What does The Good Place allude to about Purgatory?
This is fun topic for me to kick around theologically, though I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because there’s just so many questions about the afterlife, even for Christians, and such a history of a middle ground or waiting place in the Church’s history that it creates a lot of speculation, which I, for one, really enjoy.
So let’s get into it, shall we?
First of all, as Protestants we are very wary of anything so deeply attached to the Roman Catholic Church, which Purgatory is. I mean, it’s one of the foundational things the Protestant Church was formed on, and one that the Reformed Church has more or less always denied. However it’s a little more complicated than that.
Martin Luther (the guy who started the Reformation) was so opposed to the idea of an intermediate state after death as much as he was against the Catholic Church’s theology of indulgences; the paying for prayer for the dead who are stuck in Purgatory so that they may be released to Heaven. The more one would pay for their loved ones in Purgatory the more prayer they’d receive from Bishops and Priests, thus having a better chance of getting to Heaven faster and suffering less.
BUT, the idea of an intermediate state after death has long be a part of Christian theology, as well as Judaism. For instance, there is no talk of Hell in the Old Testament (OT), only this thing called Sheol, which is the place of the dead. In fact, there’s not any real sense of Heaven in the OT either. Sheol was the place that all people went to when they died and there wasn’t a consensus theology about what happened after that in the Hebrew culture and bible (that thing we call the OT).
And we see this carry over into the New Testament (NT) as well. Sure Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven (or the Kingdom of God depending on which Gospel you’re reading), but there’s also an awful lot of talk about the dead “sleeping” until the day of judgement and resurrection.
For instance, the healing of Jairus’ dead daughter found in Matt 9:18-26, Mark 5:35-43, and also Luke 8:49-56 all refer to the dead girl as “asleep.” The same is true about Lazarus in John 11:11-14 and of Stephen being stoned in Acts 7:54-60. All of these people are certainly dead, yet the language used is sleeping. they are asleep until they are resurrected and brought back to life. All but Stephen are brought back to life in the text, but we are to believe that Stephen will perhaps remain asleep until the final resurrection.
So where is he then?
Here’s where it gets tricky. We often assume that when we die, those who are saved go straight to Heaven. And that may be true, but the Bible doesn’t really confirm that. The Bible confirms that we will be resurrected from death and live a life eternal, but when that happens is actually quite confusing to nail down.
LET ME BE CLEAR HERE, I’M NOT SAYING ONE THING OR ANOTHER, I’M JUST EXPLAINING THE THEOLOGY BEHIND THE CHURCH DEVELOPING WHAT WE CALL PURGATORY.
The Bible tells us that those who believe will have eternal life (John 3:16; Matt 16:25; Rom 5:20-21) and also that the Kingdom of Heaven will reign forever (Dan 7:14; Heb 1:8; Rev 11:15), and we will be resurrected to live our eternal lives in this eternal kingdom (Matt 22:23-33; Luke 14:12-14; John 11:24-25).
If you look at these verses, especially the ones about “The Resurrection” they all imply a specific day at which everyone will be resurrected, which leads to the belief of an intermediate state or place everyone goes to to wait until the day of The Resurrection, which also corresponds with the language of “sleep.” When we sleep we have no concept of time, therefore, if there is A day of resurrection when we rise and life forever in the Kingdom of God then we won’t really know how much time has passed or even maybe where we were.
Thus, the theology of Purgatory grows into a whole thing, or a place where our souls go and wait until we are resurrected to be with God for eternity. That theory, coupled with some other ideas on refinement of sinfulness, concepts of Hell, and some other things that I really can’t get into right now, led to the more popular long lasting idea of Purgatory as a place where people who aren’t quite ready for Heaven go to be cleansed (often in painful ways) of their unforgiven sins before being able to be in the holy presence of God for eternity.
WOW! sorry. I know that’s a lot to take in and even then it’s just scratching the surface.
And all of this is just setting up for looking at how The Good Place may serve as a Christian understanding of Purgatory – an intermediate place that isn’t Heaven or Hell/The Good Place OR the (real) Bad Place where there is some torture but for the purpose of refining one’s self to be made pure enough to enter Heaven.
To share a personal theological conviction of mine on this: I have crafted an afterlife theology that does allow for this kind of “Purgatory” for non-believers. See, I believe that it’s God’s desire to have all the he loves reconciled to him; redeemed, restored, renewed. I believe God’s grace and love is stronger than us and that when we die and are judged (whenever that takes place, lol) everyone will come face to face with the undeniable, unbelievable love of God. And those who did not know God will now meet his grace and be given the opportunity to enter into his love, though – for those who did not believe in Christ – there may be a period of refining they’d have to go through. I don’t know how painful it might or might not be. I don’t know how long or short it might be. But it seems logical to me that the God I know, the God that is Love, and who loved the whole world so much that he sent Jesus to die for it and everyone in it, would offer grace of some sort to those who did not know him.
and if that comes through a form of Purgatory…well, I think I can dig that.
And to me, the show represents pretty much that very thing! It’s a place where, through some form of punishment, each person becomes a better person. And they even make a case to be good enough, or ready now to go to The Good Place.
this was a very long and wordy blog, but I hope you found it interesting enough to keep your attention. I would love to here some of your thoughts on any of this stuff!
Do you think Purgatory is justifiable?
What does happen right after we die?
share your thoughts, please.