The Problem With Purgatory

 

The problem with purgatory

 

Is the lie that somebody else

 

Set the exchange rate

 

Between sin and suffering.

 

 

 

Those who do not understand what they have done.

 

They will walk away only thinking it ever began at all.

 

They will still carry it on their shoulders.

 

The debt apparently paid, the account is cleared to rack up more debt.

 

 

 

And those who are beginning to understand.

 

They will never walk out of the place at all.

 

They wil withstand the sufferings forever.

 

Waiting for their account to flow into black.

 

 

 

The problem with purgatory is that it’s not the suffering that’s redemptive.

 

Its what we do in the quiet aftermath.

 

It’s how we move foreward that matters.

 

And purgatory offers us this lovely chance to wait there forever.

 

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None of Our Business

Fallen angels in Hell
Image via Wikipedia

What if it turned out that the final destination of other people is none of our business?

If that turned out to be a correct, it would not necessarily imply that we’re not meant to work at spreading the truth.  It seems to me that if we take Jesus seriously, we are meant to talk about him.  But having this responsibility doesn’t imply that we are part of the decision-making process.

In fact, this whole thing is actually analogous to behavior we expect all the time.  We might want our sons and daughters, or students, or whatever to encourage each other, to teach each other etc.  But even if we did, hopefully we wouldn’t consult the kids (or students or whatever) in assigning punishment, consequences, etc.

For obvious reasons, Christians have sought to figure out what the entrance requirements are to get to heaven.  Similarly, we have wanted a cut-and-dried formula for escaping Hell.

Though understandable, it seems to me that this is the wrong question to ask.   In some ways, it’s a bit like asking the question, “How much X can I get away with and still be following Christ?”  How drunk can I get?  How high can I get?  How greedy can I be?  How judgemental can I be?

There is an element of legalism in all this.

But more to the point I want to make today, it is certainly more sensible that I try to determine the issue of eternal salvation for myself than for somebody else.

I can’t speak to the content of someone else’s heart.  I can’t directly experience what God is doing within them.  So many sins, and fruits of the spirit are really about our heart-condition, not the actual external things we can be seen doing or not doing.

It is of course easy and fun to shift the focus to others.  Analyzing the nature of their problems and going on to solve their problems gives us the appearance of someone pious with out calling on us to do the hard work of change.

Predestination and God’s love

“3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he[c] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” That’s from Ephisians, chapter 1, and it got me thinking.

It got me thinking about the whole Calvinist/Arminian debate.  As you may know, some people (Calvinist) think that it is already predetermined whether or not we will go to heaven.  They have lots of scripture that backs them up.  Others have trouble with this idea.  It seems to make our actual choices in life irrelevant.  It makes our very existence something of a cruel joke.  They also have scripture to back them up. 

On the surface, the above quote seems to support the Calvinists.

But there’s an important question about the text I got to wondering:

Who is the “us” he refers to?

Is it only Christians? 

I am NOT claiming that everybody ends up in heaven.

But I find myself thinking that the destiny of everyone is heaven.  That is what we are meant for.  That is where God wants us.  That is where we’re created to be.

What better definition of desinty could there be?

If Destiny is not the place we will end up but the place that we’re supposed to end up, then this quote becomes about God’s love for all of us, rather than an exclusionary promise of damnation.

A second letter that’s actually written to you, not C.S. Lewis

Dear Mr. Lewis:

As I stated in my last post, I’m reading your amazing “Letters to Malcolm”.  Today I wanted to focus on a passage that I am just awed by.  I don’t have any disagreements here.  I don’t even have to much in the way of questions.  It’s worth noticing, though, that you were so amazingly ahead of your time.  Folks like Irwin McManus and John Eldridge, and countless others have reacted to the stereotype that being in Christ means we lose our individually.  Well before these guys were born, you had some pretty amazing things to say about this subject.  As you know, on page 10, you write:

“It takes all sorts to make a world– or a church.   This may be even truer of a church.  If grace perfects nature it must expand all our natures into the full richness of the diversity which God intended when He made them, and Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.”

Maybe my favorite part of that passage is the last part: heaven will display far more variety than Hell.  It’s so radical to claim that.  I think we all spend our lives thinking that Evil is so much more interesting than Good.  I wonder if this is because we think to be Good is to follow the rules and to be Evil is to ignore them.  It almost goes without saying that there are many more ways to break a rule than to follow it.

I wonder if the reason for your disagreement with this ordinary understanding is based in the early part of the quote.  What if being Good isn’t so much about following the rules as it is in discovering who we were meant to be?  Who we were meant to be won’t be rule breakers– (atleast, not breakers of God’s rules.)  So following the important rules certainly will be accomplished, but that’s such a small point along the way, the following of the rules.  We could have so much more. 

I hope I’m not being anachronistic here, and projecting todays values on to your thoughts from decades ago.  If I’ve got it wrong I hope you, or somebody else will help me get it right.

Yours in Christ,

Jeff, a wanna-be inkling.

 

Just for The Hell of it

The idea that some of us are destined for eternal damnation is tough to swallow. The possibility that people might suffer eternal torment simply based on an accident of birth such as geography or history (the place and time that they were born) or experiences (only encountering hypocritical or even abusive Christians instead of reliable witnesses of God’s glory) makes this very hard to swallow.
Denying the reality of Hell, on the other hand, means failing to take the Bible seriously. It means down playing the seriousness of evil. It means wandering into a New Age-ish territority where faiths are formulated like a lunch at a buffet: (“I’d like an entree of karma with a side order of Jesus’ wisdom, please.”)
After spending some time wrestling with the issue I’ve found some measure of peace. There are a few different ways I’ve learned to think about Hell. I’m going to share them below. I can’t take credit for any of these, really. I’ll quote the sources as I list these ways of thinking about Hell. I’ll admit at the outset that the originators of these views are often identified as post-modern, emergent, liberal, etc.
I am not suggesting that any of these views are literally true. I am not advocating that we abondon what scripture says. The fullness of reality is always well beyond our puny little brains. These are images that have helped me to wrap my brain around the issue, ways to envision why Hell has to be the case.
One of the reasons that I’m sharing these is because Jenn of the blog Jenn with 2 n’s (see the link in the blog role… could somebody, please, remind me, by the way, how to do a link inside a post… I’ve forgotten what to do after I highlight a word to get the little window with the chain links to pop up… anyway, Jenn with 2 n’s…) posted a summary of a communication she’s involved with. She’s trying to help make Hell make sense to a non-Christian. I was about to share these thoughts over there, in a comment. But it occurs to me that I’ve actually done this already on a number of others’ blogs. I thought if I had this post over here, as I need to reference these ideas I could simply post a link rather than re-writing these ideas over and over. Anyway…
View of Hell #1: Nothing left of us.
Close to the end of the New Kind of Christian trilogy, Brian McLaren has his (mostly) fictional characters debate a view of Hell that goes roughly like this:
In Heaven, we will be the best we can ever be. God builds us up from our whole lives. Perhaps we were at our most courageous at the age of 18. Perhaps we were at wisest at the age of 30. Perhaps we were at our most optimistic at the age of 40. The person we will be in heaven is sort of like a greatest hits C.D. The courage of being 18 combined with the wisdom of being 30 and the optimism of being 40.
The deal is this: every decision we make either diminishes us or makes us greater. Whoever, whatever we are at the time of our death is sort of like the root, the base, of the person we will be in the afterlife. Courage, optimism, all the rest, these are added on, hopefully.
Sometimes, though, we are so diminished by the decisions that we have made that God has nothing to work with. We have reduced ourselves to the point of virtual nothingness. God might make a sort-of clone of the person we would have been if we’d done right, but this being doesn’t really have continuity with who we are. It’d be quite irrelevant to the fact that if God built us back up, he’s had to do so much repair work that there is really nothing left of who and what we began as. God weeps when we have left Him nothing of ourselves to work with, when we are in this state we are seperate from God; we are damned.

View #2: Are we ready for Heaven
In a recent series of sermons, Rob Bell explored the idea of Heaven crashing into Earth. He asked us how we would fair if such a thing happened.
He said imagine a heavenly table where people of all races sit and eat together. What would the experience of being at this table be like for someone who is a racist.
He challenged us to imagine a person consumed with violence. How would it be, he wondered, to be so violence-filled and to be confronted, utterly with the Prince of Peace?
There are all sorts of other qualities of Jesus we can imagine… These are self-sufficient, complete, perfect. In our cowardice, how would we feel before His bravery? In our ignorance, what would it be like to stand before His wisdom? In our hatred, how would it be to stand beneath His Love?
I want to be clear, Bell never, ever, ever, ever said that any of the above circumstances would in fact be Hell. I wonder if he meant to imply it. Regardless of what he was thinking, I certainly think a case can be made that it’s a powerful view of Hell.

Are there problems with these views of Hell if taken in isolation? Of course there are. But there’s problems with taking any metaphor to seriously. I’m not advocating that these images replace the idea of Hell. I’m thinking, though, that they are good images to start the process of wrapping our brains around the reality of Hell. They are much more palatable to someone outside a Christian world view, in particular.
As I’ve grown in my faith (and God quite literally knows that I’ve got so very to go!) I’ve increased my trust in Him; I know whatever the truth and reality are, that God is love and reality is fair. The specifics matter a lot less to me now. Earlier in my faith walk, particularly, it was helpful for me to lean a little more on conceptions of Hell that didn’t seem so hate-filled because back then I needed a little more assurance that God can be trusted.

Topic #3 I’m wrestling with God over: faith vs. works

I’ve been exploring the topics I really struggle with: things that I know my explanations come up short in explaining. It’s tempting to down play these issues. Part of me wants to just ignore them, and pretend that I don’t see that there is something I’m missing. In general, I think it’s hard to admit that we don’t things. To be a person of faith, it’s even more difficult to say “Well, I haven’t worked that out yet.” Part of this might be because there are things I am sure of; things I know I have worked out. At some point maybe I’ll ponder why that is. Today, I think I’m going to go in a different direction.

There is one side which says the bible is really clear. If we accept Jesus as our Lord and savoir, we are assured of Heaven. These people rely heavily on formulas. Say this prayer and your eternity is settled. Try to convince other people to say the same prayer so that there eternity is settled. Look foreward to hanging out with them all in heaven. That’s the meaning of it all.
There are reasons that this perspective is convincing. One of the reasons is that there’s a good ammount of scripture backing it all up. In some ways this is an easy position to take, because there are a handful of pithy verses that are easy to quote.
Additionally, I love the idea that in Christ we are assured of our salvation. That it’s so simply done, that it’s something we can rest in, this is beautiful.

In what I say next, I do not want to discount that it’s all about faith. Faith is an act of courage. It’s a difficult act, to believe. I do my very best to put Jesus at the center of what I do. This is not about de-emphasizing him.
The reason I struggle with this is not only that it’s hard to see how this makes sense in terms of salvation… I’ve heard all the arguments about how none of us can earn our way into heaven. I can accept them, as far as they go. But is anybody really comfortable with the idea that a Christ-confessing torturer in the Spanish inquisition is going to spend eternity in heaven while a Budhist who dies in Burma fighting for others’ freedoms is going to spend eternity damned?
Furthermore, there aren’t as many pithy verses but there’s lots of stuff at the level of chapters in the gospels that express Jesus’ contempt for legalism. The whole “salvation as a 3 step process that fits on the back of a business card” mentality feels like modern-day phariseeism.
Jesus spoke so often about the way we treat others; he told his followers to feed his sheep; he told us whenever we deny those in need we are denying him… God speaks, too, in the old testament, about how we treat the widow, and the orphan.

I find some solace in the book of James. I haven’t got it all worked out yet, but I think that this tension gets resolved in whether or not our proclamation that Jesus is Lord really touches us… Works are never, ever, ever a substitute for faith. But a faith that doesn’t spur works is a contradiction in terms maybe.

Looking foreward to your responses,
Jeff