jesus carries

My understanding of the answer to this question in a Christian context is ‘hell-fire’. You can take whatever understanding your tradition gives you of original sin and theorise, but I don’t think you can take your own life and get away from the conclusion that you have not followed God’s ways. I may be preaching here to a bunch of folks who are outraged by such a suggestion, and who have so conducted themselves that they ‘deserve’ salvation. But were that the case Paul need not have written Romans, and, indeed, Christ need not have hung on that Cross. You can take whatever theory of the atonement your tradition offers you, but I don’t see you can escape having to have some theory, and that theory has to encompass the idea, outrageous to the unsaved, that Christ suffered and died for us – yes, for me, and for you, and he did that without having any assurance that I would accept the sacrifice. As I said to Dave Smith the other day, every time my mind goes to this place, it is humbled in amazement.

God made us in his image, to love him and to be with him for eternity. Whatever view your tradition allows you on the question of an actual Adam and Eve (for the record, I am a fundie here), our own miserable record in loving and following his way has excommunicated us from Eden quite as effectively as anything they did. Of course, for many orthodox Christians, the one follows the other, but even for those with a more theoretical approach, I say that nothing you did, or can do, can get you to Heaven – nothing. You can say you follow the whole of the Law, you can say that you are a truly good person, you can give everything you have to feed the poor, but none of this will win you salvation. Salvation comes via the blood of the Lamb, the sacrifice made once and for all – for all.

Does that mean all can be saved? Yes, I think it must mean that, since it is possible that all men will realise they are loved by God and will embrace him and, as always happens when you embrace him, repent and turn away from your old life of sin. But men are a stiff-necked bunch of sinners, and they have always shown themselves capable to an arrogance here which beggars belief; they will not, and they do not, acknowledge Him as Lord. If they do not, then it is that act of the will and not anything God does which consigns them to hell.

I can see why the Catholic Church wants Purgatory to be there. If you believe that only those pure and sinless can be in Heaven with God, and if you do not believe that all sins are washed away once and for all by the blood of the Lamb, then you need some sort of sponging-house where you can be cleaned up. But the good news we have is that we are covered by the Blood of the Lamb. Though our sins are scarlet, yet shall we be pure as light when we come before Him. Really? Can that be true? Surely we need to do this, or that, or the other first? No. You need to embrace him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving. and all else follows. Yes, that is God’s mercy, that is what Jesus offers us – not a course in Canon Law, not Masses for the dead, not time in or off Purgatory – he offers us free Grace. Free from him, but we have to bear our cross in this life, but we have assurance at the end.

I can see why clerical organisations might cavil at this – but there we go, it is so.