There’s Death And Then There’s DEATH

The Four Last Things
The Four Last Things

I’ve been pondering the gospel readings during this Lent and  have been struck by the different way that death is spoken of. For example, in John 11 Jesus says:

Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live:And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever. Believest thou this?

What a paradox! Anyone who believes in Jesus, though dead, shall live, and everyone who lives and believes shall not die forever. What can it mean?

To us as Christians I think it is straightforward: the first death that Jesus speaks of is the death of the body, physical death, where the soul separates from the body. It is the end of our earthly life, yet our soul lives on.

Hence the second part of Jesus’ statement, that if we believe in Him we will “never die” or “not die forever.” Meaning, we will be in Heaven with Him forever. We will still experience bodily death, but not the death of eternal condemnation in Hell.

The Communion of Saints

Jesus gives us another incredible glimpse into spiritual realities in John 8, when he says:

 Amen, amen I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever.

Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? and the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself?….

But I do know him, and do keep his word.Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad.

Again Jesus reiterates that anyone who dies in His friendship, who has kept His word, will not die forever. The Jews don’t understand and keep thinking He is speaking only of bodily death. They keep repeating that Abraham and the prophets “are dead.”

Jesus had responded to this sort of statement when the Sadducees made it (in Luke 20) when He answered:

Now that the dead rise again, Moses also shewed, at the bush, when he called the Lord, The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; For he is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live to him.

A direct refutation, showing them that bodily death is not the definitive death, and that those who experienced bodily death are actually alive with God!

How did Abraham see Christ’s day, and with gladness? I don’t know if there is an official interpretation of that passage and have heard several ideas: Abraham saw Christ’s day when He entertained the three angels, when He was going to sacrifice Isaac, when he in the future saw Christ’s crucifixion. Another interpretation would be Abraham, alive with God, “saw” Christ’s day when He became incarnate. The Transfiguration, when Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, demonstrates that the great saints of the Old Covenant are very much alive and active.

All this shows that bodily death only ends our earthly pilgrimage. We remain alive with God in our souls, awaiting the Resurrection and final judgment. We remain in union with Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church. We remain in communion with one another, with the saints in Heaven, the suffering saints in purgatory, and the saints-in-the-making on earth.

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15 thoughts on “There’s Death And Then There’s DEATH”

  1. It’s hard for me to imagine that if Christ’s Cross accomplished everything (which it did – “It is finished”) that any believer could still be suffering in Purgatory.

    I don’t buy it. I really do not believe that the grace of God is qualified in that way.

    HE became sin…our sin…for us. He paid it all…on that bloody Cross for us and in the “great exchange”…gives us His righteousness.

    That’s the gospel.

    That’s why it is called, “good news”.

    1. Steve, it is good news, but good news that is accepted to varying degrees by different Christians. The challenge is, if only the pure in heart will see God, and if we do not allow God’s grace to purify our hearts during this life, then either He waves the instant sanctification wand over our souls at the moment of our death or we are purified of attachment to sin and venial sin before we enter Heaven.

      1. Huh?

        We are declared holy and righteous…for Jesus’ sake.

        “It is finished.”

        Remember those words. They truly are good news for those who trust in Him.

          1. Adam, thanks for responding. I did a Bible study years back on the gospel of St. John using Scott Hahn’s CDs that included these fascinating insights into the Last Supper and Jesus’ words on the Cross.

            Steve, you should watch the videos, especially the first one. The way you are interpreting “It is finished” is not accurate.

  2. Purgatory is a denial of the gospel. Jesus paid the full price for sin (Col 213-14), His blood cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7) and we have become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor 5:21).

    1. Bob, no purgatory is not a denial of the gospel. Catholics agree that Jesus paid the full price for sin and the rest of it. (However, as an aside, I wonder if Protestants actually believe those things…more later.) So none of the things you said actually contradict purgatory or the need for it.

      Instead you would have to show that, under Protestantism’s doctrines, all Christians, at the moment of their death, have been sanctified. Problem is that Protestants in general don’t teach that. Instead, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, but inside we are still unrighteous, and ever act we do is tainted in some way by selfishness or sinful motives. So Protestants believe they are “cleansed from all sin” but that they remain sinners who typically sin everyday, hardly an example of someone who is sanctified and “pure in heart,” ready to meet God.

      So we can ask God for forgiveness and be forgiven, yet remain imperfect and in need of (sometimes tremendous) purification of attachment to sin, temporal punishment due to sin, and with venial sins committed and yet unconfessed.

      1. Devin,
        If the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin then there is no need for a purgatory that supposedly takes care of venial sins. There is nothing in any passage of Scripture of anything like a purgatory that makes someone righteous or perfects them. There is no process that can do that.

        This is the genius of imputation. God imputes our sins to Christ and He imputes the righteousness of Christ to us. Our final redemption comes when we will be given glorified bodies that will not sin. Purgatory was never an apostolic doctrine because there was no need for it.

        1. Bob, sure Christ’s blood cleanses us from sin. No argument there. But that does not mean purgatory is not needed. Because you say it “cleanses us from sin” and yet Protestants also say that we are not pure in heart, we are not holy (except that God declares us so because Christ is holy), etc.

          Somehow you have to get from A to B, unholy to holy. You can say “imputation” does that. But really imputation does not make you pure in heart. You are still the dung covered in snow. The dung is still dung, stinky and gross. And God does not lie. He does not call something pure that is impure.

          1. Devin,
            What makes you think that purgatory changes you from unholy to holy?
            What is the supposed function of purgatory?

            1. Bob,

              Purgatory does not change you from unholy to holy, but from holy to more holy.

              Rather, through God’s purifying love, you are purged from all attachment to sin, forgiven any venial sins, and remitted the temporal punishment due to sin.

              You have a choice each hour of each day: accept God’s grace here and now to grow in holiness through the trials, sufferings, and opportunities to love that He gives you each day, or refuse and do so in Purgatory.

              1. Devin,
                Do you believe that sin is some kind of “spiritual substance” that attaches itself to a soul?

                Where did the apostles teach about purgatory making one ” holy to more holy”?

  3. Sin is sin. Any sin is enough to send us to hell.

    But Jesus’ death atoned for ALL SIN.

    “He took upon himself the sins of the world.”

    All of them.

    If Jesus’ bloody death on that Cross didn’t accomplish everything. Than we are all in a heap of trouble.

    1. Steve, Jesus atoned for sin, we agree. No sin is forgiven except through Jesus. We agree. Yet not “everything” was accomplished, for then the Father sent the Holy Spirit! No need to do that if “everything” was accomplished.

      In fact the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier, among His other titles, because He sanctifies us, and not as snow covering dung but truly sanctifies us, making us truly holy, not just declared so even though we really are unholy.

  4. Hi Devin, I was trying to leave a comment on a post from your wife back in December named “Failure.” However I couldn’t see a space there for additional comments. So here is my comment for Katie; Sorry I had to use this space to leave it!

    Hi Katie,
    A friend in our prayer group shared this with us, and although I don’t usually leave comments… this one compelled me! I wanted to share how although you do not know me, I believe that your sacrifice and faithful waiting in your own life have blessed my life, albeit indirectly.

    My husband and I recently came into the fullness of the Church this past Easter Vigil. We converted from Evangelical non- denominationalism, much to the disappointment of our Ex Catholic, now Evangelical families. One of the first books that I read on the long 2 year search was your husbands, “If Protestantism is True.” It was early on, and it was a great book that left me convinced that I should continue on this search and figure out what I really believe.

    As a wife of a busy lawyer, and SAHM of 4 kids, I believe I have learned (sometimes kicking and screaming) that the beauty behind a well thought, productive husband, is usually a calm and supportive wife. I am sure, that your husband, while having a charism of writing and sharing God’s truth, would not have been able to write so well and think so clearly if it had not been for a loving wife at home. One who as best as she could taught the kids to love their Dad, to support his late nights (we know there are tons!), and put the kids to bed on her own, sometimes many nights in a row. I think it is these sacrifices, that go unnoticed by most, (who cares how fast you can load the dishwasher.. oh wait, I do!), that are never missed by the eye of a loving Heavenly Father.

    It was very much due to your sacrifices, and waiting, on a daily, hour by hour basis, that helped to lead me into the beauty of the Church. So I owe my conversion first to the God who calls all men to himself, and to the many brilliant writers whose books gave me courage and clarity on becoming Catholic, but also, in no less significance to the wives. The women who stood in the background, who supported their husbands, who fed them dinner, who cleaned their clothes, who made sure that their writing environments were as quiet as they could be, who were probably the first minds that ideas were tossed debated with… these women (You), have been converting souls on a daily basis; all while you wipe bottoms and sing good night songs, and wonder if it is all worth it. And if my experience at the Easter Vigil is any indication; it is worth it. And I thank you.

    As I thought about writing this, I was reminded of King David. He who wanted to be the one to build the temple was told to wait. His son would do the building, yet David would be the one whose line would carry the Savior of the World. How incredible it is to think that these little people who we are evangelizing to on a daily basis may one day grow up to change the world. All because a Mom taught them the Joy of Jesus Christ in all things. Oh to be ready to say Yes when he calls, but to say Yes again when he holds back.

    Thank you for this article. I will thank the Lord today in prayer for you and your family.

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