My interest in purgatory comes from the fact that my vision of universal reconciliation--that God will one day be "all in all"--has a family resemblance to the doctrine of purgatory.
The key location of overlap has to do with holiness in heaven. Specifically, sin is more than skin deep. Trouble is, the main problem Protestants tend to worry about when it comes to sin isn't the sin. It's God's anger over sin. Because of this Protestants aren't really all that interested in escaping sin. They are mainly preoccupied with escaping hell. Thus, for many Protestants the answer to our "sin problem" isn't holiness but forgiveness.
Put more crudely, Protestants are more interested in being saved than in being good.
The results of this emphasis, if you look around, are pretty obvious.
The trouble with this view is that sin goes deep. Sin is describing ways we have become morally damaged and disordered. As Walls writes, "The more we sin, the more complicated and extensive the damage we do to ourselves, and correspondingly, the more is required for repair and rehabilitation." Getting this all fixed--repair and rehabilitation--is going to take some time. And more to the point, few of us complete the journey of sanctification (and quite a few Christians don't seem to be making any progress at all) before we die.
So while we might be forgiven at the moment of our death we remain very much steeped in sin. If so, how does that sin play out in heaven? Are we even allowed into heaven if we are not perfectly holy? Walls cites this passage from the book of Hebrews:
Hebrews 12.14That's the issue, isn't it? If we aren't holy at the time of our death how are we to "see the Lord"?
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Walls says there are four different ways we might answer these sorts of questions:
Faced with what seems to be this obvious empirical reality [that we all die still infected by sin], the question remains about the fate of such persons. There are four broad possibilities. First, we might say that they go to heaven with their sins, imperfections, and the like intact, so heaven is not in fact essentially sinless. Second, we might think they will simply be lost and never make it to heaven if they die without becoming completely holy. Third, we might say that at the moment of death, God makes people holy by an instantaneous and unilateral act, however imperfect, sinful, and immature in character they may be. Fourth, we may say that the sanctification process continues after death with our willing cooperation until the process is complete, and we are actually made holy through and through.Walls quickly notes that few Christians believe in options one and two. The debate focuses on options three and four. Does God, on Judgment Day, wave a magic wand making us instantaneously holy? Or is there a process and season of purgation? A time of healing, reconciliation, confession, peace-making, education, repentance, forgiveness, repair, rehabilitation and even punishment?
I find the former possibly implausible for a host of theological and psychological reasons. Consequently, I opt for the developmental view.