Monday Musings: Purgatory, Punishment, Purification, and Plumbism

Purgatory is a doctrine I usually have little trouble with. It is merciful in its own way, as one no longer has to either deem a sin meaningless or damning. Imperfection is a option.

Punishment, on the other hand, is not so simple. It has always been a topic no one feels comfortable discussing–or, rather, when someone starts eagerly talks about suffering is the time everyone slowly inches away and looks for the door. Some attempt to have a God that never punishes, or punishes only with Hell, and create a unjust god, not the one described by Scripture. Yet I find it icky nonetheless, as if God cannot be satisfied with an apology, but must continue harrying over something that can no longer be changed.

Purification, too, seems lame. As if God is not satisfied with punishing, but will never get off your case about that thing long ago. How easy is it to throw the word around–particularly in the same breath as a cliche of Job and hope, and how God will never give you anything you can’t handle, hope you feel better I’m praying for you goodbye–and not once has anyone ever celebrated that they are being purified. Perhaps the past tense, but waking up in morning praying for purification seems about as likely as waking up in the morning praying that the cancer will recur. Or the one who stands atop the roof, boasting of all the bad things in their life that God is so easily rubbing clean–a new form of Pharisee, the tax collector who boasts of being more repentant of that scribe over there.

Plumbism is the silly-sounding name for a very serious condition: lead poisoning. A child might eat some paint chips, or even be exposed to lead unaware–and their fault or not, their life is in danger.

My mother’s old nursing textbook mentions that applying two of the common chelation treatments (EDTA and BAL) every four hours for five days results in a total of sixty injections, for a child perhaps still in preschool. If any parent were to punish their child with sixty injections–for what they might not have known was wrong in the first place–we would rightly call them abusive. But it is not a punishment–said textbook notes that this must be communicated to the child.

The mystery of suffering is ultimately a mystery. But I believe there is a category of suffering that results from sin but is not punishment for it. This category encompasses greater sufferings, perhaps, then any rebuke. God is not abusive, whether or not the sufferings are far beyond any that a just being could countenance.

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