by Frank Jerry
Purgatory is not a popular topic in Protestant circles. Along with the topic of purgatory, the idea of suffering in general is perplexing for most Protestants, especially in the Health and Wealth gospel crowd . Suffering is to be avoided at all costs and is looked upon as a curse from God if received. Just ask your local Protestant to explain to you the whole concept of suffering in our own lives and in the world and then sit back and try not to grimace.
First of all, let's read what the
Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about Purgatory:
"All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1030-1).
Any discussion of Purgatory naturally must also deal with the topic of human suffering. Does suffering have a purpose in my life? Can my suffering benefit me or the souls of others? Try this approach next time the topic arises with a Protestant friend:
1) Ask your friend if he agrees that suffering is allowed in a Christian's life to conform that person closer to the image of Christ.
Demand a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Once you reach an agreement, move to #2.
2) Ask your friend if this suffering or process of conforment in the Christian's life is needed for salvation.
Once again, this question deserves a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Of course, Protestants will always deny that anything except faith alone is needed for salvation so they will answer your question with a resounding "no".
3) Here is where you have them trapped.
If suffering is NOT needed for our salvation, then according to Protestants, God allows us to suffer for the sole reason that he is a cruel and sadistic God who likes to see us in pain. Since this CANNOT be the case, then God must allow us to suffer because suffering is necessary for our salvation.
4) Now that you've proved that suffering is needed for our salvation, let's find out more precisely why:
1 Pet 2:21 "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
Since we are to imitate Christ, and since Christ suffered and died for the sins of the world and for our salvation, then that means that if I imitate Christ and accept my sufferings, uniting them with Christ's and offering them up to God, then they can benefit my salvation and others as well.
5) You've just proved that our suffering is salvific for us and also for others as well.
6) Now you need to show your friend that the bible speaks of suffering as an ordeal by fire.
1 Pet 1:6-7 "In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire."
As you can see, suffering is spoken of as being tested by fire.
7) One final question needs to be addressed. Can this purification happen after death?
First we must realize that nothing unclean can enter heaven.
Rev 21:27: "...but nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does abominable things or tells lies."
Therefore, if we die with venial sin or temporal punishment due to sins on our soul, we must still be purified. Protestants like to claim that they are covered by Christ's righteousness and that alone is their ticket to heaven. Are they really "clean" though? Martin Luther, one of their founding fathers, liked to refer to our justification as a "snow-covered dunghill". We appeared righteous from the outside but on the inside, we were still corrupt. Our justification was looked at in merely legal terms. But does this agree with what the bible truly teaches? Aren't we said to be a new creation not merely the old masquerading as the new?
2 Cor 5:17 "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come."
Luther's "snow-covered dunghill" is totally contradictory to what the bible teaches about justification. In fact, Jesus explicitly condemns it.
Mt 23:25-27: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."
Unless we die a martyr's death, it is safe to say that most of us won't die without some trace of self-love within us and therefore need to be "cleansed" after death if we are to enter heaven. Is there biblical evidence to prove that this purification process occurs after death? There sure is!
Luke 16:19-31 "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in Hades he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
We are told that the rich man is suffering in fire. If the rich man were in hell, he would have no concern for the spiritual welfare of his brothers. Love is nonexistent in hell. It is obvious that he isn't in heaven though also. Purgatory is the only other explanation. It seems that he is being purified for some things said while alive (James 3:5-6). It is interesting to note that Jesus raises a man named Lazarus from the dead in what appears to be the result of the intercession of Abraham. Even though Protestants err by not accepting 2 Maccabees as inspired of God, it too should be presented as an historical proof that clearly shows existence of a purifying state after death and the accepted practice of praying for the souls of the dead by the Jews. These souls obviously are in need of such prayers or the practice would have been pointless. Both Luke 16 and 2 Macc 12 clearly show the teaching of the Communion of Saints and the Mystical Body of Christ..
2 Macc 12:42-46 "Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin."
If you recall, suffering was said to be a "trial by fire". Let's read more about what the bible has to say about this:
1 Cor 3 12-15: "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
We are told that every man's work will be tested. Notice that if a man still has traces of wood, hay or stubble (sins), he himself will still be saved but will have to first undergo suffering by fire. This fire is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The bible also tells us that every man must give an account of his life at the final judgment:
Matt 12:36-37 "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Hebrews 4:13 "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
1 Corinthians 4:4-5 "For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts."
If we are all to render an account of our lives before God after we die, we will be shown the good and the bad that we have done throughout our days on earth. When we witness the times in our lives when we chose not to do God's will, we will feel remorse. This remorse or suffering after death is Purgatory.
Nothing would be more appropiate than ending this discussion with St. Paul himself who came to know the immense value of redemptive suffering.
Colossians 1:24 "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church."
The Catholic Legate
August 1, 2004