Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On Purgatory: "Even the mercy of the Lord burns"


This is a recycled post, but I have a different and larger readership now.

This, I think, is the basic question of Purgatory: is the process of formation into the likeness of Christ, that process we're going about now, and that God is doing in us, a process that will continue in some sense after we die? Will there be an instantaneous completion of sanctification, or a process that takes up some "time" after death? Alan offered some discussion on it last year, as well as a good article by an Asbury prof if you want to read on the idea further.

Alan Creech: "Logical Heavenly Conclusions"

Just in case you're naughty and don't click, this is what Alan says:
I think if we stick with the strict Catholic interpretation of purgatory we might be left wanting. If we have a transformational view of holistic salvation, it's a logical conclusion. To me, both you guys, it's not about "payment for sins" at all. That, as George pointed out, was taken care of, but we're still in the process of being fully remade in the image of God. To me, "purgatory" is just about entering the other dimension (on God's end of it because of Jesus) but it's about where in the proverbial "hallway" we enter at. Picture a long hallway that gets wider toward the end - depending on our level of transformation, we enter further down the hallway. This is about what we're metaphysically ready to handle, not about what we're worthy for (key distinction). So, we keep on cooperating and being transformed until it's completely done. He said He wouldn't stop till it was done. Then, we'll be ready for the fullness of God's presence. I don't look at this as a dogmatic doctrine, but as helpful to understand the ongoing journey.
And from the introduction of Walls' article,
It is here that "an indiscreet theological question" must be faced. If salvation essentially involves transformation - and, at that same time, we cannot be united with God unless we are holy - what becomes of those who plead the atonement of Christ for salvation but die before they have been thoroughly transformed? These people will have accepted the truth about God and themselves through repentance and faith, but their character will not have been made perfect. Their sanctification has begun but it remains incomplete. Such people do not seem to be ready for a heaven of perfect love and fellowship with God, but neither should they be consigned to hell.
So that's the playing field, that's what we're going on about. It's not a matter of reading the bible as if it were some kind of code book that's trying to impart to us the secret gnosis regarding what's going to happen when we die. Rather, it's about looking at the bigger picture of what God's doing in us.

My take?
Purgatory makes sense to me. "Love's redeeming work" surely won't be finished like the final touches on an assembly line, but rather with the loving hands of a master artisan.

And frankly, I think I deserve the extra attention.
I'd like to offer this bit from Flannery O'Connor which sheds some disturbing light on the nature of the transformation:
"A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from th earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives ... and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. ... They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away."
from "Revelation," in The Complete Stories

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10 comments:

-mike- said...

I kinda' believe in Purgatory... but I'm not entirely sure what it consists of. Not, as NT Wright said, a place to punish those last sins, but rather a place where sanctification is completed, holiness is seen, and the imago dei fully restored. That is my thought.

Steven Harris said...

I'm not sure what I think about the idea of purgatory (or a post-death purgatory at any rate) as a transformational phase .

It seems to me that bodily resurrection and taking on the soma pneumatikon is the way in which the NT anticipates our finally being made holy rather than by a process of post-death refining.

Mark said...

Its all very well having purgatory as a way of thinking about life, and probably has much theodical value and so on but - if purgatory is a post-mortem thing then what's special about death? And if nothing's special about death, then what's special about life? (see Heidegger and so on). If you're not careful you end up with the silliness of Hick's 'Death and Eternal Life'.

Kyle said...

And we wouldn't want that, would we, Mark?

If purgatory is anything, I think it's a kind of "Pimp My Ride" version of the direction folks have being going in "earthly" life.

Hmm. That was a very silly thing for me to say. Never mind.

Chris said...

I've got a plan:

Kyle, I will kill you (preferably with bird flu) and then you can impart to us EXACTLY what stages you pass through...

tigger said...

Yo, Kyle.

I think I'm with Steven on this one (and follow the Blessed NT Wright in his 'for all the saints').

If purgatory as any 'meaning' (given that it's not a NT term and so arises from later church thinking) - then I believe it applies to our experience in THIS life.

Post-mortem, we will have 'put off' the body of death (which we have been struggling to 'put to death' through this life) and from there we will 'await' our final 'pimp-my-ride' style new creation body (lovely 'alternative idea' to the soma pneumatikon!).

Purgatory-as-progress then has some 'legs' as it applies to our varying individual experiences (and failures) as God catches us all up in his great gust of new creation wind.

Interestingly I still think there's room of 'growth' in the post-resurrection body - imagine an eternity of discovering the infinite potential in the Godhead and how that relates to our community as the saints! But definately 'post death' we will have 'defeated' (in Christ of course) the enemy of God's good creation.

Go well,

Richard

Kyle said...

You know, I think one can only speculate. Those are good points - I've also not read Wright's book - and wonder if the question of whether there will be consciousness after death and before resurrection might be part of the matter.

And of course, not that we can have any idea!

Mark said...

Little point speculating in anything that happens after death, if anything indeed does "happen". There's only a point in the doctrine of purgatory if it helps us understand what happens in life.

I am off new-routing in the anti-atlas from tommorrow. So if anything goes wrong, find a clairvoyant and i'll try and let you know... ;-)

byron said...

I'll second (or third) the vote for Wright's For all the saints - worth a read. Thanks for this post - very helpful clarification.

Anonymous said...

I love how there is NO scripture here. It seems all based on what people think it Should be like, rather than what GOD says about it. Sorry guys, but you can't just believe stuff because you THINK it should or will be that way. If the scripture is quiet about somehting, it's not because God thinks that you should try and put something in there.

j