I am currently listening to Tim Staples’ CD set, God’s Perfect Plan: Purgatory and Indulgences Explained. What an excellent resource. Even if you are a Protestant and cannot accept the existence of Purgatory, you will find this set useful. Even if all it does is lay out the Catholic position so you understand it better, without all of the anti-Catholic exaggerations and untruths contained in so many anti-Catholic works, you will be better of for it. You can purchase it from Catholic Answers.

Those who do not accept purgatory make the claim that because Christ atoned for all sin and all penalties for sin, there is nothing left to be purged. Tim presents an illustration that I have heard before, but I would like to expand upon it. I know that when you are talking about analogies though, you can never come up with something that will work in all instances, so mine is not perfect either, but I think it fits better. The illustration goes like this.

Suppose your son breaks a neighbor’s window and later is sorry that he did it. He may even go to the neighbor and apologize, and if he is a good neighbor, he will forgive the boy. Even though he is forgiven, it  does not eliminate the need for him to make reparation for the broken window. Forgiveness has been granted, but there is still a price to be paid. He needs to pay for the window.

Now suppose there is another neighbor who does not owe the first neighbor any kind of debt. Further suppose that he sees that your son has no way of paying for the window, and you won’t pay either, trying to teach him a lesson. The second neighbor pays the first neighbor for the window, illustrating how Christ pays the penalty for us.

However, this illustration breaks down on a major point. Although the penalty has been paid, your son did not pay it, which on the surface sounds good. But the problem is that correction (discipline) never takes place. If the neighbor continues to pay penalties for the boy, he has no incentive to change his behavior. He may continue to break windows, knowing that someone will pay for it. Not only will he eventually lose the benefit of correction and discipline, but he will also eventually lose the feeling that he has any need for repentance (can you say, “once saved, always saved?”).

The problem with this scenario is that this is what the court system would call a civil case. It changes quite a bit if you look at this using a criminal case instead. Suppose your son (let’s make him a little older, say 17) murders the neighbor instead of just breaking a window. Also suppose that again after he commits the crime he is sorry, truly sorry for what he has done and repents of his sin before God. Suppose that the family of the neighbor also believe that the boy is truly sorry. Protestants and Catholics alike would agree that even though he may have been forgiven by God, and possibly the family of the dead neighbor, your son still has a penalty to pay regardless of how sorry he is.

Because we are now talking about a criminal case, there is nothing that anyone else can do for him. Let’s say that you love your son so much that you can’t bear the thought of seeing him go to prison for the rest of his life, or to face the death penalty, especially because you really believe that he has repented of this sin. No court in the land is going to let him off the hook and let someone else do his jail-time. He, personally, must pay his debt to society.

Purgatory is more like that. Christ forgave the sin, making it possible for the person to attain total forgiveness, but the penalty for the sin remains and must be paid for by the perpetrator. And remember, the penalty that must be paid is not because the court has imposed it. It is because the person broke the law. In other words, he owes the debt, even if no one knows he committed a crime.

I mentioned in a previous post that Protestants say they do not believe in Purgatory, but they do believe in a purging process. If there is no need for Purgatory, which serves one purpose only—purification, then there is no need to be purged (correction/discipline) at all. Let me ‘splain.

The Protestant certainly believes in the Lord disciplining his children. It is presented in so many places in the Bible that I will not bother listing them. The reason the Lord disciplines them is because he loves them. He does not want to punish anymore than any other parent wants to punish their children. He does want to correct them though, again as any parent would.

What is correction or discipline? Is it merely punishment or obedience? Or is it trying to change your child’s behavior so that wrong intentions and desires are purged away, and past debts are paid resulting in holiness?

If the Protestant agrees with the Catholic that a penalty must be paid here in this life for your sins, civil infractions, and crimes, then why would they think that the slate is wiped clean at death? What magic is there in dying? Two minutes before you die you owe a criminal penalty for crime no one ever convicted you of, but you die and now it no longer needs to be paid? If Christ paid that part of the debt at death, then why do we give a penalty at all after repentence and you are still alive? Conversely, if you die owing the debt, the debt still needs to be paid. The Protestant does believe this along with Catholics, but only regarding hell. If they believe this is true regarding hell (not all do), then why not a cleansing process at death for Christians who have not yet had a chance to confess their sins, or for ones they have forgotten about, or didn’t realize they were sins?