by Robert Brow    (web site -

Last week the Pope gave us a major model shift from hell as eternal punishment to the free choice of eternal darkness away from the love of God. In yesterdays' Globe and Mail (Aug. 5, 99) Marcus Gee wrote: "Having tried to take the puffy clouds out of heaven and the fire and brimstone out of hell, the Pope is now attempting to demystify God's waiting room purgatory."

Marcus Gee adds that "with the exception of evangelists who take a strictly literal view of the Bible's contents, few serious religious thinkers view heaven, hell and purgatory as physical addresses to which souls are dispatched like postal packages."

What the Pope actually said in his audience at the Vatican was :

"Following our catechesis on the reality of heaven and hell, today we consider purgatory, the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but who are not completely imbued with that love.

Sacred Scripture teaches us that we must be purified if we are to enter into perfect and complete union with God. Jesus Christ, who became the perfect expiation for our sins and took upon himself the punishment that was our due, brings us God's mercy and love. But before we enter into God's kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in purgatory.

Those who live in this state of purification after death are not separated from God but are immersed in the love of Christ. Neither are they separated from the saints in heaven who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life nor from us on earth who continue on our pilgrim journey to the Father's house. We all remain united in the mystical body of Christ, and we can therefore offer up prayers and good works on behalf of our brothers and sisters in purgatory."

This is an important model shift from the idea of purgatory as a debtor's prison where we are imprisoned till we can pay off what we owe. Purgatory is no longer a place where we pay what we owe, but "a process of purification" by being "immersed in the love of Christ."

But the Pope seems double-minded. He still want to retain the idea that those in purgatory need our "prayers and good works" to help them through the process. This is not surprising since the priests of his denomination still receive donations for masses to be offered to help people through purgatory.

A common Roman Catholic model was that in baptism all past sins are removed by the payment Christ made on the cross. But sins after baptism needed to be removed by the sacrament of penance. It was the sins after our last confession, and all unconfessed sins, that needed to be paid for in purgatory. And this process could be hastened and made easier with the help of the prayers and good works of people on earth.

This was replaced among many Protestants by a model in which our sins were transferred to and paid for Christ on the cross, and his perfect righteousness was imputed to us. That was a legal transaction that took place when a person accepted that double imputation by faith. What was not clear in that model was how our present lack of love and devious imperfections would make it possible for us to enjoy the perfect love of heaven for ever. Clearly some kind of further change would be needed in the present (sanctification) and that would completed instantaneously at death.

Another model was suggested by the Greek Orthodox idea of -theiosis- which was God's original to make us like God (Genesis 1:27). This was developed by John Wesley into a model of a heart for the love of God beginning in this life by faith, and completed without any need for purgatory when we die (see 39 Articles XXII)..

With clues from C.S.Lewis, this has developed into a model (I call it Creative Love Theism) in which the three Persons of the Trinity are continually working together to perfect our heart direction. And at death the Son of God, knowing what we would enjoy if we were freed, is able to create for us a resurrection body suited for heaven, and at the same time a heart perfected to enjoy the love of God for ever (This model is illustrated in "My Android Helen").

The way was opened for this by the resurrection of the Messiah. And nobody, but nobody, can be perfected for heaven without his interventions (John 14:6) In this model the difficulty is not the forgiveness of sins. Of course a totally loving God forgives his children. The problem is how those children can be perfected in the love of God when they are gripped by the bondage of the will and totally unable to perfect themselves. That problem is solved by Paul in Romans 7:14-8:11.

It therefore seems that the Pope has made the shift to being immediately "immersed in the love of Christ" at death. But he cannot yet free himself from a more or less long period of purgatory during which we have to work at being corrected with the help of the prayers and good works of those on earth.

But that is not the end of the story. There were huge changes with Pope John XXIII, and this Pope has finally begun to make the further model shifts that are needed for us to make sense of the various Scriptures that touch on this topic.

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