A Bug or Defect?

More questions about purgatory that don’t seem to find ready answers by searching online. Could it be that if half of U.S. Roman Catholics don’t understand the Mass, numbers may be even worse for passing a test on purgatory?

Here’s the question: does Christ’s return affect souls in purgatory? If I am in need of 1,500 years of purgation for — well, let’s not get into it — and if Jesus returns in 988th year of my time in purgatory, do I need to stay in purgatory another 512 years? It seems like a good question if you look at this answer:

The Church believes that almost everyone else, although not bad enough to go to hell, aren’t good enough to skate into heaven with no need for some introspection and purification.

Think of it like this: Joe and Max were both born on the same day and both died on the same day. Joe was a gambler, boozer, and womanizer, and he was dishonest, lazy, and undependable. Max, on the other hand, spent his life obeying the Ten Commandments, practicing virtue, and loving God and neighbor. Just before dying, Joe repents of his old ways and accepts the Lord into his heart. Should Joe and Max both go to heaven at the same time? Catholicism teaches no. The Church believes that Jesus’ death allows everyone the possibility of heaven, and his mercy grants forgiveness, but his justice demands that good be rewarded and evil punished — in this life or the next. If one man struggles all his life to be good while another lives a life of selfishness, greed, and comfort, both can’t walk through the pearly gates side by side.

Wait. Isn’t there a parable about this?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius[a] a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’[b] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20)

What about a different parable, like one about surgery?

It may help to think of the purgatory in terms of a major operation to save a life. Say a doctor performs surgery on someone’s heart or brain and removes a cancerous tumor. The surgery achieves the main objective, but the wound needs to heal, and the incision needs to be cleaned and rebandaged. Purgatory is like that secondary part of recovery — the healing, cleaning, and bandaging. The belief is that the evil of sin is revealed to the person so she can totally and absolutely reject even the most venial and smallest of sins.

Well, what happens to someone who is recovering from surgery when Jesus returns? Will there still be weeping, hunger, sorrow, and forming scar tissue after Christ inaugurates the new heaven and new earth?

Looks to me like this is a defect. And this answer only compounds the problem:

All souls will receive resurrected bodies. The damned will receive eternal punishment in the flesh. Purgatory is meant to purify the soul. Once we receive our resurrected bodies, they will need completely purified souls so Purgatory ends with the Resurrection of the body.

If resurrected bodies need “completely purified souls, all the more reason to remain in purgatory for the correct amount of time.

Unless, of course, Jesus can take away sin and all its stains.

A Wrestling Match Over the Resurrection

Chris Gehrz thinks a belief in the resurrection will produce activist evangelicals (maybe even social justice types):

What would happen if evangelicals let the reality of the resurrection penetrate into our hearts and give us the vitality and power of Christ’s victory over death?

First, it would cause us to value life all the more. Yet many “pro-life” evangelicals seem to care little when their preferred presidential administration closes this country to those seeking refuge from war and gang violence. Or when it ignores the deaths of thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico. Or when it leaves unaddressed (or worsens) problems with health care, drug abuse, poverty, and climate change that threaten the lives of millions.

Second, a living orthodoxy of resurrection would leave us evangelicals more hopeful and less fearful. Instead, as I observed in our book, “The same people who argue most strenuously for the historicity of the resurrection can seem the least likely to live as if Jesus Christ has actually conquered the grave.”

The resurrection as the basis for social policy and legislation — I have not seen that one before. But Gehrz thinks this corresponds with what Paul says in 1 Cor 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

That is not the way I typically think about the resurrection, especially after what Paul writes just before that verse:

… flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

Instead of turning Christians into transformationalistizationers of culture, the reality of death and the hope of the resurrection would seem to teach believers that this world is inconsequential to the world to come, that as Paul writes elsewhere, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” We may not labor in vain. But we die and we receive glory, and that puts the affairs of this life in a different perspective, as it seemed to for Paul:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4)

Gerhz even seems to agree with this when he writes, “a lived belief in literal resurrection should lessen our fear of both literal and metaphorical death.” If true, then it would less our fears of inequality and injustice since Christians will have a life to come.

But by trying to appropriate the resurrection for social justice, Gehrz seems to be guilty of what Paul warned against:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Christian teaching on salvation transcends the politics and economics, which likely explains why Paul had so little to say about the social injustice of the Roman Empire. Christianity is an otherworldly faith because Christians await the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.

Does this mean Christians should eschew politics of only vote for Republicans? Probably not on politics, it’s a free church when it comes to the ballot box. Which is to say that Christians have all sorts of material for sorting out the social and political problems that come with a fallen world.

We don’t need to baptize them in the miracles of redemption.

Why Protestantism Matters

Things you may hear in Rome during holy week:

“It is more important that men and women become holy,” Cantalamessa said, “than that they know the name of the one Savior.”

“Without the Madonna, we can’t go forward in our priesthood!” Francis said.

“Each one of us has entered into our own personal tomb,” Francis said, in the one extemporaneous addition to his homily. “I’m inviting you to come out.”

“God loves like this: Until the end, giving his life for each one of us,” Francis said in his homily. “It’s not easy, because all of us are sinners, we have limits, flaws. Yes, we all know how to love, but not like God loves, without looking at the consequences, until the end.”

Could this kind of teaching be the reason the Roman church is facing a shortage of priests?

Father Douglas Grandon is one of those rare exceptions – a married Roman Catholic priest. He was a married Episcopalian priest when he and his family decided to enter the Catholic Church 14 years ago, and received permission from Benedict XVI to become a Catholic priest.

Even though Grandon recognizes the priest shortage, he said opening the doors to the married priesthood would not solve the root issue of that shortage.

“In my opinion, the key to solving the priest shortage is more commitment to what George Weigel calls evangelical Catholicism,” Grandon told CNA.

“Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, vocations come from a very strong commitment to the basic commands of Jesus to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Wherever there’s this strong evangelical commitment, wherever priests are committed to deepening people’s faith and making them serious disciples, you have vocations. That is really the key.”

If it’s broke, why convert?

What Would Jesus Do?

Don’t bake those remains. Bury them.

. . . my postmortem body continues to embody memories of who I am. Let’s say that death has come calling for me. What will my wife and children, my parents and sister, see when they see me? They’ll see the man whom they still love. They will not see a shell, an empty husk. My wife will see the face of the man who stood before her and vowed, “I do.” My children will see the hands that held them on the day they were born, and that wiped away their tears when they hurt themselves. My parents will see a scar on my right wrist that I got when barely out of kindergarten. Much of my biography is inscribed upon my body; it is part of who I am, my story, my personality. It is not peripheral to my personhood. A body is not some thing but some one. As such, I want my family to treat my body not as an object I sloughed off upon leaving this world, but as the continuing, meaningful icon of my identity as son, father, and husband. To treat my body with respect, love, and honor is to treat me with respect, love, and honor, for my body continues to be an essential part of who I am.

If this were the sole reason for us to care what happens to our corpses, it would be sufficient. But for those who hold to a theistic worldview, who believe that God created our bodies, there are many more reasons to care. Jews and Christians alike confess that the Creator makes and shapes our bodies from the moment of conception onward. In the words of Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our very existence is a divine gift; and part of that gift are eyes of a certain color, legs of a certain length, a nose of a certain size—each tiny part of us uniquely fashioned as our own. Our body is a gift while also a continued possession of the Giver. It is not ours to do with as we please.

What we do with these gifts should reflect that they are from God. And what applies when those bodies are alive applies equally when they are not alive. Death does not disown God from our bodies. They continue to be his possession, his gift to us, part of that divine bestowal that marks who we are as created people formed in God’s image and likeness. Thus, even when I’m dead, my corpse matters, because God’s gifts matter. I want my body to be treated not as a piece of meat, or fuel for the fire, but as a blessing from heaven.

How Can A Tranformationalist Be Pauline?

Family worship this morning took us into the tall grass of 1 Cor 15 where Paul expresses thoughts that should give cultural transformationalists the willies:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Mystery and Victory

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:35-50, ESV)

There you have it once again, a fundamental distinction between the temporal and the eternal, between earthly and heavenly glory, between what is corruptible and incorruptible. (Breaking Bad is clearly perishable. But my inner Paul forces me to say that The Wire is also perishable.) Paul also makes a clear affirmation that something as mysterious and as powerful as the resurrection is the only way to take something from this world and have it endure into the next.

Sometime ago, Keith Mathison raised questions about Dave VanDrunen’s two-kingdom theology by suggesting that a view that stressed discontinuity between this world and the world to come leaned more in the direction of annihilation of the present world than previous Reformed authors (mainly neo-Calvinist) have:

VanDrunen claims that his view entails “destruction” of the natural order, not its “annihilation” (p. 66). He makes this assertion because he believes, rightly, that “our earthly bodies will be transformed into resurrected bodies.” He continues, “It is precisely this—the resurrection of believers’ bodies—that the created order is now longing for.” What does this mean? “Our earthly bodies are the only part of the present world that Scripture says will be transformed and taken up into the world-to-come” (p. 66). The entire paragraph in which these comments are found is somewhat confusing. Why? The argument between those who advocate annihilation of the present creation and those who advocate renewal is not about our resurrection bodies. It concerns the present creation that was affected by man’s sin. All orthodox Reformed Christians affirm that our present bodies will be transformed and that there is continuity between this present body and the resurrection body (e.g. Belgic Confession, Art. 37; WCF 32:2). Some of these Reformed Christians, however, affirm that the present heavens and earth will be annihilated and that the new heavens and earth are a completely new creation. This is what VanDrunen argues throughout this book, so for him to say that he believes the natural order will be “destroyed” but not “annihilated” only muddies the water because it misses the main point under consideration.

VanDrunen’s preference for destruction over annihilation may not be as clear as is should be. But how can anyone who reads Paul’s letter to the Corinthians possibly argue for continuity between this world and the next? Whether its destruction, annihilation, death, a sown seed, or Walter White, a reader of Paul would be hard pressed to think that cultural accomplishments here can in any way compare with the glory to be revealed.

I understand that such a reading of Paul is not inspiring. It does not lead me to think that each day I am changing the world in my work and recreations. But isn’t that Paul’s point in so many places, like setting our minds on things above?

What's In Your Wallet?

Will it still be there after the resurrection? Will you still have a wallet?

I do not think it is gnostic to believe that Christians will not have access to their pre-resurrection savings accounts in the new heavens and new earth. In fact, countless Christian organizations and ministries solicit donations precisely because practically every Christian on this earth knows that what he now owns he will not possess once he dies. Now, maybe we get it all back (with interest?). But since wills and other legal arrangements see every believer make provisions to zero out his books, so that all his possessions go to someone else, does the idea of redeeming the material world indicate that most Christians need to reconsider how they prepare to meet their maker?

Believe me, when Matt Tuininga argues for continuity between the pre- and post-resurrection world, I am tempted. After all, if the books I have written (which are part of the material world) will survive the end of the world, perhaps I’ll have a chance to present a copy of Defending the Faith to J. Gresham Machen (not to mention being able to show my parents what I wrote since they went to be with the Lord). But I have no more confidence that the circumstances of the new heavens and new earth will include the contents of my curriculum vitae any more than that of my wallet.

Maybe Matt’s case for environmentalism only extends to God’s possessions and not to mine. So the fields and streams and cattle and trees, which all belong to the Lord, may show up in the world to come because they are God’s. What belongs to those who won’t be glorified, remains with those who need no glorification. But since much of the world that ultimately belongs to the Lord, provisionally belongs to farmers, developers, and investors, then the material world to survive the world’s end may be reserved to those remotest parts of Canada, Brazil, and Siberia, where ownership does not apply.

But if the point is that the human body, which is part of the material world, will be resurrected and so functions as an example of other material things that will be saved, redeemed, or resurrected, then why not my cash, credit cards, books, cats, house, and herb garden?

Or maybe we only see through a glass darkly.

How Comforting the Intermediate State?

It is common to hear believers talk about the death of Christians in positive ways. And this is natural since Christians do believe in life after death, and a good life after death does await those who trust in Christ. So we are likely to say about someone who has been suffering physically upon their death that they are now in a better place, free from their misery. Or we say they are better off because they are with the Lord. We will even console ourselves, at least, that the passing of a widow or widower, who had a believing spouse, is in a better place because he or she has been reunited with a wife or husband. I should know, I’ve been using these lines with myself of late having lost both parents (both believers) within the space of a month.

But I have wondered how exactly a soul, that no longer has a body, will recognize another soul. I also sometimes wonder how resurrected bodies will recognize other resurrected bodies. At what vintage do our bodies come back? If an infant dies, is he glorified as an infant? Will that infant grow? If the body of an 80-year old dies, does he come back as a 35-year old? And if you only knew someone when they were 70 plus, and they come back to bodily existence as a young adult, will you actually recognize them in their gloried state? So how much trickier the recognition of other souls, invisible as they are, by other souls, who are also invisible. The mind reels.

In hopes of keeping it real, here is what the Confession of Faith says about “The State of Men After Death” (it means you too, ladies):

The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. (32.1)

That would seem to indicate that departed souls will “see” and “recognize” God. But it does raise questions about whether they will “see” the face of Jesus. Beholding is not necessarily seeing. And seeing, as we know it, is impossible without eyes.

Maybe union with Christ is the solution. I know that justification by faith alone won’t resolve this one. My pet doctrine has its limits.

Has President Obama Been Reading the Baylys?

Sometime ago, to ridicule two-kingdom theology even more, the Baylys ran a post on whether the resurrection has any public policy implications. Apparently, Obama took the bait and issued remarks at the White House Easter prayer breakfast that outlined the implications of the resurrection for civil society. (By the way, how do you spot the difference between a religious and a political prayer meeting? Depends on whether they are serving eggs.)

Obama said (thanks to Touchstone):

I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs — by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered — by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging — watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption — through commitment and through perseverance and through faith — be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.

To borrow a line from Tonto, who is this “we” and “us” to whom President Obama refers? Does it include Jews, Buddhists, and non-Christians, does it merge Mormons into generic Christianity, and does it speak for Roman Catholics and Protestants? This is the sort of universalism in which civil religion always traffics if Christianity is going to serve a religiously plural society.

And what of the theology behind these remarks. As much as I like the priority of the forensic, when Obama says that redemption makes for virtuous character, for the president grace simply seems to be the door prize for contestants who don’t live up to be good and decent folks. People rightly faulted President Bush for trivializing Christianity when he used it in public speeches. Obama may be more eloquent but he is just as guilty of taking something that is sublime and holy and reducing it to having us all get along. Getting a long is a good thing. Christianity is profounder than that.

And yet, if Obama were on the right side of gay marriage and abortion, I suspect readers of the Baylys would be happy to see such policy implications of the resurrection.

Forensic Friday: Vos Weighs In

To [Paul’s] view the resurrection with all that clusters around it, has behind it a still more potential principle, a principle from which in fact it springs, and in whose depths it lies anchored. And this deeper principle is that of the acquisition of righteousness, a forensic principle through and through, and yet no less than the resurrection a transforming principle also. It is especially by considering the nexus between Christ and the believer that this can be most clearly perceived: in the justification of Christ lies the certainty and the root of the Christian’s resurrection. For the supreme fruit of Christ’s justification, on the basis of passive and active obedience, is nothing else but the Spirit, and in turn the Spirit bears in Himself the efficacious principle of all transformation to come, the resurrection with its entire compass included. (The Pauline Eschatology, p. 151)

In our opinion Paul consciously and consistently subordinated the mystical aspect of the relation to Christ to the forensic one. Paul’s mind was to such an extent forensically oriented that he regarded the entire complex of subjective spiritual changes that take place in the believer and subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by the believer as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification. The mystical is based on the forensic, not the forensic on the mystical. (“‘Legalism’ in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., p. 384)