by Dan Burke
Do you have a backup plan to avoid hell? Some believe they do. They believe that some day they will get around to the all-important task of developing their spiritual lives, but that if they don’t, they are willing and ready to endure the backup plan – purgatory. This sounds plausible on its face, but what if we miss the mark? Aiming for purgatory and missing can be a hellish mistake.
Can it be true? Is there a fiery safety net waiting to purge us of the sloth into which we may have slouched? I don’t know about you, but even if this were a real possibility, it doesn’t sound too appealing to me. Can you imagine standing before God, having chosen not to pursue the holiness he calls us to? I wonder who would meet us in our final judgment. Would it be Jesus in his bloody crucified body? If it were, how confident would we be with our mediocrity in the face of all the suffering and love poured out on our behalf? Would we just shrug our shoulders, say, “sorry” and assume we could raise our pathetic hand and point to door number two (the purgatory door of course).
Would a just God allow such a choice? Lets look at it another way. If deliberately choosing to follow Christ down a clear and narrow path of holiness is not our choice in this life, will it suddenly be our choice in death?
If Christ says, “take up your cross and follow me” and we shrug our shoulders and wander off, what choice have we really made – already?
So, is it this black and white? Here’s what Christ said to the Church at Laodicea, in Revelation chapter 3:
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.”
And what was Christ’s reply to a man who encountered him during his earthly ministry and indicated he had something very important to do before he could follow Christ to the cross?
“Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he (Jesus) said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ (St. Luke chapter 9)
So, since the beginning, Christ called us to follow him. From the beginning, there were many who seemed to be willing but ultimately, had more important things to do. To these, Christ speaks in St. Matthew chapter 7:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few….Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”
The key to understanding these passages is that all that are condemned here are depicted by Christ as “faithful,” “good,” “religious” people who are already “seeking” or “following” Christ! They all claim to know God, they claim Jesus as their “Lord.” Some have performed miracles in his name! What is the issue?!