I remember when and why I began to believe in the reality of purgatory. It was after taking a funeral and I wondered where the person who had died had gone. It struck me that the doctrine of purgatory (which I had up to then rejected as “unBiblical”) was simply common sense.
I had come to understand that the faith never contradicts common sense although it often transcends common sense. What made sense about purgatory was the simple realization that most people are not good enough to go straight into God’s presence, but neither are most people bad enough to be consigned to the eternal punishment of hell.
What is purgatory? It is not a third place, but a lower chamber of heaven. Everyone in purgatory will get to heaven, but it may take them a long time for they still need to be purified of their sins.
Purification and forgiveness are two different things. An analogy is this: if little Johnny has been playing outside making mudpies and he comes in covered in mud his mother forgives him, but she still needs to strip off his clothes, put them in the washer and shove him in a hot bath. If he has been playing not in mudpies, but in gloss paint or has been playing with a skunk the forgiveness is just as objective, merciful and loving, but the purification may require a longer scrub, the application of solvent (which might sting) and if he’s been playing with a skunk the burning of his clothes and a bath in tomato juice.
For the purification Johnny will need to participate and furthermore–and most important–he will want to participate.
So it is with purgatory–it is the chance to participate in our purification, and this purification is something we will want to do–even if it is painful.
What are the pains of purgatory like? They are not the pains of punishment as much as they are the pains we suffer whenever we set out to accomplish some great goal. If heaven is the goal, the greater the ordeal. What pains do you suffer to overcome an addiction, lose weight or make something great and good? What pains do you suffer if you wish to climb Everest, write a novel, win the Olympics or become a saint? These are the kinds of suffering and sacrifice we experience in purgatory.
Finally–the church teaches that these sacrifices and this suffering is easier here and now while he still have physical bodies than it is when we are in the spiritual realm.
Let this be a warning and an encouragement!