This week we have been teaching our Life After Death lesson in Sandringham and Townsend. The students have had the chance to debate what the purpose of life is, whether they would want to live forever and what they think happens after we die. Needless to say, there is a plethora of opinions in a room of 30 young people including ghosts, nothing, reincarnation and Heaven & Hell.
The schools invite us in to explore Christian views about the afterlife so after researching what the Bible says Heaven and Hell are like, we put the power in the students’ hands to decide who they think should go to Heaven and who should go to Hell. Many are adamant that the murderer, the liar, the drug dealer, the thief and the racist should be in Hell and the charity worker and doctor should be in Heaven but the most common response, more often than not, is that ‘it depends’. The young people consider the severity and motives behind the characters’ offence. They also recognise that the characters have a secret life that we don’t know about and that the complexity of the task when the doctor may also be a murderer makes this decision virtually impossible.
Even if we could have a sophisticated point-scoring system and line people up from the very best person (Mother Theresa or our very own Reverend Graham Clarke) to the very worst (Hitler perhaps?), where we draw the line becomes another discussion point. It’s easy to compare the best and worst but what about those who are either side of the line? What would the difference between their lives be that warranted such vastly different eternal destinies? Surely, even for an omnipotent God, this becomes impossible and frightfully unfair.
This activity always brings plenty of animation and curiosity, especially when we reveal that the Bible says no-one deserves to go to Heaven and we are all behind God’s metaphorical line, whether we are Mother Theresa, Graham Clarke or Hitler. We’re all in the same boat, in need of a saviour and in need of the gift of eternal life, which Christians believe is given to us through Jesus’ death on the cross - our sin (however bad) is exchanged with his righteousness. This gift just needs to be accepted.
The title of this article – ‘Could Hitler be in Heaven?’ – is a question I have been asked by students many times at the end of the lesson. The answer I give is ‘Yes’. He might not be, but he could be. This may sound completely unpalatable, and I believe this reaction to the idea reflects our God-given desire for justice. But if the message of God’s forgiveness is for everyone, then that even includes Hitler. Simply by asking this question, the students demonstrate that they have grasped the audacity of the grace and forgiveness God shows, even to the worst of sinners.
The lesson ends by revisiting C. S. Lewis’ views that those who miss out on eternity with God are ‘successful rebels to the end’ and that the ‘gates of Hell are locked on the inside’. God doesn’t shut anyone out of Heaven. It’s a free gift, open to all. What an amazing message we have to share with the next generation!