In my last post I reviewed the primary objection from most Protestants about Purgatory. This is the idea that if there is punishment yet due for our sins after coming to Christ, this is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s “finished” work on the cross. This is rooted in a Protestant understanding of “penal substitution” atonement whereby they view that on the cross, Jesus is being punished by God for all of our sins. This is a view of atonement not accepted by Catholics of course, which was thoroughly covered here.
Yet there was even some recognition in my previous post by a Protestant site that coming to Christ does not erase the “temporal” consequences of our sin. And from the Catholic perspective, Purgatory is 100% about cleaning up the residue from sins that have already been forgiven – the temporal consequences.
Do we find this idea of “punishment” for our sins after we’ve come to Christ in Sacred Scripture? One of the clearest expressions is found in Hebrews 12:3-14. While not speaking specifically about Purgatory, it does express clearly the concept that yes, there is indeed “punishment” or “discipline” we must endure for our sins even though we have accepted Christ:
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?— ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
It is important to note from a Catholic perspective that this “discipline” or “punishment” for sin is not rooted in some need God has. It is entirely about some need that we have in order to become perfectly sanctified – the “holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” And as the Catechism says in CCC1472, this punishment “must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.”
This Evangelical site denies a belief in Purgatory because “To say that we must also suffer from our sins to say that Jesus’ suffering was insufficient. To say that we must atone for our sins by cleansing in Purgatory is to deny the sufficiency of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus” (http://www.gotquestions.org/purgatory.html#ixzz3OKLdeIrL).
Yet at the same time, they recognize that we are indeed disciplined for our sins, which is very much in agreement with the Catholic view.
“The Lord’s discipline is an often-ignored fact of life for believers. We often complain about our circumstances without realizing that they are the consequences of our own sin and are a part of the Lord’s loving and gracious discipline for that sin. This self-centered ignorance can contribute to the formation of habitual sin in a believer’s life, incurring even greater discipline.
Discipline is not to be confused with cold-hearted punishment. The Lord’s discipline is a response of His love for us and His desire for each of us to be holy. “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12; see also Hebrews 12:5-11). God will use testing, trials, and various predicaments to bring us back to Himself in repentance. The result of His discipline is a stronger faith and a renewed relationship with God (James 1:2-4), not to mention destroying the hold that particular sin had over us.”
St. John Paul II said when speaking about Purgatory that “Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected.” This very much correlates with the above Evangelical view that the Lord’s discipline will destroy the hold that a particular sin has over us. This is the essence of our sanctification and our complete freedom from the bondage of sin. And as the passage from Hebrews says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) Remember that in the Catholic view of salvation, sanctification is neither a by-product of salvation nor is it optional. It is the very essence of what it means to be saved – complete freedom from the bondage of sin. The Scriptural support for the necessity of sanctification was provided here.
So now that we’ve seen that even after coming to Christ there is indeed “punishment” due for our sins to be found in Sacred Scripture, the question then becomes what happens if when we die we are not yet perfected in charity? Is there Scriptural support that this process of discipline towards holiness will continue after death, as Catholics believe about Purgatory? I’ll take a look at that in my next post.