Dirty birds and a divine bath. Or, the presumptuousness of Purgatory


Anyone who knows me well knows I am not a bird lover. I am not even a bird liker. Birds are rude and crude…making nests in my house, using my lawn and outdoor furniture as their toilet, pecking holes in my deck and dropping there also whenever they feel the urge. Whereas for the ancient Israelites God distinguished between clean and unclean birds, to me they’re all unclean.

What would one of these unclean birds have to do to be clean in my sight and acceptable to live on my property? Well, it would have to:

  1. select a secluded place in the woods to do its business, and use it always
  2. make its nest in the trees that God provided for it, and never presume that it is welcome to do so in my house
  3. if it’s a woodpecker, distinguish between a tree trunk and the wood on my deck as acceptable for locating bugs

Do birds have the capacity to, 1) understand what my requirements are and, 2) fulfill them? No. So the only way for them to become clean is for me to provide a “supernatural” cleansing (in that it’s not according to their nature). I can take upon myself the annoyances and inconveniences of their “sins” of imposition, inconsideration, and contamination and just decide that I will consider them clean. That ain’t gonna’ happen, but it’s because I have no affection for them and had nothing to do with their coming into existence, so no motivation to be merciful and magnanimous.

Consider now our relationship as sinful creatures with our perfectly holy and loving creator God. As I indicated last time, the Catholic Church bases her doctrine of Purgatory partly on her interpretation of Revelation 21:27 which says that, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it [the new Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” So because nothing unclean can dwell with God and our sins make us unclean, we need to be cleansed somehow before we get to heaven.

There are two possible agents that can effect this cleansing…the sinner himself, or God. Does the sinner have the capacity to:

  1. wipe his soul clean as if he had never sinned?
  2. pay the penalty God requires of eternal separation from him and still go to Heaven?
  3. submit to intense suffering as the penalty he is offering in exchange for the penalty God requires?

One and two are a definite No, and of number three it must be said that though he can offer his suffering as payment, God never authorized it as sufficient and so is unlikely to consider an exchange. So it follows that any sin payment and/or removal must be done by God. As it happens, that’s exactly what we find in Scripture.

  • For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. [an atonement effected by God through the high priest] – Leviticus 16:30
  • I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. – Jeremiah 33:8
  • I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. – Ezekiel 36:25
  • But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. – Ezekiel 37:23b
  • On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. – Zechariah 13:1
  • Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. – Romans 5:9
  • for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. – Hebrews 9:26
  • then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. – Hebrews 10:17-18
  • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
  • I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” – Revelation 7:14

So even when we are said to be contributing to our cleansing, i.e. washing our “robes,” it’s clear that we are merely submitting to a divine bath drawn by our loving Savior who suffered so that we wouldn’t have to. How do we make our robes white in the red blood of Christ except by believing and trusting in him?

These are just a few of the promises of God to make us supernaturally clean by faith. His love for us as his children and image-bearers is so great that he did for us what we are unable to do, and I am convinced that the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is an abomination to him because it in effect presumptuously says to him, “Thanks anyway, God. I’ve got this.”

One more thing…surely the Catholic Church does not deny the clear teaching that God the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within the believer by faith. If nothing unclean can enter his abode, how is it that we actually become his abode?