Jesus mentions Heaven about 65 times, and hell about 45; he does not mention Purgatory once; so one of my objections to it is that the Lord Himself nowhere mentions it. It is true that in Matthew (Mt. 18:32-34) and Luke (Lk. 12:59) there are passages where Jesus says that those who have sinned will be jailed and not let out until they have paid their debt in full. The Catholic Church has read these, and 1 Cor. 3:11-15 as referring to what happens after death and has concluded there must be some place between here and Heaven in which, despite the explicit promise of Jesus, we will not be condemned. On the one side clear statements about our being saved, on the other rather tortuous explanations of how this is not as easy as Jesus makes it look in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus says that to believe in HIm is to be saved, but men, unable to believe the greatness of the Grace offered to those who repent and believe, have constructed something which looks very like a debtors’ prison. We are asked to believe that Christ died on the Cross in expiation for our sins, and God loves us that much that He makes the sacrifice that we cannot make; His Grace overflows and breaks the bounds of sin. Then, when we die, we get put into debtors’ prison until we are pure enough to be with Him. But where is this dirt? The Blood of the Lamb has washed it away. By all means, if you must, carry over the old Jewish ‘kaddish’ belief that prayers hastened the process of purification – but remember when you do that the Jews do not believe as we do; they do not have Christ crucified and risen to save them, because they refuse to believe; we do. Where is this conditional salvation? Dives looks up to Lazarus, but there is a great gulf between them, and he can in no wise cross it; no purgatory here, and yet Dives does not appear to have been a very wicked fellow.
All of this leads to a system where one can gain ‘merit’, like merit marks at school; and one presumes there are ‘demerits’. So what happens in this place the Bible never mentions? Do we work off our debt? How? Do we hang around in the Marshalsea until the end of time, or do we get let out early in some way? It would seem odd to keep everyone in there for the same length of time. We can. we are told, help souls there by praying for them. So they do get out early do they – what is the release process, and why are we told nothing of this vast system? Grace is not a substance which can be gathered up and doled out in indulgences, or in the prayers of faithful. The Pope and his Church cannot give ‘extra Grace’ to ease a person’s passage through Purgatory. Grace is freely given to the Pope as a sinner, he has no extra powers to get more Grace. God gives it to us if we believe. Yes, that little word gives. You can’t buy it, you can’t store it up and give it out to those who are nice and deprive those who are naughty, or make those who are a bit of both wait longer in the spunging house.
As He hung in the final agonies of crucifixion, the Lord Jesus did not comfort the thief by saying: ‘You will only have a short amount of time in Purgatory’; neither did He say: ‘Your baptism of desire means you don’t need to serve time in Purgatory’ – He did that simple thing which sinful men need to complicate because otherwise they cannot understand its simplicity:
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
The thief was a bad man, he admitted the justice of his punishment. Now, one either believes that if one waits long enough and makes a full confession, one can be spared Purgatory (which seems a Catholic variant of once saved always saved), or one believes that if we have faith and follow Him faithfully, the saving Grace we received at Baptism will overflow the bounds of our sins and that, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, we shall at the last stand before Him – with no period in clink in between. As one with a lively fear of hell, I need no temptation to think that it could be OK after all – better do the Lord’s work now – and the dead can bury the dead.
The Good News is we’ve been saved. The awesome news is that Jesus died for you. Embrace Him and be saved. It is that simple. There’s no great series of exams to pass, no elaborate theology to master, you’re not going to need a doctorate to get into Heaven, and you’re not doing to need to do time in a very nasty place of torture first. Jesus died to redeem us – believe and be saved!