Universal Reconciliation? Purgatory?
I listened to something in devotions the other day that suggested the concept of universal reconciliation may not hold water in light of some of Jesus' pretty strong statements about some folks' life trajectory toward Hell, to put it bluntly. Personally, I don't feel strongly one way or the other, mainly because I don't know. It'd be nice, but how does it mesh with the Word and reality? It doesn't affect me and my sample or statement to others because I figure the Lord will sort stuff like that out with each individual when the time comes ... that said it's sort of a personal gray area belief-wise for me.
When discussing it though, talk turned to the question of Purgatory, which my Catholic gradeschool background brought to mind. Though I need to refresh exactly what the Catholics believe about it, I seem to remember it as a place or state of "further purification" for some before entering heaven. So there's also the question of purgatory, and if so what's it for. I believe Protestants think not, Catholics think so ... where does Orthodoxy stand? Could Jesus have been referring to something like purgatory for folks whom He never knew, but otherwise seemed to be pretty good?
I heard that CS Lewis believed in purgatory, reasoning that no matter how “clean” you try to be in your earthly life, Heaven is quite an upgrade and some extra buffing and polishing would doubtless be in order. I personally like what I heard somewhere, can’t remember exactly, that one’s intention is what counts, more than one’s actual performance, although the two are still strongly linked. What matters is your heart. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6)
Still, having a pure heart is no small undertaking. I have heard of more than one very saintly person who had all the fruits of having lived an outstandingly godly life, when on their deathbed (those accompanying them literally perceiving the fragrance of Heaven and other manifestations of the beyond), expressed their wish for more time to repent! Reminds me of what they say about humility: someone who is truly humble doesn’t think he’s humble. I figure the reverse applies as well: let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
Minds far brighter than mine, with far more time than I have, have addressed this matter of purgatory and there is still a fairly wide variety of opinion on it. For me, it’s enough to know that it’s not something in the creed I recite and it’s not something the Orthodox church dogmatizes on. I figure I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and in the meanwhile, the more conscientious I am with my spiritual training the better shape I’ll be in on that day.
I see a great parallel between spiritual and physical athletics. Signing up for a race is merely the first step, being born again likewise. If the runner doesn’t train, he will do poorly on race day. If he trains smart and faithfully, race day will be gratifying. So if I do my best with my spiritual training, judgment day and whatever leads up to that or follows it will be likewise gratifying. In my experience as a runner, I’ve found there is no substitute for good training. In the marathon, if I haven’t gotten in several good long training runs, it doesn’t matter what other kind of training I’ve done before the race, I will come up short. But if I’ve put in those miles and have done the other training, I’ll make it to the finish line in good shape. I figure it’s similar in the spiritual: in my experience, it’s one thing to think about, talk about and theorize about prayer; it’s quite another to actually pray. In the spiritual athletics department I feel like I’m just barely breaking in my first pair of running shoes. I told some other people the other day: Figuratively speaking, I feel like my upbringing and experience among Protestants was like learning the letters of the alphabet, and now I’m finally starting to learn to read. (I remember in first grade, when that process was beginning, literally, and my reader was a thin, comic book size affair, looking at the half-inch thick tomes kids in 3rd and 4th grade were carrying with wonder bordering on awe.)
On universal reconciliation, the Orthodox church did come down against that officially, it its extreme expressions, but still there have been some important fathers who have expressed “hope” for it with certain qualifications, including Kallistos Ware, a modern day eminence. To my way of thinking, universal reconciliation would be nice, and I by no means doubt the Almighty’s ability and desire to pull it off, but with that free will wild card in the deck, and especially with our Lord’s own warnings about the other place, I feel it’s safer for me personally to behave “as if” there’s a hell. That’s about as far as my pay grade goes.
It's difficult to disagree with the likes of CS Lewis about purgatory and that no matter how clean we try to be or think we are Heaven will be like going from a Model-T to a Tesla Model S Long Range Plus ... gotta return to driving school.
With universal reconciliation, speaking on personal experience of some past decisions I can easily see the free will wild card be the Joker gone wild ... maybe more so in some than others. thus, it’s safer/better to behave “as if” there isn't some sort of U.C. rather than hope I might be able to skate by in the end with a blanket pardon.