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Prison, Purgatory, and Heaven

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Several years of prison ministry have convinced me that there are substantial parallels between what we think about incarceration and how we understand salvation. After all, Christians believe that we are imprisoned by sin and that, rather than trying to escape our condition, we need to undergo a personal transformation before we can enter into the full presence of God. True, sin is universal in a way that jail is not. Nonetheless, crimes against the civil order and rebellion against God overlap in interesting and complicated ways, which makes prisoners among the most conspicuous, though certainly not the most hopeless, examples of humanity’s fallen state.

Especially in a democratic country heavily influenced by Christianity, prison is more than a theological metaphor. It is a social reality that reflects our hopes and doubts about what it means to be liberated from our iniquities. If Christians cannot help prisoners find meaning behind bars, how can they expect the Gospel to find an audience among those never convicted of a crime?

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