully to God—then yes. Hitler would have been saved because God is faithful and just.
Unfortunately for Hitler, we have no evidence to indicate he ever did.
There is a lot of meaning in the Bible that is lost in a word for word translation to English (this can easily happen with any translation effort.)
For example, most translations would translate John 3:16 to:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
However, the original Greek had words that carried far deeper meaning. The Amplified Bible (another translation) attempts to convey the full weight and heart of the original text that gets lost in other translations.
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.
When the Bible tells us to “believe in God” it doesn’t mean to just believe He exists. The Greek word is “???????” (transliterated: pisteu?) and means in this context:
used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul
Or as the Amplified translates it:
trusts in, clings to, relies on
The concept of “clinging to God” is a lot different than what people assume of simply “believing He exists.” Believing in His existence isn’t what leads to salvation, but clinging to, relying on, trusting, and submitting to with the very inner essence of your being is.
When you invest your entire being into being like Jesus Christ, it is more than a mere conversation. It is a soul consuming, heart rending, mind changing, life altering decision. One that far too many people who profess to be Christians lack, and really are, nothing more than religious drones worshiping religion and not the God behind it.
Auschwitz by sixtwelve on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)