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Friday, September 25, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: What’s the Point?

In which two or more of our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Some people market Christianity like fire insurance, and others buy into it in fear of judgment. Then there are the folks like Joel Osteen who tell us being a believer will make us powerful and successful. Others who claim to represent Christ tell us that knowing Jesus will make us better human beings, improve our relationships or help us cope in bad times. Intellectual believers may say that in their search for truth, the Christian worldview best explains things about which they have always wondered.

Tom: Immanuel Can, there is a certain amount of rationality in most of these motives, but do they really get to the core of the Christian message?

Immanuel Can: No, they don’t. Some of the claims are obviously not true: how “prosperous” or “successful” or “powerful” was John the Baptist, or Stephen the martyr, or Paul the apostle?

Tom: Good point. I wonder if anyone has mentioned it to Joel.

IC: Some of them are conditionally true: become a Christian, and you will be a better person than you would otherwise be — people generally will like you better, but evil people will hate your guts and maybe even kill you. Some of them are fully true: Christianity is the most coherent, rational worldview there is, and does explain everything better than any other view. But none of them is the reason for the faith. So what is, Tom?

What Does God Need?

Tom: Well, let me ask this question first: Why would God seek relationship with men? Why would the offer of salvation be made in the first place? It’s surely not because of some deficiency on God’s part.

IC: Ah! Relationship. Yes, that is the point. But first let me respond to your question. No, God does not need anything. In Hinduism, Buddhism and Gnosticism, the Divine Being does need something. It needs the material world as the counterpart to the spiritual, so that both can exist. Any unitary concept of God is going to face that problem. But we believe in a triune God: that means that any “necessary Other” is within himself. He need never have created anything. He chose to do so, in love.

Tom: The complete and utter self-sufficiency of God is poorly understood, I think. Part of the problem is that men have always tended to believe that gods generally — and not just the God of the Bible — require things from men. And the Law of Moses is, on the surface, no different in that. It appears to require a lot of things: bulls, goats, lambs, engaging in certain sorts of behaviour and avoiding other sorts, and so on. It’s only when we get to the New Testament that the real purpose of the Law becomes explicit. The Law was not God giving Israel his Christmas list and saying, “I’d like one of these and one of those”. There was no real satisfaction for God in the mere reception of a bunch of dead animals, wheat, oil and gold coins.

IC: We have to ask ourselves, “Is there anything a Supreme Being couldn’t simply make”. At first, the obvious answer would seem to be “No”. How can the Supreme Being, by definition, “need” anything? That’s Paul’s point at the Areopagus. God lacks nothing: he certainly doesn’t need your bull or your goat. So what’s the point there, Tom?

The Knowledge of the Holy

Tom: Well, I was thinking about the fact that Hosea makes that point hundreds of years before Paul. Recording the words of God himself, he says:
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
God desires men to have and display “the knowledge of God”. God doesn’t need anything, but he wants to be known.

IC: Yes, and that’s very interesting. Because there are different ways of being “known”. You can be known about, or known personally. You can be known merely as a commanding presence, or in a nuanced way. You can be known by your character qualities, or by experiences people have had with you. To be known simply to exist is different from being known as your husband or wife knows you. So what is entailed when you say, “God wants us to be known”?

Tom: Well, it can’t be a merely academic knowledge, can it. It’s a transforming knowledge; understanding that remakes the mind and ultimately the body. The Lord Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. It would appear to be very difficult to truly come to God without being entirely reengineered in the process. The unexamined notion many people have that they can accept a set of propositions about God, join a church and remain essentially unchanged with the exception of a few behavioural tweaks is not a biblical idea.

Adam and Relationship

IC: Sounds like you’re saying something like, “You must be born again”. That has a familiar ring to it. But someone thinking carefully about this might ask, “If that was what he wanted, why didn’t God simply make us right for relationship with him in the first place?”

Tom: Well he did, didn’t he?

IC: In a sense; but something else must have been up. Otherwise, why would God allow the Fall of Man and the ensuing whole business of salvation (at tremendous cost to himself, to say nothing of how the human race has struggled with it) if mankind was already in the right shape for what God wanted?

Tom: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, God could certainly have prevented Adam and Eve from sinning if innocence was all he wanted from mankind. But he also granted us autonomy. He granted us agency. He let our choices mean something. If he hadn’t, I’m not sure the human race would be much more interesting than a pet rock.

Describing the Almighty

IC: Well, let me suggest something on that point. We say God is “all-powerful”: not a scriptural adjective, of course, so like all human descriptors of God, we’ve got to explain it a bit. There are certain things God cannot do. He cannot lie, deny himself, sin, fail, and so on. So when we say “all-powerful”, we must mean that God can do anything consistent with his character, not that he can do evil or stupid things.

Tom: Right. With you so far.

IC: Now some theologians suggest there is another class of things God cannot do: He cannot do the absurd. He cannot create square circles, married bachelors, or rocks so big he cannot lift them. All those things are self-contradictory, and God (though all-powerful in the nuanced sense) cannot do such things simply because the things themselves make no sense — after all, what IS a “square circle”? You cannot even imagine one, let alone fault God for not making one.

Here’s something else that doesn’t make sense: “forced love”. The concept is neither morally supportable nor rationally coherent.

A Class of People Estranged from God

Tom: Loving God back is an ordinate, rational response to the love God displayed in creating me, but it is certainly not my only possible response. And the moment that you leave open the possibility that a created being can choose his own way over voluntarily submitting his will to God, you admit the possibility of a class of people estranged from God, and therefore unable to benefit from the well of life that originates only in him.

IC: Right. It is rationally impossible to talk of someone freely loving God if they simply never had any other option. So there’s a very great good in allowing people the freedom NOT to love God if they decide not to, since it makes possible genuine free-will love if they DO decide to. Of course, the tragic side of having freedom is that you can indeed choose the bad option: and some people do that. But genuine relationships are simply rationally impossible to create unless both sides of the relationship have a free choice about initiating the relationship in the first place.

Now, after the initiation point, there’s nothing irrational or immoral about having a binding relationship, since it has been freely entered as such by both parties: think of marriage, if you want an analogy. But at some point, both parties must have had the freedom to choose otherwise.

Tom: And since all life originates with God and cannot be sustained in his absence, I think the question arises whether it is even possible for a holy God to indefinitely grant the sort of independent, autonomous existence to which people who despise and defy God presume they are entitled. I think any reasonable person looking on would at least acknowledge that God cannot be made to do so and most would agree there is no good reason he should do so.

Choosing As We Choose

IC: Indeed. The amazing thing is actually that we survive a second without being in right relationship with God … because essentially we’re bound to cut ourselves off from the only Source of Life there is or could be. It is by his mercy that we are not destroyed immediately by that very act of separating ourselves from him, since there’s no other source we could use as an alternative. His kindness and his unwillingness that we should perish keep us alive. Yet if God honours our freedom, he also cannot indefinitely prevent us from choosing as we choose … for good or ill.

Tom: Many religious people have this idea that they’re in some kind of contest where their good and bad deeds will ultimately be set off against each other and hopefully on balance will come out positively for them. But if we accept the premise that God created mankind in order to have a relationship with us, then no mere display of human works, no matter how impressive, can ever tip the scales in our favour.

Let’s say I want a relationship with a particular woman. So I take her to a fine restaurant, get down on one knee holding out a ring and declaring my love ... and instead of saying yes or no, she opens her purse and offers me a mint in return.

It’s not that her response is a bad thing in itself. It’s that it’s entirely beside the point.

The Value of Works

IC: We have such a gross overestimation of the value of our tiny, little personal works because we have such a weak conception of what the righteousness of God means. We think that all it will take is a little fine tuning, and we’ll be dandy eternal companions for a holy God. We’re so badly self-deceived in that. To be in relationship with God takes nothing less than a righteousness equal in purity and totality with his own, for no shade of evil survives his presence. And how shall we obtain such pure righteousness?

Tom: You mean, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” The scripture is marvelously consistent, isn’t it.

Receiving the Due Reward

Which brings me to the thief on the cross. He must have been well aware he needed a lot more than fine tuning. When you read what he says, he knows he is no appropriate eternal companion for God. He doesn’t even dare hope it. He says, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds”. So he gets it. There’s no self-delusion there, and no idiotic notion that he brings anything to the table that will help his cause. He has nothing to bargain with, so he just asks a favour. Does he even know what he’s asking for? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter, because the Lord does. He says, “Today you will be with me”.

There’s the relationship again. It’s what we were made for.

IC: Yes. A dying thief with both his hands and his feet nailed to a piece of wood does not have a chance to offer any good works to compensate for his life of crime, does he? And yet, that simple desire, born of a despairing of self and a turning to the Lord for mercy, is greeted with a divine “Yes” far more generous than he could ever have imagined.

If only we all knew that the works of our own hands are just as useless until we have that divine “Yes”, and until our works are “clearly seen” as having been “carried out in God”. 

23 comments :

  1. Very nice analysis, I like this blog. However, I still think there is something amiss concerning the understanding of works. It is absolutely clear, as you point out, that God is very loving and generous with his creation to the point of forgiving the thief who probably did have a very spotty record. As I mentioned in previous comment, as a loving parent it is also clear that you MUST be preferring for your child to do good works to shape a good character and, as far as God is concerned, this must therefore also be his preference. Because not acting that way can also force a loving parent into having to reject their child or give up on their child if there are are no redeemable traits at all. So, yes, good works are obviously needed and even necessary and required. So, where do we differ here? Note that I am not stating that the child should or would think that they are only acceptable to God because of a constant record of good works (a misrepresentation) but knows, or should know, full well the importance of good works.

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    1. Ah. Thank you, Q. We also appreciate your thoughtful input. You certainly raise some interesting issues.

      I think you are quite correct when you say that God has as his preference that his children should do good works. Agreed. But whom do you mean by "His children"?

      Some people think it means every human being, since all are ultimately created by God. But this is incorrect. God Himself says they are not: as John writes, "He came to His own, and those who were His own (i.e. by right, by virtue of their having been created by Him) did not receive Him; but to as many as received Him, TO THEM He gave the power to become children of God..." So it is not all human beings who are God's true "children," even though we are all his creations; it is only those who believe.

      So yes, God wants His children to do good works; but not in order to earn their status as children, but to reflect the righteous character of their Father, beginning above all, with belief in the Son (John 8:42, John 6:40). For the status "child" is obtained by birth, not by earning it. Just so, the new birth that happens when we believe in Christ constitutes us as "children" of God. Our works do not do that. Instead, they reflect our new standing as children -- that is, those who participate in the moral nature of God.

      Now, concerning those who are NOT children of God, of whom there are clearly many, what concern ought God to have with them? They neither know Him nor honour His gesture of loving Fatherhood to them in sending His true Son to save them. What then is their apparent "goodness" to Him? After all, He's perfectly holy Himself, so has no need of their goodness. And since they are not in any relationship to Him, that is, not His children, (John 8:43-44), what are they any longer to Him? He says to them, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity; for I never knew you." (Matt. 7:21-23)

      Two things to note in this passage: firstly, the "workers of iniquity" are people who did good things -- such as calling God "Lord," prophesying, casting out demons and even performing miracles making use of God's name). Yet their professions that they were honouring him, and their works (even works as obviously good as calling Him "Lord" or expelling a demon) meant nothing to God, because these people as He says, "I never knew you." And this is the second thing we need to note: the Greek word for "know" there means not just "to know who someone is" (since God obviously knew them in that sense); it means "to stand in an approving relationship to someone," as translator W.E. Vine has put it. In other words, God is saying, "You weren't my children, and you were in no relationship to me: so your apparently righteous deeds are of absolutely no relevance to me)...I don't own any relationship to you.

      I think then, we are needing to settle the question of who really are the "children of God." After that, we shall be in wholehearted agreement that good works are something God prizes for His children. No problem there.

      But the question that is key is, "Who are God's children?" The Scriptural answer is, "Not everyone: just those who place their personal faith in the Son of God, and thereby are born again, newly constituted as children of God."

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  2. Hi IC, I would suggest a different perspective on that. My understanding is, from perusing previous blogs here, that you do not subscribe to the (Calvinist?) idea that a subset of people is simply not destined for heaven, no matter what. It is their fate. Thus, if that is not the case, which I also believe, then it follows that all peoples are children in the eyes of God called to holiness and fellowship with him. Also, it is clear that people don't necessarily act and grow that way due to various intentional and unintentional circumstances (things they have control over or do not). In that case, everyone is afforded the opportunity to act as God's child, and become a righteous person acceptable to God, but may, or may not capitalize on that. This includes the performance of good works. The separation from God, which you describe, is therefore occurring later in a person's life due to free will always with accompanying attenuating circumstances only visible to God. The latter place greater or lesser demands on his mercy, of course, which we are not familiar with. Thus, good works as such are not limited or reserved only for those who eventually find God (whom you call his true children) but is within reach of everyone for God to be fair. It is only later in life, that some of his children, as for human parents, reject the values they should have adopted to a point where the bible refers to them that way, namely as not being his children. And, as the thief on the cross teaches us, that point, of God's mercy being futile, is very remote and not easily reached by humans.

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    1. Interesting, Q. Calvinists hold that God arbitrarily predetermines people to salvation or damnation. For them, the "children of God" are only the Elect. For the Universalist, on the other hand, God arbitrarily predetermines all people to salvation, and all are the "children of God."

      The Scriptures agree with neither. And it's not Heaven or Hell that are the point of dispute: it's predetermination. Contrary to both Calvinism and Universalism, God commands people to repent and believe the message of salvation. He holds them accountable to how they regard the Son. And He honours their decision in that matter, whether their choice is wise or wretched, because God wants genuine relationship with mankind, not a predetermined (slave) situation, whether for good or ill.

      You're right that all people have the *opportunity* to be saved (contrary to Calvinism); but it would be incorrect to assume that all people must therefore *take* the opportunity they have (contrary to Universalism). That's the teaching of John 1:11-12, along with a host of other Biblical passages.

      And you are right in your thought that the mercy of God is very strong indeed. God is not willing (pace Calvinism) that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But remember that there were two thieves on the crosses: only one, we are told, was saved. God's mercy is great; but not everyone benefits. Some choose otherwise.

      Not only that, but surrounding the crosses were a few disciples, but a host of Pharisees, soldiers and the angry rabble that proclaimed they simply would not "have this Man to reign over us." No wonder, then, that Christ Himself declared that though the way to salvation was open to all, few there would be that would care to find it (Matt. 7:14).

      So yes, God's mercy is very great. In fact, it is SO great that there is simply not a sin we could commit that would keep us from it, except for the sin of willful, obdurate unbelief (Heb. 3:19). And in that case, it is not God's mercy that has failed. Au contraire, salvation is open to all; but human freedom cannot be had from a Universalist or a Calvinist perspective. And I believe the Scriptures teach us that God is committed to allowing us to choose Him freely, not to forcing us -- whether into Heaven or Hell.

      So where in all this is the matter of works? In regard to salvation, it's not the issue. In regard to evidence of being a true "child of God" after salvation, God does indeed value works. Yet for the unbelieving, again, it is quite clear in Scripture that there is no salvation -- not by *any* number of works, and no matter how grand those works may be (Titus 3:5).

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  3. That's where we will then have to leave the matter, IC, on some basic points of disagreement. My main view is whatever God does, it has to fit into a view where the limitation of humanity, his creation, is not exceeded but is always part of an organic whole contributing to humanity's and the individual's well being. This must include the reasonable assumption that it is incongruous for the entire crowd around the cross to see a stranger up there, even with good credentials - to those with that knowledge and perspective at that time - and truly recognize him at that moment to be his/her personal source of salvation (that would be incongruous). That is simply not how the world, in all its physical and other aspects, works. Because then, by your definition, all those at that time and for hundreds to thousands of years more, not even knowing about Christ, or able to figure out his significance even if knowing him, are dammed. Very unlikely since, to once more reference Peter, all men who act righteously are acceptable to God. That cannot simply be glossed over since that alone can explain the current state of the world. I know that you know that there are many, even today in the information age, who live rightly (and possibly more so than you or I) but cannot accept the idea of God in their lifes or God even existing. If I am to believe the apostle Peter, even those are acceptable to God if having lived rightly and, most significantly, as you and I know, they would not turn down God's friendship were they to finally concretely meet God.

    This is of course possible if a final decision about God for a person can also be made at, or even immediately after, death. This doubting Thomas attitude is an integral part of the human psyche and how some people function, something God would know and does not answer with eternal damnation, as we know. I do not include here deliberate and obstinate refusal to admit the possibility of God, which indeed could lead to perdition. However, one must err on the side of caution and be careful here to not throw the book at people ending up too doctrinaire in the eyes of God, at your own peril.

    As you must know, a probabilistic world view for many people is such that it is constructed fron many sources and an additional two of my sources (with to me high probability and the greatest psychological and rational satisfaction) are the likelihood of purgatory and the NDE experiences of people who died, met God and came back to tell about it. The former suggests the Catholic belief in possible purgatorial redemption removing the (in my mind) fatalistic boxed in view, faith or nothing and expanding on the possibility of redemption.

    The latter, the NDE experience, often suggests that a FINAL decision about God is made at/after death by any person when we meet Christ and he asks the final question "where do you really want to be?". Since in his presence we are undoubtedly compelled to answer truthfully, we ourselves will be enlightened and correctly choose where we truly belong, based on our life. Thus, God does not do so, condemn us, but allows our life to condemn us. Let's think about it, don't we constantly, and Pope Francis currently in particular during his visit in the USA, shake the hand of people, who are good people but do not hold our beliefs, without presuming to condemn them. So I for one will not be doctrinaire and claim that I am entitled to do so for any reason. That does not prevent me from recognizing and calling out and fighting evil where it exists. My attitude is not that anything goes and I know where and when the individual and society is misguided. Thus I can, and am even obligated, to put on the mantle of human judgement of knowing right from wrong but can not assume the mantle of devine judgment regarding the disposition of a soul, faith or no faith.

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    1. I was looking for your reference to Peter, Q. I assume you were attempting quotation of Acts 10:34-36. But it wasn't easy to tell.

      If you look, though, you'll see that Peter is very clearly referring to the difference between Jews and Gentiles, not between the saved and the works-practicing lost. He's saying, "I now understand that God accepts sincere Gentiles as well as Jews," not that salvation comes by works. Additionally, by interpreting in this way you would create an apparent contradiction with other passages, like Ephesians 2:8-9, or Romans 3:20, where none ought to exist. You should check that out for yourself, but it's really clear.

      I would suggest that perhaps you've also mistaken the difference between passing doubts and obdurate refusal to believe when one has more than enough evidence to know better. The Lord, as in the case of Thomas, helps those who struggle with the first; but as Hebrews clearly shows, He does not receive those who practice the latter...and He does not force such people into salvation against their wills. This too is something you recognize in your reply, so perhaps we do not disagree there.

      You seem to have a place in your worldview for a Hell as well as a Heaven. If so, perhaps we are only discussing numbers in regard to each place here. Let me assure you, I have no judgment about that; how many are saved and lost I cannot tell you. I can only say what Christ Himself says we are to believe: that few are saved and many are not (Matt. 7:14). And you can see that that's not my judgment, but His that I am respecting there.

      To make up my own view would be "doctrinaire," as you put it. But to believe His would merely seem the basic requirement of being faithful, would it not?

      You're still speaking of Purgatory, Q. Did you ever do as I suggested, and look up that word? It doesn't occur in the Bible, you will have discovered...not once. It's an invented doctrine, inferred from something not explicitly said in two verses in the Bible, and its existence and nature are not explicitly stated anywhere. A whole doctrine of Purgatory built on no explicit reference at all? Would that not be the very definition of a "doctrinaire" belief? :)

      Now, there is no passage in Scripture that speaks of that "final question" you attribute to Christ. I suggest that to put words in His mouth would indeed be to "assume the mantle of divine judgment," so we must not do that. For my part, I am content to believe what the Lord Himself says on the whole matter of judgment. You are quite correct that it is not my place to judge. It is His. But if He has already told us the exact basis upon which He will judge, do we not do wisely to believe Him?

      I think so. I think the Judge of all the Earth speaks the truth, and suggest we'd be wise not look to what seems to me human "probabilities," nor to the doctrines of men, but to the explicit word of Christ.

      I'm sure you would agree with that, no?



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  4. Well, I thought I would end it here, IC, but to my surprise I find I can't really let you have the last word now, can I ? :-) (just kidding).

    Yes, that was the passage from Peter i was referring to. It seems to me though that the implications of this passage (to me) have not come across yet. To me, we have to deal with how the world really was and is because if the passage is not taken in its widest general sense, applying to all gentiles over all of history, it is misinterpreted. The logistics has to be addressed that billions of people throughout history have not even really had a chance to become familiar enough with Christianity, never mind acquiring faith, and yet that we cannot assume that God will therefore simply discard them. If that is the Protestant assumption because there is no faith then it is a terrible flaw. This alone logically suggests and leads towards concepts like purgatory and having a decision point at point of death as well where many will have had their first encounter with Christ. And naturally, at that encounter it is important how you acted in life (don't forget that so far I have equated good works with action, specifically with good action shaping good character and therefore individuals acceptable to God) and we had previously agreed that good works are therefore desirable.

    With regard to human probability (I am bot aware of any other) it of course enters into everything and is basically the foundation of all we experience and do, and this includes our faith. There is no way today or at any time period that a person's conscious or subconscious assessment of probability does not enter into their calculation also with regard to their faith. Therefore, to answer your question, yes we assign and use human probability also for religion and faith because it is impossible not to do so (although some may not be completely aware that they are doing so).

    With regard to purgatory, I had an extensive discussion about that with a Protestant on the PN forum who also pointed out that there is no direct mention of it in scripture. Our research showed that within the Catholic church that idea is based in the historical religious practice of "prayer for the dead" (something you are probably familiar with).
    This is a perfectly logical position that I fully subscribe to. There is obviously no need to pray for the dead if there is only heaven and hell. In heaven you don't need prayers and in hell they won't do you any good. It will only do you good if you are in a situation like purgatory as a preparation time for heaven. Catholics belief in forgiveness by God but also that only few are fully ready for heaven at time of death (a process of gradual purgatorial change is far more logical to me than the instantaneous view, although the latter also seems to be feasible, aka the thief on the cross).

    During that PN forum discussion I also added my own insights to this matter. I proposed that binary situations (black or white) do not have a place in relationships (including with God) and there has to be grey shades as well. Purgatory represents such a situation, which I consider to be totally realistic with very high probability. Not everything is addressed in scripture and available history in completeness, and our deductions with assigned probability is needed to fill in the gap. I am aware that probability assignment has a problem in that it depends on and differs for individuals (is therefore dependent on their character and can therefore be dishonest). But you can often detect a glaring misassignment and make a correction for yourself, something I do not have to tell you.

    And now, since this us your blog, I will let you have the last word :-).

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    1. Well, there's a lot here, and I would fain be brief...yet it seems you've opened up a big can of worms. I will be as concise as a full answer can be.

      The Peter passage doesn't have a "widest general sense" that comes from any context in Scripture: it explicitly refers to salvation being extended beyond the Jews to believing Gentiles, and in no way suggests works salvation. But it does suggest something about how God handles the "billions of people" problem. Peter had expected a salvation only within the social context of Judaism; that is, he had thought (as you suggest) that Jewish salvation would entail the lostness of the Gentiles. What he discovered is that belief was possible to the Gentiles, even though they did not possess the full revelation as given to the Jews. In other words, God deals with individuals according to the measure of their knowledge...but always on the basis of faith, not works. This means we need not fret for the "billions," as they have their own responsibilities to believe God according to the light He has given them. A complete Jewish-style knowledge is not necessary...but faith is.

      We have indeed agreed that "good works are desirable": but not for salvation. On that, the Scriptures are quite clear (Rom. 3:20).

      Of course, faith involves probability: it is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) But this is quite different from human calculations of probability, since in them we do not have the assurance of God's own word. With that, what we have is really a certainty...for God cannot lie, so even what we have not yet seen is sure to come about. The only question is really whether we a) understand God correctly, and b) by faith put ourselves on the right side of His word.

      Regarding "prayers for the dead," the Scriptures do not teach that doctrine, nor is it general practice. Just as you will find no Purgatory in Scripture, you will find neither examples nor commandments to pray for the dead -- surely an amazing thing if these things were to be necessary, since as you point out, a great number of people would be in Purgatory. It's either that God forgot to instruct us on this institution, or that it simply does not exist. I think the latter is pretty clearly right (Heb. 9:27).

      "Binary situations do not have a place in relationships," you write? Well, nice thought, but actually that would seem obviously untrue. Married vs. unmarried is surely binary. Faithful vs. unfaithful is also binary. Childless vs. fertile, heir vs. disowned, adopted vs. orphan, legitimate vs. illegitimate... And so on. There really are no shades of grey in these terms, and in fact, the attempt to introduce "grey" would amount to things like polygamy, deception, promiscuity, injustice, confusion or nonsense. None of these are desirable relationship qualities, I think we'd both agree. So really, I think you need a better line of argument there. It seems quite obvious that relationships are actually established on binaries.

      I think, though, the key note of our differing perspectives is this: do we trust the explicit word of God, or do we lean to something else to decide what's true concerning Him? That's an important decision, and everything else depends upon it, I think.

      Thank your for your thoughts, Q.


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  5. IC, your point concerning Peter is encouraging to me since I had assumed that Protestant salvation by faith teaching would exclude an awful lot of (innocent) people.

    As I mentioned concerning good works, I agree and do not mean good works performed out of a calculation so that it might buy salvation. That might even have the opposite effect. But certainly to enhance our own spiritual well being and to please God.

    The following is taken from the below link concerning purgatory and prayer for the dead. I find no fault with the presented arguments there. And, of course, these arguments have been hashed over futilely for hundreds of years now. This is where probability assessment comes into play, and that depends on the individual, of course.

    Purgatory (one example, there are others):
    "Paul tells us that, when we are judged, each man’s work will be tried. And what happens if a righteous man’s work fails the test? "He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3:15). Now this loss, this penalty, can’t refer to consignment to hell, since no one is saved there; and heaven can’t be meant, since there is no suffering ("fire") there. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory alone explains this passage."

    Prayer for the dead:
    "Prayers for the dead and the consequent doctrine of purgatory have been part of the true religion since before the time of Christ. Not only can we show it was practiced by the Jews of the time of the Maccabees, but it has even been retained by Orthodox Jews today, who recite a prayer known as the Mourner’s Kaddish for eleven months after the death of a loved one so that the loved one may be purified. It was not the Catholic Church that added the doctrine of purgatory. Rather, any change in the original teaching has taken place in the Protestant churches, which rejected a doctrine that had always been believed by Jews and Christians."

    http://www.catholic.com/tracts/purgatory

    With regard to my comment concerning binaries in relationships I was of course suggesting that, in my opinion, a simple heaven/hell binary would be inadequate in describing a God to human relationship. Also, for the record, I was mentioning relationships and binaries are not relationships but only possible occurrences within relationships. Turning a light switch on/off is an occurrence, a state, but not a relationship. In a relationship someone might use a light switch but that's not where the relationship started or ended and it does not define the entire relationship. In the case of God that certainly includes how the soul presents itself to God at time of death. And just as human justice does have a grey scale by not dealing only in binaries, death penalty or acquittal, I certainly expect divine justice to do the same, hence, in my opinion, one more reason for purgatory.

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    1. I think we can agree, Q, that the nature of God is that He is maximally merciful as well as completely just. He has no delight in the death of the wicked, and would rather see the wicked person turn from his ways and live (Eze.33:11). He certainly is very gracious to anyone who has faith at all.

      I think I find myself agreeing with your assessment of works as well -- that they don't buy salvation, but are certainly excellent and it's pleasing to God when His children do good.

      Regarding Purgatory, perhaps it hasn't occurred to you that there is a better explanation of 1 Cor.3:15. If we check the context, verses 11-14, we find that the subject is not salvation, but rather the question of rewards for Christians. Remember we talked about the fact that Heaven is not an equal-rewards situation but is hierarchical, with more or less rewards for each believer, based on their works? Well, "so as by fire" clearly refers to the person's *works* being burned up, not the person himself or herself. So again, it's rewards not salvation or eternal destination in view, and no hint of the idea of a Purgatory attaches to that passage at all.

      Again, for me the issue is not "what does tradition X or Y say," but "what does God say about this. The Lord Himself clearly did not believe in Purgatory, and taught nothing concerning it. I'm going to stick with Him on that, though He did teach quite a bit about Heaven and Hell. If there were a Purgatory, He would surely have known and told us, no? After all, He would know, wouldn't He?

      On the matter of binaries, I'm not sure I grasp your argument there. It seems clear to me that however many grey areas one may find within human relationships, "grey" does not describe the best and purest aspects of relationship -- such as purity, fidelity, commitment, devotion, honesty and so forth. In many, many ways, relationships actually depend on binaries; and to fall short of some of these binaries (such as fidelity-infidelity, for example) is not to "grey" the relationship, but rather to undermine, pollute or destroy the relationship.

      So the real question might be, "Is God prepared to accept anything less than a completely sincere, full and exclusive relationship with us?" And my suggestion would be He does not accept "grey" relationships. One reason I says so is the first and second Commandments (Ex. 20:2-6). A second is found in the New Testament. For it teaches that in order to accept us, God does not accept our deeds or "greyness" at all, but rather imputes to us the righteousness of Christ Himself...a pure, white holiness...and on that basis alone accepts us, not excusing our faults but rather judicially eradicating them by investing us with the righteousness of the Son (Rom. 3:21-28).

      I submit to you that this is far better than God sending us in our "greyness" to Purgatory. Far better to be fully accepted in God's own Beloved One, and to approach Him without fear (Heb. 10:21-23).

      And I would wish that for you too, Q...not Purgatory.

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  6. I read her main volumes. Beautiful prose dictated by Jesus, according to her. Things like this also figure into my probability calculations.

    See excerpts below taken from:

    http://www.mirmedjugorje.org/testimony_details.php?tid=241


    Whats Purgatory like ? ...From the Notebooks of Maria Valtorta.

    Jesus says:
    "I want to explain to you what Purgatory is and what it consists of. ..
    "The souls immersed in those flames suffer only from love. "Not undeserving of possessing the Light, but not worthy to enter therein immediately either into the Kingdom of Light, these, on presenting themselves to God, are assailed by the Light. It is a brief advance blessedness which makes them certain of their salvation and aware of what their eternity will be like and knowledgeable regarding what they did to their souls, defrauding them of years of blessed possession of God. Then, immersed in the place of purgation, they are assailed by the flames of expiation. �

    "What does the Triune God want for the souls created by Him? Good. "What feelings does the One who wants Good for a creature have for the creature? Feelings of love. "What are the first and second commandments, the two most important ones, the ones regarding which I said that there were no others greater and that in them was the key to reaching eternal life? It is the commandment of love: 'Love God with all your strength; love your neighbor as yourself.'

    "Through my mouth and that of the prophets and saints, what have I said on numberless occasions? That Charity is the greatest form of absolution. Charity consumes the sins and the weaknesses of man, for whoever loves lives in God, and in living in God he sins little, and if he sins, he immediately repents, and for whoever repents there is the forgiveness of the Most High. "What did souls fail in? In Love. If they had loved much, they would have committed few and slight sins, connected with your weakness and imperfection. But they would never have reached the conscious obstinacy in even venial sin. They would have endeavored not to grieve their Love, and Love, seeing their good will, would have absolved them even of the venial sins committed.

    "How is reparation made for a sin, even on earth? By expiating it, and, if one can scarcely do so, through the means whereby it was committed. With the one who has done damage, by restoring what he has taken away with overbearance. With the one who has defamed, by retracting the defamation, and so on. "Now, if poor human justice wants this, won't the holy Justice of God want it? And what means will God use to obtain reparation? Himself�that is, Love, and by demanding love. "This God, whom you have offended and who loves you in a fatherly way and who wants to unite Himself to his creatures, leads you to obtain this union through Himself.

    "Everything hinges on Love, Maria, except for the real 'dead,' the damned. For these 'dead ones' Love, too, is dead. But for the three realms�the heaviest one: the Earth; the one where the weight of matter is abolished, but not of the soul weighed down by sin: Purgatory; and, finally, the one where the inhabitants share with their Father the spiritual nature which frees them from every encumbrance�the motor is Love. It is by loving on earth that you work for Heaven. It is by loving in Purgatory that you conquer Heaven, which in life you were unable to merit. It is by loving in Paradise that you enjoy Heaven."

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    1. I've run into the mystical tradition in Catholicism before, Q, and also of the supposed ecstatic visions of Međugorj.

      I guess this runs us into a key question: when an alleged prophet or visionary says one thing, and the Word of God says the opposite, which one ought we to believe? What I mean is that the Valtorta vision says people are saved by keeping two commandments, and that sins may be eliminated by our efforts, through charity, or human love, or good will, or retraction...But Christ says, "...no person comes to the Father but by me," (John 146) and Paul says "...by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight (Rom. 3:20), and so on.

      Maria Valtorta would send you to an alleged place called "Purgatory." Indeed, she would say that most people have the fearful prospect of sweating it out there, and then getting into Heaven only if they can somehow muster enough of their own merit and earn God's favour by their works or by the sheer magnitude of their suffering. But Christ says “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, *has* eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." (John 5:24) Especially if you look at the Greek text -- but even here -- you can see that for those who believe in Christ, there IS no judgment, but rather a passing directly from death to life, and one that is realized upon the very moment of faith. It's perfectly clear, really, what the Lord says about that.

      So which shall we believe: the Bosnian visionaries or Jesus Christ, the Son of God? I think there can only be one choice. But of course I realize it's not a choice I can make for you...you'll have to decide where you wish to place your faith too.

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  7. With regard to Maria Valtorta, her books, written in the most beautiful prose and with stunning imagery, make more of a clean, good, and great read compared to a lot of the garbage we call literature nowadays. Besides being a fascinating read and creating good sentiments, it might motivate people not to substitute for the bible but to pick up the bible again to become more familiar with Christ. Curiously, there was a time period when her books were on the forbidden list of books by the Catholic church. This is no longer the case but should pique people's interest in why that was the case at one time.

    Again, there is a lot of other substantive material on prayer for the dead then the one item I provided, just search the internet. As I said, such practice permits a rock solid conclusion for a purgatorial existence. You also chose to the ignore the fact I provided the fact that Jews to this day pray for the dead. The upshot is that throughout the entire history of Christianity the need for purgatory was considered essential based on the research and thinking of people just as smart and capable as you and I. That is something I will not ignore. You also ignored the parallel I drew to human justice that implies a continuum, a grey scale to the concept of justice. Again, I see no valid reason that should not carry through to the eternal.

    It is also clear that the end result of the purgatorial process is the same as for the Protestant assumption of instantaneous heaven. Why should Christ bring it up therefore when his mission was to convince people that salvation is achievable? As a matter of fact, with the Jewish practice of prayer for the dead he probably figured that it was a given that people understood the process so that he thought to only stress the end result.

    In any case, I believe that within about 35 years (give or take a couple of years ?) we will both know how things really are. Should I be in heaven I am still concerned that one of my less noble character traits will come through which is that I like to tell people, see I told you so. :P

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    1. I can see I've vexed you, Q. I'm sorry. Sometimes it's not possible to affirm one's own view without implying criticism...yet I have no desire to produce offence.

      I could point out that "beautiful prose and stunning imagery" do not make a case for the truth of a writing. Nietzsche or the Gita are often prized for their literary merit -- but for truth...? Then I could point out the implications of the idea that common "practice" argues for any "rock solid conclusion" of righteousness. Prostitution, child sacrifice and torture of enemies are all very old and widespread practices...Yet such comparisons could make you think I was equating your views with atheism or prostitution. So perhaps what I’d be better to do is to point out the principle: that the matter of their goodness or badness would have to be settled on more relevant grounds. And I think if I frame it that way, you might see my exception as reasonable.

      I suspect, though, that my chief offense in my last message came from my challenge to Purgatory.

      I fully understand why a person would be reluctant to give that doctrine up, especially if the only alternative were Hell. However, there is another side to that issue. Surely we cannot invent such a place merely in order to assuage our concerns about Hell, especially if doing so dulls us to the reality of a very binary choice before us, and ultimately perhaps sends us to the very Hell we would fain deny. Instead, would we not be most wise to take the word of the ultimate Judge, as the Bible clearly tells us (John 5:22-23)? Do we have a better Source?

      Now, your assumption appears to be that some combination of works, being sorry enough, or suffering enough torture will save one from sin and ingratiate us to God. And yet it is this assumption that the Scriptures deny – namely that human righteousness is *ever* the road to Heaven, whether now or later. And in connection with this, you say that Christ had the "mission to convince people that salvation is achievable.” But Christ did not come to make salvation achievable *by* us, but to achieve it *for* us…not to tell us to make ourselves righteous, but to offer us the chance to be clothed with His righteousness.

      I wonder what you think your own future holds. Are you aiming to do your best in this life, (expecting, of course, that you will fall considerably short of the kind of righteousness that is compatible with the holiness of God Himself), and then spend an unforeseeable period of time suffering, in the hope that, when tortured sufficiently, you may finally merit forgiveness?

      I wonder, can I offer a better hope? What if we could simply give up on our works? Suppose instead that I cried out to God for mercy – begged Him to make some way that a person like me could be forgiven and given a righteousness sufficient to make me the companion of a Holy God? And suppose He was not only willing to do that for me, but would send His Son to pay the price of my sins and replace my failure with His own righteousness. If such a deal existed, then do you think I should one believe it did, and should I then be willing to take it?

      But of course, we do not have to imagine all this: it's reality. It is the way God has prepared for us already. And if we are willing to let Him, He will give us the very righteousness we need and could never produce by ourselves in a million years. All we must do is bring ourselves to believe that God is not our torturer who waits to inflict the pain rightfully due to us, and instead believe that He is an earnest Father who loves us and is willing to make us right with Him, if only we are wiling that He should.

      We can know that we are saved, cleansed, forgiven and loved by God...not in 35 years, nor after an indefinite period of torture in the afterlife, but right now. (John 3:16)

      So I ask, since the Son of God Himself makes the offer, why not take it?

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  8. IC, don't worry, but I am not vexed nor easily offended. It's understood that neither one of us wants to offend anyone deliberately. I think we are having an interesting discussion becoming familiar with how perspectives can differ concerning our faith (isn't it something that people seemingly have done forever?)

    Again, concerning Maria Valtorta, of course I am not implying that writing style correlates with truth, but the material and context might well do so. I personally do not have any idea about the author's truthfulness and would have to accept contemporary eyewitness accounts and character references. And according to those she was unlikely to be a liar or manipulator of facts. Thus, one can ask can you trust someone else's eyewitness account and retelling of experience even if the conveyed experience may seem unusual. I personally do not close the door on that possibility and keep an open mind. Hence, there is some probability concerning factualness that would enter into my estimates.

    You were saying that Christ and/or the apostles would have mentioned at some point that there is indeed a purgatory-like state (purgatory from here on in) if such a thing really exists. And because there is no record of them saying so in the bible it must be true that it does not exist. To me that's a poor line of reasoning that has its own demise build in because the converse is then also possible. The converse being that something can also, or even especially, be true if not mentioned in the bible. That's because we know that prayer for the dead actually was practiced by Jews in those times but is not mentioned in the new testament.Therefore Christ and/or the apostles, should have strongly condemned that practice as being unnecessary and wrong, correcting the record on purgatory. Thus, by the converse of your reasoning, since there is no record of them doing so in the bible, that constitutes proof that prayer for the dead was accepted as valid and that purgatory therefore does exist. They would of course have placed much greater emphasis on eradicating a wrong belief, increasing the probability of a mention in the bible, then when dealing with an accepted one not worth mentioning in the bible.

    There is an additional lesson to be learned here. Namely, that the Catholic scholar's emphasis to also incorporate and pay attention to tradition in religion and biblical interpretation and to not exclusively rely on a binary approach of yes/no it is/is not in the bible pays off and leads to greater insight, better analysis, and approximation of the truth. In other words it is insufficient to say it's in the bible.therefore it's true and it's false if not in the bible. Evidently, that does not have to be the case..

    Regarding Christ's offer, I appreciate your concern of wanting to see me follow a path that you perceive to be correct. I have accepted his offer, of course, but, as I believe within a more realistic, and more difficult, context (as a practicing Catholic) which I have concluded to be correct. Nevertheless, it is my fundamental belief that all people respond best to Christ by taking him up on his offer that when two or more of you pray in my name I am present among you. That opens up possibilities for people of all persuasions.

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    1. Yes indeed, Q...theological discussions are not new. I'm glad that we can conduct ours with grace and mutual respect. As you probably know, that has not always been the way things were done. People feel their theology strongly -- and rightly so, for whether they are correct or incorrect there is everything at stake. What could be more important than subjects like God, salvation, morality and future destiny, right?

      Now, you appear to suppose my disbelief in Purgatory sits on a merely negative foundation: namely, that it is unmentioned and unknown in Scripture. But there are two reasons why that's not correct. Firstly, the burden of proof for something unmentioned must surely fall on the person who insists on the existence of that theological fixture, not on the one who sees no evidence for it. Secondly, and far more importantly, the teaching of Scripture is dead against the idea: for by insisting we can be saved now, by faith, and never enter into condemnation (Jn. 5:24) and never have our sins called up against us (Ps. 103:12, Heb. 9:28 ). Given that, Christ Himself has explicitly ruled out punishing us for our sins if we accept His righteousness through faith. And in fact, if our sins ever were recalled against us, that would actually be an insult to the righteousness with which God has clothed us (Phil. 3:9) for it is His Son's righteousness, not ours. So we have both a negative case (it's not in the Bible) and a positive one (that which completely excludes its possibility is in the Bible). The first point puts responsibility on the believer in Purgatory, and the second obliges the believer in Purgatory to give sufficient reasons to contradict the explicit words of the Son of God...a much stronger case than you suggest, I think.

      As for what the ancient Jewish groups may or may not have practiced, it's surely obvious that we would not be obliged or well advised to do likewise without Biblical warrant. At times, Israel also worshiped Baal or Ashtoreth, and we wouldn't advise continuation of those tradition, would we? Nor would we continue Pharisaic legal practices, though we even know from Scripture itself that such were widely practiced among the Jews.

      You write, "It's insufficient to say 'It's in the Bible, therefore it's true..." Your assumption, would be, then that the Bible is not truthful in all matters it affirms? I'm just curious. And I wonder how you filter tradition, then. For if you assume the Bible untrustworthy, how much more untrustworthy must be human traditions...and more multitudinous and diverse, too. By what method do you filter truth from falsehood, then, since you take neither of these sources to be reliable?

      P.S. -- This is surely a secondary matter; but regarding Matt. 18:20, which I think you're citing above, have you checked the context of that verse to see what it really means? I think you'll find it's talking about settling offences in the congregation, not about prayer, nor is it an invitation to "people of all persuasions."

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    2. But IC, there is no burden of proof on my part since I did not invent those facts. It is you who has to justify or proof that those people and their belief was mistaken. Christ did not say it was mistaken, even though he could easily have done so. It is an unrealistic assumption that something only has a truth value when found in the bible and that tradition practiced at that time is assumed to be wrong because it did not get a mention.

      Comparing prayer for the dead to evil traditions, like worship of Baal. is really a stretch on your part and is besides the point. Firstly, God forbade that and secondly, if other traditions exist and are practiced, so what, that does not invalidate the conclusions based on the tradition of prayer for the dead.

      With regard to salvation and condemnation, as I recall, Christ did delegate confession and the power to retain or absolve sins to the apostles. That implies that sins are also not forgiven for many (even simply because of logistics) hence they are retained at time of death. Now if all is settled according to Protestant doctrine by God's instantaneous forgiveness and salvation based on faith alone, then there is no need to absolve or retain sins by the apostles on earth in the first place since that gets settled by God at death and the whole thing would seem to be a charade. The implication is therefore that we arrive at death still stained with sin, and depending on how severe that is, we need a scrubbing in purgatory, or we become part if the damned.

      My own take is that your and other arguments on this site often ignore basic ground rules of dealing with human psychology that demand, out of respect for the wellbeing of the individual (body and soul), that certain avenues must be used with regard to redemption. Thus, instantaneous person change in psyche and spirit would be forced and also disrespectful of the person with regard to their sense of self, their current status and their abilities to move forward. Purgatory instead achieves all objectives leading to individual redemption that an individual would consider fair, just and achievable. No magic wand and instantaneous wiping of memory, propping up of defective ego and psyche, etc., just a reasonable, understandable path (perceived as fair) for a human to eternal happiness and health (the grey scale I mentioned instead of an unrealistic binary change of state). And yes, that cleansing should have consequences and achieve its objective with suffering that would now be perceived as fair and just by the soul. Again, the end result, salvation, is still guaranteed to the deserving soul, just that now a realistic process is in place.

      Your use of the term torture for what happens in purgatory reminds me of when a commenter here accused me of cannibalism because I receive communion in the Catholic mass. I suggested that in that case he is passing judgement on God as instituting an obviously ridiculous practice at mass. Torture would fall into the same category since, if purgatory exists, it would obviously not be torture on God's part but would have to be something beneficial to his beloved creatures. (But I think you would agree with that and are using a hyperbole). Now, the Valtorta description of purgatory supplies an interesting vision of what it might be like. Another interesting vision is provided here.

      http://www.medjugorje.com/medjugorje/heaven-purgatory-hell.html

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  9. Not wanting to pile on, Q, but just to address the one ongoing issue of whether a thing can be understood to be 'good' or 'bad' by whether or not Christ condemned it specifically within the canon of scripture ... Into that category of things 'not specifically condemned' by the Lord fall abortion, masturbation, suicide and slavery, among other things that many people would consider very wrong indeed.

    I submit to you that the fact that the Lord did not specifically single out the doctrine of purgatory for his correction is essentially meaningless.

    Right. I will retreat to my corner and enjoy the discussion.

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    1. Hmmm...yep, what Tom said, Q.

      It's simply untrue that Christ did not rule out Purgatory. He explicitly taught there was a Heaven and a Hell, and that anyone who wished to could be saved from the latter and guaranteed the former by faith. In His plan of salvation there is neither any function for a "Purgatory," nor is there any timespan in which it could exist. So His teaching in itself eliminates all possibility of such a time and place.

      Judging by you comments, you appear to think it somehow telling that the Lord did not make a point of mentioning and eliminating the place explicitly. That seems totally unsurprising to me. If I were glib, I could point out that He did not explicitly refute the existence of Middle Earth, Narnia or The Hogwarts School either.

      Likewise you seem to find it surprising that He never spoke the name of the place. But surely that's anachronistic: of course He wouldn't mention the word "Purgatory," since it is of much later Catholic coinage. Secondly, the concept of such a place was not even believed by either the Pharisees or the Sadducees, the two major Jewish sects dominant at the time and explicitly identified in Scripture. Thirdly, how could we be surprised that He did not refer to a concept that even the Catholics did not identify by that term until the year 1030, as the Catholic Encyclopaedia can tell you. From the perspective we can no more be astonished that the Lord did not mention or refute Purgatory by name than by the fact that He failed to speak of the Black Plague, the English Civil War or quantum physics: for none of these was any artifact of His day.

      Of course, there's an even more obvious reason why Christ would not mention Purgatory: that it simply doesn't exist.

      Regarding your third paragraph, it refers to "sins settled at death," which is not what Scripture teaches, nor what Christ taught, nor what I said; so I'm unclear on how to understand that argument. Likewise, your fourth paragraph seems merely a discussion of a private view of psychology you have. But the logic there doesn't seem to me to add up at all, so again I'm at a bit of a loss to respond. It looks to me like you're saying something like, "People expect things like Purgatory, so therefore they must exist." But that's such a poor argument that I think it couldn't possibly be what you mean. Anyway, I can't grasp your point there, and don't want to interpret you as saying something you're not...you may clarify if you wish.

      Don't let it trouble you unnecessarily that I used the word "torture" regarding Purgatory. I'm only responding to what I've seen illustrated in several Catholic children's books...pictures of Purgatory as people burning in sulphurous flames for an indefinite period. If those stories were truthful, then "torture" would surely be an appropriate word...but if you see Purgatory as a pleasant place and deny those children's books are telling the truth, then I have no problem accepting that they are mythical...But then, I think the same of Purgatory itself.

      In conclusion, I cannot help but notice you haven't answered my question about how you personally sort out good traditions from bad ones, the true from the false. That would be very important to making your case, of course, since it relies not on the Scriptures but on traditions you appear to believe truthful.

      So perhaps I can conclude by reiterating that question and drawing your attention to its importance: How do you do it? How do you identify a truthful or good tradition and eliminate the false or evil ones?

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  10. Hmm, I think you and Tom are both skirting the issue here a bit. As before, the existence of purgatory (and I am basically stating what I read) is based (primarily?, haven't researched that yet) on the tradition of prayer for the dead. Since purgatory is such a significant item or issue if you are in the process of putting in a church, then it is reasonable to conclude it would be addressed and therefore mentioned as such but not if it was considered normal tradition not needing to be addressed. So, no comparison to the trivial stuff you are bringing up. Another faux argument you are making Is that the term purgatory itself did not exist early on?? Of course not, just substitute whatever term(s) may have been used for prayer for the dead. To me it looks a bit like you are avoiding the issue that tradition actually does have a role to play in the church. I suggest you do a search for purgatory as taught in the Catholic tradition and then go up against scholars and thinking refined since Christ. Don't fault me for thinking that their point of view and facts may be just as, or more, substantive than yours (I am just estimating probabilities here).

    Sins settled at death not taught? That's possible if sins for an individual are not settled by a confession as Christ commissioned when he authorized confession and forgiveness of sins by the apostles. If not forgiven, probably more due to logistics, but maybe even retained by the apostle, then of course that implies that sins are then settled at death, another proof of purgatory.

    I am saying another proof of purgatory because that logically flows from my point about human psychology. And that is of course that that settling of sins at death, to be mindful of the human constitution (health, psyche, etc.) would (could) not be instantaneous but would have to be a gradual change of character of the person as achieved in a purgatorial setting. I am convinced that you heard about the fact that suffering in this world also has the tendency to create humble human beings possibly more attuned to the good influence of God. In other words, no Hogwarts magic, no sudden light shows and jolts, just respect for the human creature and his or her psyche and a sensible and understandable continuum when moving from this world to the next.

    And yes, we do know that forgiveness for transgressions also has to happen between humans and that that is not an instantaneous but gradual process also. And if you are in jail, for all practical purposes you are in purgatory.

    Btw, I will now conclude my arguments (expecting your reply, of course) or this will simply get too long. Let me stress that I respect what you are doing here, it is a worthy goal to draw people closer to or get them acquainted with Christ. Not only that but it is done in an intelligent, informative, and compassionate manner that holds my interest and that I am constantly learning from. I am convinced that when we meet Christ one day he will sort this all out for us anyway.

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    1. Ah, the old parry and dodge move. :)

      I cannot help but observe that you haven't attempted to answer the question I posed so emphatically at the end of my last message, and which I've now posed to you three times in total...the question that would settle all this. So at the risk of becoming tedious, I'll repeat it a fourth time: how do you differentiate between good and bad when it comes to tradition?

      I am interested in your answer...Particularly with regard to the "prayers for the dead" issue. Please go ahead.

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  11. Hmm IC,the reason I did not answer those questions is that I think it might be trap, and I am not a mouse ;-). No seriously, I have the feeling that I used up a lot of real estate on this topic and it's time to move on. I researched it a little more and the Wikipedia actually has a good summary on purgatory and prayer for the dead.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayers_for_the_Dead

    My own position is that I don't really care since there are only two ending places regardless, heaven or hell, even if the processes may be somewhat different. From the Wiki it is clear that this has been a can of worms for a long time and to me that's totally unnecessary. I prefer the purgatorial position because if that is correct then, hopefully, I will be expedited into heaven by those who pray for me, while the Protestant will sit there and say I wish I had listened to Qman.

    One more thing though. My research dug up the fact that Christ told the Apostles to go out, make converts, heal, AND raise from the dead. Heck no, if I am in heaven I do not want an Apostle to go around and yank me out of there back into my body. If I am in purgatory, why not?

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    1. The question is no trap, Q, but it is crucial to finding an answer. Here, I will answer it myself: there is no way to tell which traditions human beings create that are pernicious (like, say, child sacrifice or torturing enemies) and those that are benign or good (Easter eggs, prisoner amnesty) -- unless one has a moral touchstone against which to measure them. That is the Word of God. Without that, we're all just guessing.

      Now, I appreciate the frankness of your remark that you're looking to Purgatory as a sort of second chance at Heaven. I fully understand, and would probably feel the same way, were it not for two things...

      Firstly, that my entire confidence is in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and not in my own works to save me. My conviction that I will be accepted by God is precisely as strong as my belief in the acceptability to God the Father of His Own Son. John 3:35-36 makes it absolutely clear that there can be no more secure way to God, and no alternative.

      But this raises a question for you, I'm sure: it's, "Why not have a backup plan?" After all, what if my first plan doesn't work? Isn't someone who believes in Purgatory ahead of someone who doesn't? Well, the Book of Galatians answers that rejoinder very eloquently. The Galatians were making a related mistake -- that of thinking that Christ was merely the starting point for salvation, but therefore salvation would depend on obedience to rules. But Paul says things like this: "You foolish Galatians: who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified..." (Gal. 3:1). They were not prudent but actually "foolish" for believing in any other salvation but Christ: and why? Because if they turned to the Law, "Christ will be of no use to you." (Gal. 5:2), moreover, they would be under obligation "to keep the whole Law," (Gal. 5:3), but "by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Rom. 3:20). So the choice before them was really stark: they could approach God by faith in Jesus Christ, OR by faith in their ability to keep the Law...but not both! But to rely on their works was, by definition, NOT to be appealing to God through Jesus Christ. So they would have to make a choice.

      This brings up my second reason: to believe in Purgatory is to look to works -- either in this life or the next -- to ingratiate oneself to God. But this is no add-on to salvation by Christ: rather it is the extreme alternative to it, as the Word of God makes so very clear.

      This raises the stakes considerably. It's not the case that we can keep Purgatory as a secondary option, as you suggest. Rather, belief in Purgatory will send us to the place we fear most, since it will sever us from Christ (Gal. 5:4). We will then be approaching God with nothing but works to offer...and you know (because otherwise you wouldn't both with the idea of Purgatory) that those works we've done will not please God (Ps. 130:3-4).

      Therefore the eventuality I fear is not Q man saying "I told you so," nor do I gloat in any privilege of saying to Qman, "I told you so." Rather, my care is to guard against not having the privilege of sharing Heaven with Q man at all. And against that outcome, I will gladly vex you a little by pointing out to you the free and open way of salvation offered to you through Christ Jesus, and contesting against the tradition of Purgatory, though that may risk unsettling you a bit in the short term.

      For my point is not for me to win this discussion: it's for you to win certainty of eternal life, so as to fear neither Hell nor Purgatory anymore (Heb. 2:15).

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