“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
I will admit I am in no way an expert on purgatory, nor an expert currently in purgatory. So I can’t pretend to write about it with any real knowledge, only curiosity. Recently I have begun to wonder: are a bunch of people walking around as if this time we have on earth is purgatory? So let’s take some time to talk about purgatory.
My extended family is Roman Catholic, but I did not grow up in the Roman Catholic Church. My background is as mainline Protestant as you can get. I have been blessed by many friends who are from that tradition and they have shared with me some of their tradition and doctrine, but I am definitely not an expert. I had one class in seminary that briefly mentioned the theology surrounding the Roman Catholic doctrine known as ‘purgatory.’ I understood it as an in-between time, place or state of existence, where people work through their sins before entering heaven. A final time of cleansing before entering eternal glory. A place where all sins not mortal were able to be worked through.
I remember the first time I heard about purgatory, I thought of it like a great final exam – you either passed and went to heaven or you failed and ended up on a long slide going down towards eternal damnation. This eternal damnation included the usual lifetime of burning and a guy with a pitchfork. I later learned that the doctrine suggests that those in purgatory have already been judged as worthy of heaven, they are simply not completely cleansed. It’s a place of preparation.
Purgatory has always been a mystery to me. I remember my friend from high school sharing that in order to leave the state of purgatory one needed family members to pray for them. I imagined a person waiting in a doctor’s office hoping that enough people would pray for him and he would be allowed to enter into God’s presence and the beatific visions that surround that. As someone who has waited for what has felt like years both at the dentist and doctor’s office, I think I know a little bit of how that would feel. But perhaps it isn’t like a doctor’s office (because who wants to go to the doctor) but more like waiting for a seat at your favorite restaurant. I am hungry, can you tell? When your buzzer finally buzzes, there is nothing more exciting than walking through the crowds and heading to the table they have prepared just for you!
I haven’t thought much about the doctrine of purgatory until recently. My mom, who would hardly call herself a theologian (although I could argue she is), often says things so profound that it takes me days to process what she has said. She slips genius into everyday conversation. Recently I had some pretty tough conversation with folks who were concerned with right living and right belief. It was difficult for them that sometimes I am more comfortable with the gray area than they believe that believers should be. For them, there are rules and boundaries that every Christian must believe. Now it wasn’t Jesus son of God argument or resurrection that was hanging them up, it was more of the smaller nuances and ways of life. They were concerned for people who don’t believe as they do. They were sharing that everyone was wicked, and if they didn’t act or believe a certain way, then judgement was upon them. That every day our wicked nature plagues us like a dark figure. I was talking with my mom about some of the things these folks had shared, and my mom said “sounds to me like they are living in purgatory here on earth.” That one sentence has stuck with me all week. Mom was trying to express how they seemed to be living in constant fear that they hadn’t done enough and that other folks hadn’t done enough for God’s grace or for the opportunity to go to heaven. The very Christians who argue so dramatically against the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church seem to see this lifetime as a place to work out your sins in hopes of Jesus finally coming and taking them to the promised land. That sounds a little like… well purgatory.
As I prayed and thought through this idea, the verse that came to me is the one I began this blog with. Some of my favorite humans are amazing people and have these concerns, not out of judgment, but out of concern. I kept thinking that this kind of life is ruled by fear. Ruled by fear, not just for themselves, but for other people. That, to me, doesn’t look like a life filled with abundance. To me, a life of abundance is one that looks forward to what God has for us in the afterlife, but also enjoys the days here.
Remember when God created us he said, “this is good.” Life isn’t a dress rehersal for something else. There are things that God has given us to enjoy in the here and now. I do believe in Christ as the redeemer, and for me a life of abundance means getting to know his grace and the loving way that Christ lived.