Monday, January 4, 2016

Does Purgatory Make God's Judgment More Fair?

On New Year’s Eve I was listening to a radio talk show host, and the discussion turned to the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The host’s guest, a college president, observed that the Catholic doctrine of purgatory had the advantage of being “more fair.”

His example: think of Ted Bundy, a serial killer, and let’s say he had a death-bed conversion to Christ. He goes to heaven. And then consider a person who lives a good life, but never believes in Jesus. He goes to hell. At least in purgatory Bundy would have to suffer a while before going to heaven.

But is that really more fair? Does it seem unjust that somebody could go to heaven who has done great evil, while someone who lived a comparatively good life could end up in hell?

I respect the college professor, but I think he missed a couple points. One is that the Bible doesn’t teach purgatory. The book of Hebrews says it this way: And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (9:27). There is no second chance, no limbo, no purgatory. You don’t get a do-over or a chance to “atone” for your sins. This life is it.

But the more important point is that the idea that "purgatory makes things more fair" totally misses what God says about the value of Jesus’ sacrifice. God says you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19, my emphasis).

Jesus, whose life and obedience and righteousness and purity and beauty are infinitely worthy, left heaven to pay for our sins. No matter how heinous a person’s transgressions, Christ’s sacrifice is more than enough to atone for them. You can see that in Hebrews 10:14: For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. The only way a single offering could avail for all the sinners who believe in Christ through the centuries is if that single offering was infinitely worthy.

Jesus’ sacrifice in your place settles God’s justice.

This question about God’s justice was answered in the lyric of an old hymn, Rock of Ages:

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

He did, in the infinitely worthy cross of Christ.