January 11, 2014

Heaven, Hell and In-Between? (On purgatory)

Yesterday, I was talking to two colleagues about sin and faith. We're all scientists and teachers (!) so we just delve right into theology, history, and philosophy with mouths that move almost as fast as our brains. (Wow I'm so humble. :p )

What we're learning from each other is great enough. But even better is that there's an atmosphere of mutual respect and just an eagerness to understand God better to live more fully for Him. :)  Awesome. And there is an appreciation for how this same God moves in different groups and cultures to draw all people to Himself. Indeed He is real and He is simply the Greatest. ♥

So this morning the discussion continued via email, focusing on purgatory. I'm reposting my reply below because I hope it will help shed some light on what Jesus' life, death and resurrection means for us today, especially in our (Philippine) culture. 


Hi bros!

Yes ---, it's refreshing to talk to you and --- yesterday. One God and One Spirit indeed. After our talk I was inspired to tweet and post this :)

All human institutions are prone to error. But nothing is beyond God's saving, redeeming Power, Truth and Love. #OneGod

Before anything else, I'll just take back what I said yesterday, careless words ---  about venial vs. mortal sins as determination whether one lands in purgatory or hell. I don't believe in purgatory so I just carelessly said that. Sorry, my mistake.

Starting question / Food for thought: The concept of purgatory --- when did it start being taught?


I'll comment on this point:  
"Some Fundamentalists also charge, as though it actually proved something, "The word purgatory is nowhere found in Scripture." This is true, and yet it does not disprove the existence of purgatory or the fact that belief in it has always been part of Church teaching. The words Trinity and Incarnation aren’t in Scripture either, yet those doctrines are clearly taught in it."

The concept of purgatory is not only unmentioned in the Bible, it is in conflict with what the Bible explicitly teaches. Christ says that on Judgment Day, he will separate the sheep and the goats (either you're in or you're out) (Matthew 25:31-46). He also gave the parable of a poor man named Lazarus who died and went to heaven, while a rich man died and was sent to hell. The rich man requested Abraham for some water, and Abraham said "...between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." (Luke 16:26).

Jesus is the only one who can and already saved us from hell. Upon being saved, indeed we are now being sanctified and are growing in Christlikeness. Indeed, no follower of Christ suddenly becomes perfect like God, but isn't it great that we are improving, becoming more like Him, even in this life, before we die?

Questions: Is perfection a requirement to eternal life? How do we attain this perfection? Wouldn't this just point us back to Christ and the cross? Nobody is perfect, everybody is sinful, we all need a Savior. Even when we follow Christ we are still imperfect sinners, but what can purgatory do that Jesus has not already done? (Why not just go back and claim Jesus' forgiveness for all the sins I have done today?)


I'll also comment on this point:
"After all, if a guilty soul is merely "covered," if its sinful state still exists but is officially ignored, then it is still a guilty soul. It is still unclean."

Is this implying that Jesus' death and resurrection are not enough? Let's be careful now! 

"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" --- John the Baptist (John 1:29,36), also according to Old Testament prophecies

Yesterday we were talking about consistency which points to authenticity. I respect the authority of the Catholic Church (!) but again, let us look into the consistency of this teaching. When I trusted Jesus as my Savior, I let Him save me by His taking the punishment for my sins. That means I am saved, covered, and yes, clean. That's my belief, based on my understanding of the Bible. I'll explain below. If there is disagreement, let's talk about it (find time! :) ).

Many times Jesus told people, "Your sins are forgiven... You are healed... Today you will be with me in paradise." Period. Jesus never said, "You need a period of purging first." It's just yes or no. Even when He charged Peter and the apostles (which I know Catholics love to quote!) --> "Everything you bind on earth will be bound in heaven... Everything you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18) It's yes or no. In or out. He never said maybe, and He never taught it.

It's true that Jesus sometimes told people to do something (ex: go wash in the pool, or show themselves to the priests), and we can argue that their healing and/or salvation is conditional. (That might be a longer discussion for another time.) But my point here is, there's no maybe. Either they were healed or not. Either Jesus assured them of heaven (like the thief beside Him on the cross), or not. Yes or no.


So, can we just view this present life as purgatory?

Indeed, nobody attains perfection when they get baptized, pray a particular prayer, do this or that. Nobody becomes a Christian and suddenly achieves perfection. Essentially, every moment we are being called to be more Christlike --- so I think non-Catholic Christians just (implicitly) see this present life as purgatory... only in the sense that one is walking with Christ and becoming "more" like Christ (thereby being "better and implicitly "more" perfect...?)

But non-Catholic Christians (I'll call NCC?) don't really perceive perfection as a goal, because it implies "I want to be like God" which is both impossible and dangerously idolatrous (like Satan tempting Eve). And NCC don't view death as the moment when you achieved perfection such that you may already "graduate". So that's where the analogy of this life and purgatory ends. (Well, it's not really an issue for NCC, but I'm just trying to apply the concept of sanctification here...)


To summarize: Humans are imperfect and sinful and all deserve eternal punishment for our sins, which means hell. We cannot save ourselves because no one (human) is good enough. Only Jesus, fully God and fully man, can take our place and receive our punishment such that we can also receive His righteousness. For all my sins (past present and future), I can receive my just punishment (hell or eternal existence away from God), or I can let God save me (receive Jesus as my Savior, that He died in my place so I can receive His righteousness). 
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:23-26)

As you quoted "nothing unclean shall enter heaven", in the same way that "no one can see God's face and live " (Exodus 33:20). And people who become Christian are still imperfect and prone to sin. But these all just point back to Christ as the solution: not just for our salvation but also for our redemption and sanctification: 
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he'd made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

So Christians are not perfect, only cleansed, forgiven, and *continuously* being sanctified to be more like Christ. We can call this sanctification a "purging", but the formal Catholic definition of purgatory (a state of purification before entering Heaven) is not what the Bible teaches (each person has an eternal destiny, either with God in Heaven or away from God in Hell; with no middle way or in-between state).


Thank you guys for hearing me out! :) Thank God I was able to read this message (--- sends a lot, I just couldn't get to read them!). And thank you for listening.

God bless, and see you next week ^_^

Your sis in Christ,

Teci :)