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Straight to Heaven?

Some Christians are adamant that those who confess Jesus as Lord go directly to Heaven when they die. But is this teaching biblical? Karlo Broussard joins us for a discussion of what Christians can really hope for at death.


Cy Kellett:

Hello and welcome to Focus the Catholic Answers Podcast for living understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I am Cy Kellett, your host. And does the Bible teach us that we get immediate entrance into heaven after death? We hear that a lot. There’s even TV commercials to that effect and lots of websites that will teach that. And many Christian communities teach that. So is that true? Well, we’ll ask the guy who wrote the book, “Purgatory is For Real: Good News About the Afterlife for Those Who Aren’t Perfect Yet”, Karlo Broussard. Karlo, thanks for being here with us.

Karlo Broussard:

Cy Kellett. Thanks for having me, buddy. It’s always great to be on with you.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, let’s see if we can get all the way through because we tried to record this once before and the power in the entire neighborhood went out, so maybe there is some kind of attack upon us.

Karlo Broussard:

We’ll see, man. We plead the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on this one, man. Cover us in the blood of Christ.

Cy Kellett:

All things. Amen brother. All right, so some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, they have a scriptural objection basically to the idea that there’s any period of purification after death. Basically they’ll say the doctrine of Purgatory contradicts Bible teaching on the immediacy after heaven. So I thought I would start by giving you a couple examples of that. Do you want me to give you both examples that I have or one or what?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. Sure, sure. Go ahead.

Cy Kellett:

Luke chapter 23:43. Jesus promises the good thief on the cross. “Truly I say to you today, you’ll be with me in paradise”. And then how about this one from the second letter to the Corinthians chapter 5:6-8. “While we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Don’t those kind of suggest you can go straight to heaven?

Karlo Broussard:

Well, on the surface it might seem that these two biblical texts do not leave any sort of room for a final purification of someone who dies in friendship with Christ before entering into heaven. So if we take Luke 23:43, our Lord tells the good thief on the cross today you will be with me in paradise, assuming that paradise is heaven there. That would seem to imply there’s no final purification for the good thief. So that would seem to exclude the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

The late Norman Geisler and Ralph McKenzie, they make this argument in their book, “Roman, Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Disagreements”, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Many Protestants will appeal to this text including Geisler and McKenzie as well as Protestant apologist, Ron Rhodes and his book “Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics” to suggest that Paul is saying to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord. And if that is true, then there’s no room or possibility. There’s no space for this Catholic understanding or idea of a final purification after death for a Christian before entering into heaven.

So these two texts would seem to justify the claim that when a Christian dies, a Christian immediately enters into heaven and thereby excluding the possibility for the Catholic understanding of Purgatory.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so as you said, these are very strong objections and one of the things that you do is you take seriously these kinds of objections. So maybe we could start with the thief on the cross.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, absolutely. Let’s take that as our first target and think through that text and the argument that’s made from that text. So first thing to note is that the objection assumes that paradise equals heaven, but that’s not necessarily true. So the Greek word there for paradise is paradeisos. And that could be referring to simply the dwelling place of the righteous dead in a state of blessedness, also known as Sheol or Hades, right? The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about this abode of the dead to which Christ descended when he died to manifest himself as the Messiah to those righteous souls dwelling there in paragraph 661, 663 and 1023.

And so it’s possible that when Jesus speaks of paradise, “Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.” He’s referring to Sheol, oh, you will be with me in this “Abraham’s bosom”, which is how this abode of the dead of the righteous was affectionately referred to by first century Jews. Our Lord speaks of it in Luke chapter, I think it’s chapter 16. And this is probably how the good thief would’ve understood paradeisos or paradise, given that he wasn’t aware of any revelation concerning the Christian concept of the beatific vision.

Cy Kellett:

So this is distinct from Christian heaven then?

Karlo Broussard:

That is correct.

Cy Kellett:

This place of Sheol is a different reality.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. It would be a natural bliss. It wouldn’t be an abode of the dead where the damned exists, ie hell in the sense of damnation. It would be a state of natural bliss where righteous souls are dwelling, awaiting for the opening up of heaven, and for the ascension of Christ. Saint Peter actually refers to this abode of the dead in first Peter chapter three verse 19, when he speaks of it as “prison” where he talks about how our Lord went to preach to the “spirits in prison”. That’s 1 Peter 3:19. That’s what Peter’s referring to, where our Lord descended into the abode of the dead, making himself manifest to those righteous souls dwelling there.

And so our first line of response to this objection from the good thief on the cross is saying, Hey, wait a minute. This objection assumes that paradise is heaven. And the objection would only work if the paradise is heaven, seemingly. But we can challenge that assumption and say paradise probably is not even referring to heaven. And if that’s the case, well then there’s a possibility that the good thief would still need some sort of final purification in the afterlife before entering into the Christian understanding of heaven, ie the beatific vision. So that’s one line of response, challenging that assumption that paradise equals heaven, but there’s more.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, give me the more. As far as the thief goes, you’re not moving on?

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so there’s more for that we might say to the objection to the Catholic teaching that look, the thief went straight to heaven. The first objection is maybe this is not heaven. Give me a second objection then.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, second response to this Protestant objection to say, okay, let’s say for argument’s sake that paradise actually does equal heaven and Jesus is referring to heaven, that would not in any way necessitate a refutation of Purgatory. That would not exclude the reality of Purgatory by any means. It wouldn’t disprove the existence of Purgatory. And here’s one reason. Think about this Cy: it could be that the good thief didn’t need Purgatory, not that there is no Purgatory. Do you see the difference? Because according to the catechism of the Catholic Church and Catholic teaching, Purgatory is not an absolute necessity where every Christian who dies has to go through Purgatory to enter into heaven. It is only for those Christians who die without the holiness necessary for heaven with some imperfections remaining.

So as the catechism points out in paragraph 1472 and 1022, it’s possible to bypass Purgatory if one dies with such a fervent degree of charity and there no longer remains any remnants of sin, that individual, such an individual could die and immediately go into heaven. And so it’s possible Cy that the good thief fits that bill so to speak, fits that description. Maybe he didn’t need a final purification after death before going into heaven, but just because he wouldn’t need it, that doesn’t mean other people wouldn’t need it either.

Cy Kellett:

He’s a thief being crucified by the Romans though. What would suggest to you that he’s so full of charity that he’s going straight to heaven?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And this leads actually to another interesting point to give evidence that perhaps the good thief does meet that description of having a fervent enough degree of charity to bypass Purgatory, precisely because in Luke 23:41, Luke tells us he records the good thief saying, “Hey, we’re receiving the due reward of our deeds,” in response to the bad thief who’s mocking Christ. The good thief manifests a great degree of charity where he recognizes the due punishment, the punishment due to him for his crime, and he accepts that.

So it’s possible Cy, that given his acceptance of his due suffering for his crime and the manifestation of the great charity and love for Christ that he has, that suffering that he is enduring on the cross is sufficient to discharge whatever debt of temporary punishment that’s due to him for his past forgiven sins, such that when he dies, he would be completely purified and have the holiness necessary to immediately enter into heaven. Again, assuming here that we’re taking paradise to mean heaven. So that’s the first reason. Go ahead.

Cy Kellett:

Well, I’m just saying if that’s the case, and that’s very convincing to me, that would seem to be a model for us. Be humble, accept that you are deserving of punishment, affirm that Jesus himself is innocent. All of these things would seem to be good spiritual habits.

Karlo Broussard:

Amen. It moves us. It’s an impetus for us to grow in holiness and also Cy, to be aware that according to the Catholic understanding, Purgatory is for those who haven’t sufficiently taken care of the remnants of sin in this life. And so it’s got to be completed in the next, which implies that the remnants of sin, especially the displeasure or suffering that is due to us for past forgiven sins can be taken care of in this life, such that when we die, we can bypass Purgatory and immediately enter into heaven.

So even if we say paradise is heaven, that would not thereby exclude or refute the doctrine of Purgatory because it’s possible the good thief is one of those people who didn’t need a final purification after death because he was finally purified at the moment of death.

Now, here’s another reason why assuming paradise equals heaven, this text doesn’t refute the doctrine of Purgatory. The church has never defined the nature of time in the afterlife or the nature of the duration of the suffering of souls and Purgatory. So it’s possible Cy that the good thief, even though he’s promised heaven on that day and to enter into heaven, and assuming we take this immediately, it’s still possible the good thief would’ve had to undergo a final purification after death. It just would have been instantaneous. It’s possible that the suffering was so quick and instantaneous that the good thief would still go to heaven on that day, assuming that we’re taking this as immediate entrance into heaven.

So even if we say Jesus is talking about heaven, and even if we say the good thief is promised to go to heaven that day, it wouldn’t thereby exclude Purgatory because the final purification could be instantaneous. And so that’s fits with the Catholic understanding of the doctrine of Purgatory as well. So this is yet another way in which we can begin to respond. And there’s actually one more response, and before we go on to that, I want to get your thoughts.

Cy Kellett:

No, that one makes perfect sense to me. I mean, the fact that Jesus says this day, if time for example, which makes perfect sense, is not the same after death. The entire purification as far as early time could happen in a second. It doesn’t need days or it could take 1,000 years. We don’t know how these things relate.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, say Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, when he is talking about at the end of time when we receive the bodily resurrection, he says, we shall all be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, right? And so there’s this mystery of how time works in the afterlife and what that experience is. And so you could appeal to that and say, hey, we don’t know the nature of time. It could be instantaneous or whatever, but even if we sort of map on afterlife time with solar time, the purification could still be instantaneous such that the good thief enters into heaven on that day. So regardless of how you slice the pie, this text does not exclude the doctrine of Purgatory.

Now there’s one last response here, Cy, if I may. And this is interesting. Jimmy Aiken has pointed this out to me, and I put it in my book and research with him, and this is a great insight.

So in English, the obstacle or the challenge arises due to the punctuation in English because it reads “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” So that would seem to imply that our Lord, when he speaks of today, he’s referring to when the good thief would be with him in paradise. But there’s no punctuation marks in the original Greek. So as Jimmy has pointed out and others, the passage could be read as “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.”

On this reading today refers not to when the good thief will be with Jesus in paradise, but to when Jesus tells the good thief that he will be with him in paradise. In other words, Jesus has told him that he’s going to be with him in paradise on that day while they’re on the cross. And that’s what the today refers to, not to when the good thief is going to enter into heaven. So that’s a very plausible reading of the text which would provide us yet another way to respond to this objection from our Protestant brothers and sisters who are appealing to the good thief on the cross as a refutation of the doctrine of Purgatory.

Cy Kellett:

Tells you something about translation. You’re translating from a language that doesn’t use commas to one where you put that comma in. Where you put it makes all the difference.

Karlo Broussard:

It does make a difference. Yeah. So that’s huge. So for our listeners there, they can read more about this response to that particular objection in my book, “Purgatory is for Real”. And they can read it slowly, get all the details and assimilate it into their own thinking so that they’re better equipped to engage in these sorts of conversations.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so that’s the good thief, but I also gave you the second Corinthians quote from chapter five. And being away from the body and home with the Lord. Doesn’t that seem pretty clear?

Karlo Broussard:

Well, if you insert into the text, the Protestant interpretation, which is to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Notice how the Protestant argument entails that there’s a logical identity between being away from the body and at home with the Lord. But that’s not what Paul says. Paul says, “While we’re at home in the body, we’re away from the Lord”. We know that for sure, and that we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. Notice he does not say to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Now a Protestant might counter and say, Well, maybe that’s not what he’s saying verbatim, but that’s what he means”. Well consider this Cy, conceptual unity doesn’t entail simultaneity and time.

So for example, suppose I’m at work and I’m wishing I could instead be away from work and at home with Jacqueline and my five wonderful children.

Cy Kellett:

Right. I see where you’re going. You’d still have to travel home.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. So here’s the question. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home? Well, no, that doesn’t seem true. Why? Because I could be away from work and eating supper at a restaurant on the way home, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

So to be away from work doesn’t logically entail that I’m at home with my wife and the kids, or like it was there in Southern California when I was working at the Office of Catholic Answers, having to drive two hours to get home. I might’ve been sitting in traffic trying to get home, but yet I was away from work and I wasn’t at home with my wife and my kids. So it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

And our good old friend, Trent Horn there, he makes a great argument in his book, “The Case for Catholicism”. He appeals to Second Corinthians, chapter five. Second Corinthians, chapter five, verse two, Paul writes, “Concerning our glorified bodies here, indeed, we groan and long to put on our heavenly dwelling”. Now, Trent argues, if we were to follow the logic of this immediacy objection, we’d have to say that because Paul desires to die and have his glorified body after death, Paul immediately gets his glorified body after death. That’s what the logic would entail in reading 2 Corinthians 5:2. But we know from 1 Corinthians 15:52 that we don’t get our bodies back until the future at the end of time when Christ comes again, when the last trumpet sounds there, according to verse 52 of 1 Corinthians 15.

So the fact that Paul desires to have his glorified body after death to be away from the body and have his glorified body, that doesn’t mean that what he desires, he immediately gets after death. Similarly-

Cy Kellett:

That’s a good point.

Karlo Broussard:

-Just because Paul desires to depart from this body and be united with Christ in the afterlife, it doesn’t follow that his union with Christ will be immediate.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so I see what you’re saying. So the fact that Paul has this and wants that doesn’t mean that those are the only two options. It doesn’t mean that they have to be simultaneous. All right. Okay, so I think I got it. I think I’ve got the whole thing on that. Is there anything else on that, on being absent from the body, being present to the Lord?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. Well, there’s one more possible response and let’s say that we concede again for argument’s sake, this interpretation of logical identity between the two to where you have away from the body and that entails logically and in time to be with the Lord.

Some have pointed out that Purgatory wouldn’t necessarily be ruled out automatically. And the reason is that to be apart from the body, you would be standing before the judgment seat of Christ. If we envision the final purification as that moment in the afterlife when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ and are being purified as we’re in the presence of the refining fire that God is. And in fact, St. Paul envisions this post-mortem state of existence as the judgment seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. The classic text that we appeal to for the reality of Purgatory, Paul envisions a purification of the individual and the not-So-good works and suffering loss, but yet being saved as happening on the day, which is the day of judgment.

And Pope, the late Pope Benedict 16th in his 2007 [inaudible 00:21:20] Spe salvi reflects on Purgatory and envisions Purgatory as this purification of the soul as it stands before Christ and judgment. So think about this Cy: if that is the case and we envision Purgatory in this way, well then to be away from the body would be to be in the presence of the Lord. Final purification, ie Purgatory would be with the Lord because you would be standing in his presence being purified.

Now, Protestant might counter, say, what Paul means by being with the Lord is being in the beatific vision. And if that’s where they want to go with that, well then we can resort to the first response to the objection that I was articulating, namely that conceptual unity doesn’t entail simultaneity in time. But at least we have two possible responses that we could employ in order to try to get a Protestant to overcome this hurdle from 2 Corinthians 5:8.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so this is all quite compelling, but I wonder if we could just before, because you wrote the book, “Purgatory is For Real”. Say there’s one of our Protestant brothers and sisters listening to this and says, “Okay, these arguments they’re worth considering, they’re worth weighing.” What would you say to the person who says, “What does the Catholic believe about what our possibilities are for after death?” Could you give me a summary of the Catholic after death?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. Well, the summary of that is that there are only two final destinies, heaven or hell. When you die, your destiny will be heaven or hell. If it’s hell, immediate entrance into hell. If it’s heaven, then it’s either going to be immediately, or after the post-mortem final purification we call Purgatory. If you die with fervent charity to where you have no remnants of sin left over and dying in friendship with Christ and you have the holiness necessary for immediate entrance into heaven, you’re going to immediately go to heaven. But if you die with a lack of that perfection of holiness, with some remnants of sin still staining the soul and still holding on, that’s going to impede immediate entrance into heaven. And so those remnants of sin would have to be purged, purified, or taken care of in Purgatory before the soul can enter into the beatific vision.

So final destiny is either heaven or hell. If hell, immediately. If heaven, either immediately or after the postmortem, final purification. And however long that takes, the church has never defined. We are only left with the mystics and their experiences of souls from the other side and what they say and what theological speculation provides us. But ultimately, we bow in humility to the darkness of what that experience will be and what the duration of the experience will be like, et cetera. And I go through all of that in my book, “Purgatory is for Real”.

Cy Kellett:

But ultimately you call Purgatory good news. I mean, that’s right in the title of the book.

Karlo Broussard:

Indeed that’s the subtitle, Good News About the Afterlife for Those Who Aren’t Perfect Yet. And what I’m getting at there Cy is in the book, I articulate three joyful truths about the doctrine of Purgatory. The primary one being that in Purgatory, those souls are guaranteed heaven. They have an absolute certainty that heaven is theirs, which from the Catholic understanding, we cannot have on this side of the veil prior to death because we’re subject to deviating away from God as our ultimate life’s goal and thereby forfeiting our inheritance that sons and daughters of God and going to hell. It’s possible still in this life. So the souls in Purgatory have that absolute certainty that heaven is theirs, and that thereby is a source of extreme joy and happiness, which we cannot have on this side of the veil. So that is good news to have absolute certainty that heaven is yours.

Also, there’s a joyful truth that the doctrine of Purgatory provides consolation for us as believers, knowing that I love Jesus, man. I really do, but yet I know I fall short and slip up here and there throughout the day and small minor matters. Which such imperfection would impede me from entering into heaven. So if there’s no Purgatory side, you would have people who sincerely love Jesus, but because they’re dying with slight imperfections on the soul, they’d never be able to go to heaven. That’s bad news. But the good news is that somebody who really sincerely loved Jesus, but due to their weaknesses, slip up slightly throughout the day. If they die, those slight imperfections can still be purified so that the one who sincerely loved Jesus can be with him forever in heaven. That’s good news. That provides consolation for us as believers.

And finally, it’s a joyful truth Cy about the doctrine of Purgatory. It inspires us in the pursuit of holiness. Getting back to what I said a while ago, once we understand what Purgatory is and what’s getting taken care of and what’s being purified in the final purification after death, well then we come to realize, well wait a minute. Well, we can take care of that stuff now.

And so it inspires me to begin engaging in penitential action, out of love of God. Engaging in prayer to increase my capacity for charity, and offering up my sufferings, whether voluntarily imposed or voluntarily accepted as to what is imposed upon me. And that can thereby take care of these remnants of sin, such that if I die, it’s possible for me to go immediately into heaven. So it inspires the pursuit of holiness.

Cy Kellett:

Karlo, I really appreciate that. I really enjoyed this opportunity to talk about this with you. Thank you.

Karlo Broussard:

Thank you Cy.

Cy Kellett:

Karlo Broussard has been our guest. His new book is “The New Relativism: Unmasking the Philosophy of Today’s Woke Moralist”. The book we’ve been referring to is “Purgatory is For Real: Good News About the Afterlife for Those Who Aren’t Perfect Yet”. You can get them at that Catholic bookstore near you or find them online. However you get your Catholic books, you can find it there and that’ll do it for us.

If you like what you hear here, we would really appreciate it if you would make that known by giving us the five stars or however many stars they give you to give us at wherever you listen to the podcast. A few nice words of a review also helps to grow the podcast. If you want to communicate with us, send us an email. FocusatCatholic.com is our email address. And if you would like to support us financially, you can always do that by going to Givecatholic.com. It takes a few dollars to keep the lights on and pay the staff, and so we would appreciate your help in continuing to do this. Just go to Givecatholic.com. I am Cy Kellett, your host. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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