Are we in Purgatory just now?

The Incarnatio Blog (of Methodist pastor Rev. Matt O'Reilly) ran an interesting post a while back with an meaty quote from N.T. Wright about a Biblical understanding of purgatory: "purging" happens not in a cosmic prison after death, but rather it is the business of the pilgrim life in this age. Though I may be mistaken, I believe that St. Ambrose of Milan (one of the great early fathers) said some things that, while not exactly the same, could be compatible with this notion: that this life, and ultimately death at the end of this life, are part of our cleansing process to prepare us to meet the Lord God "face to face" as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.

This might fit well with 2 Corinthians 4:17 (especially as the NRSV translates it compared to other translations) "this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory..." The difficulties of this life are what strengthen us enough that we may stand glory (this is the theme of the movie "The Shadowlands" about the life of C.S. Lewis).

Much teaching that I hear (in Protestant churches, anyways) downplays or simply ignores the many Biblical teachings on the postive contributions that pain, suffering, and difficulty can make to our spiritual growth. It seems we mostly try to explain away these things, or explain why God isn't really "at fault" for them, or worry about how such teachings might be hijacked and abused by various "oppressors." Those mainline Protestants who worry about how this or that traditional teaching may be hijacked by oppressors seem particularly prone to "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" for some reason, thus you now and then hear the assertion that "suffering is never redemptive," which is clearly contrary to the Christian message of the cross. The affirmation that difficulty can help us to grow and to embrace God is a frequent theme in the New Testament and the whole Christian tradition.

N.T. Wright's argument, if correct, would naturally render prayers for the souls in purgatory as practiced among Roman Catholics quite superfluous (which Protestants have basically always asserted anyway). Yet, the reading that "this life is purgatory" would still need to account for a further post-mortem purging for (some of) the elect, (particularly on the Day of Judgment) as St. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. In that sense, there might be appropriate ways to pray for those faithful who have died and are waiting to face that firey judgment. In the United Methodist Book of Worship (p. 495, borrowing from the Book of Common Prayer [1979], p. 389) we, rather in rather broad terms "commend to God's mercy those who have died, that his will for them may be fulfilled".

Check out the full Incarnatio post with N.T. Wright quote here. Also, see the video below:

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home