One thing I have to admit I feel is a weakness with being an American Fundamentalist Protestant Christian, is that so many other religions have fascinating concepts we are not, dogmatically speaking, supposed to consider, much less embrace. One of those which both repels and speaks to me is Purgatory.
Here’s the thing; as a fundy in more or less good standing, I believe the Scripture when addressing all of the important things, not the least of which is the final resolution of our immortal souls. And the dogma of most protestant churches runs along the lines that immediately upon our deaths, we find ourselves in that place where we belong, according either to God’s mercy or our works. And as the Apostle Paul advised that all men have sinned and fallen short, that basically says that if you don’t ‘join the team’ so to speak, you’re headed for the wrong side of eternity. But a closer reading of Scripture makes that conclusion a bit shaky. I’m not going to turn this into a deep theological discussion, not least because I am far from qualified to present any absolute claims, but I do believe that we may depend on God’s mercy more than we should fear technicalities. Jesus said himself, that many will be in heaven (and locked out of it) who were not at all expected to be there.
One problem that a lot of people have with the ‘instant decision’ theory of moral judgment, is that almost no one seems to fit the extreme definitions of good or evil. We’ve all done things we know were wrong, and we have all done things we believe are good. Therefore, a heaven for the perfectly good and a hell for the truly evil leaves a lot of us without feeling like we are where we belong. That’s where the idea of purgatory comes in, if I understand it correctly. The way it works in theory, is that everyone but the truly good and truly evil goes through a process where we are purged of evil and wickedness and where we are made pure and acceptable to God. That makes a kind of sense, especially the idea that life itself is a process where we become who we are meant to be, that purgatory would merely finish the process. The problem with that, of course, is that the concept of purgatory is clearly extra-biblical, and also that if we are able to become acceptable to God after we die, then it invalidates the decision made in life to accept or reject God. Sure, we’d all like a ‘reset’ button to undo the blunders and mistakes, but intuitively I sense that part of our judgment, for good or ill, is that we have to live with our actions and their consequences.