Catholic theologians only please: why does Purgatory exist, if Jesus finished redemption at the cross?
In other words, why would Christians need to go through a Purgatory, to finish “punishment” for their sins, before entering Heaven, if Jesus took the full weight of all of our sins at the cross? Wasn’t the suffering of Christ enough? Or am I missing something?
I was raised Protestant, with no concept of Purgatory, so this is a puzzle to me. Thanks for any help!
If sin still clings to Christians (Heb 12:1), but there is no sin in heaven (Rev. 21:27), there must be a purification that takes place after ones death and before one enters heaven. Even if it were “in the blink of an eye,” this final stage of sanctification must take place, so those who die in God’s favor may be cleansed if any affection for sin remains in them.
Paul mentions this in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15: “Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work, which any man has built on the foundation, survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Paul’s thought calls to mind the image of God as the refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap mentioned in Malachi 3:2. Fuller’s soap removed stains from clothing. A refiners fire was an oven of intense heat where precious metals were placed in order to purify them of their corrosion and dross. In the same way, purgatory is when a soul is immersed into the fire of God’s love and lifted out of the residue of its imperfections.
Purgatory is only for those who have repented and have died in God’s grace but still have some attachment to sin. While the Church cannot judge souls, we can be certain that if a person dies in a state of mortal sin without asking God’s forgiveness, purgatory does not await him as if it were a second chance.
This objection is based on a pair of erroneous presumptions: That progressive sanctification and suffering take away from Christ’s work on Calvary and that the Church teaches that purgatory is work.
To address the second objection first, purgatory is not a place for those bad Catholics who didn’t finish working their way to heaven while on earth. “For by grace you have been saved by faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). The purification that takes place in purgatory is purely a work of God’s grace, since there is no chance for merit after death, and the judgment of each individual is based solely upon their earthly life. But regardless of where Christ purifies men, it is precisely because his sacrifice was sufficient that each believer can be perfected.
Though Christ paid the infinite debt of man’s sins 2,000 years ago, the sanctification process in the life each Christian continues. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul tells the faithful, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to Scripture, sanctification is a thing of the past (1 Cor. 6:11), present (1 Thess. 4:3), and future (1 Thess. 5:23) in the Christian life.
This process often involves suffering, as Paul indicates: “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross… ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:1-12).
Therefore, the presence of suffering does not detract from Christ’s sacrifice. In fact, there is only one mention in all of Scripture of something “lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” and that missing link is the suffering of his mystical body, the Church (Col. 1:24).
Some Christians maintain that all temporal punishments for sin are taken away if the person has repented. But the Bible indicates that although God takes away the eternal punishment, some temporal punishments may remain.
In the Old Testament, God forgave David, but still took the life of his son (2 Sam. 12:13-14). In the New Testament, Christ reiterates this principle, “Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny” (Matt. 5:25-26). It can also be mentioned that women still experience the temporal punishment of birthpangs (Gen. 3:16), although Christ paid the infinite debt of man’s original sin (Rom. 5:12—21).
The sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice is not lessened by the fact that God’s work of perfecting his children is a process that often involves suffering and even temporal punishment. While “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Heb 12:11), it is all a part of God’s promise made through Paul, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6), even if it should be “as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).
It is Finished [OFFICIAL VIDEO] by Matt Papa
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