Prayers for the dead or prayers to the dead? Part II

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Did Saints Augustine and Monica pray for the dead, or to the dead?

Upon further reading of Augustine, it appears we may confirm our speculations here that Monica offered prayers for the dead to God and not specifically to the saints themselves. Augustine writes in the Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love in Chapters 109-110:

During the time, moreover, which intervenes between a man’s death and the final resurrection, the soul dwells in a hidden retreat, where it enjoys rest or suffers affliction just in proportion to the merit it has earned by the life which it led on earth.

Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead are benefited by the piety of their living friends, who offer the sacrifice of the Mediator, or give alms in the church on their behalf. But these services are of advantage only to those who during their lives have earned such merit, that services of this kind can help them. For there is a manner of life which is neither so good as not to require these services after death, nor so bad that such services are of no avail after death; there is, on the other hand, a kind of life so good as not to require them; and again, one so bad that when life is over they render no help. Therefore, it is in this life that all the merit or demerit is acquired, which can either relieve or aggravate a man’s sufferings after this life. No one, then, need hope that after he is dead he shall obtain merit with God which he has neglected to secure here. And accordingly it is plain that the services which the church celebrates for the dead are in no way opposed to the apostle’s words: For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad; for the merit which renders such services as I speak of profitable to a man, is earned while he lives in the body. It is not to every one that these services are profitable…When, then, sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank-offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living. And where they are profitable, their benefit consists either in obtaining a full remission of sins, or at least in making the condemnation more tolerable. 

These remarks are rather cryptic by Augustine. For one, he contradicts himself mid-paragraph. On one hand, he asserts that one can only enhance his or her merit when in the present life. Yet, on the other hand, for the “not very bad” the offerings have a “propitiatory” effect. Further, earlier in the book, Augustine is not certain that purgatory even exists, which would make the propitiatory effects of prayers for the dead doubtful.

So, what is going on here? Being that this was written years ago we do not know with certainty. First, Augustine can simply be contradicting himself as men are known to do that from time to time. Second, a later scribe could have corrupted what Augustine originally written. Third, the translation we have is making what Augustine writes sound more “Roman Catholic” than what Augustine intended.

Being that I am not a fan of calling every manuscript into question and from my reading of Augustine have found him quite systematic, I would say that the latter of the possibilities is the most likely when compared to the former two. Most likely, Augustine is saying that the prayers are nice and in accordance with the mercies of God that directs the hearts of those that pray, they avail a man because in God’s grace and purposes it is His wish to extend such a mercy. Therefore, it is not in man’s ability to help the “not very bad” after death, but God can so be merciful to those Christians who did not walk as spiritually as others, using man’s prayers as the means to accomplish greater mercies for them.

While I myself would have issues with this practice, and would find it a matter of debate such as Augustine found purgatory to be, I am confident that the Scriptures settle the matter. And, being that the Scriptures say that Christ pays the full penalty for our sins, then I don’t think prayers after we are dead or good works in this world really negate sins.

Augustine’s system, when the believer after baptism has to maintain a right status before God in order to be righteous, is more Roman Catholic than it is Protestant. It is with great pains I would have to disagree with Augustine.

Of course, much of our differences may be semantics. If God is the operative force behind every righteous act a man does, as Augustine argues, then it is not man who maintains his right status before God, but rather God giving that man the gift of perseverance in the faith. It is in this way, then, men are made righteous. It is all times the work of God.

However, I think it takes away the power of the cross, and our union with Christ, to make us righteous. Who’s right? I guess we will have to find out in heaven.

Saint Augustine and the existence of Purgatory

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For those Roman Catholics that believe that the doctrines revolving around purgatory are as old as the Church, think again:

It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it. This cannot, however, be the case of any of those of whom it is said, that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God, unless after suitable repentance their sins be forgiven them (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapter 69).

Augustine apparently did not pretend to know whether 1 Cor 3:11-15 was speaking of a literal Purgatory, as his own interpretation of the passage chapter 68 is that the passage pertains to experiencing loss of worldly attachments, and not purgatory.

Further, how can we ascertain whether there is a Purgatory? Obviously, Augustine felt that it should be argued from the Scripture. It is rather sad that those who defend the doctrine to this day, will lean upon the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and not the authority that Augustine relied upon, the Scripture.

God desires all to repent, but wills that not all do

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The rallying cry for Arminians goes as follows:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Further, He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Because God obviously desires the salvation of all men, but not all men are saved, then God obviously cannot will a man to repent and place his faith in Christ if he does not want to do so by his own free will.

We can dispatch with this line of reasoning quite easily.

Objection 1: Jesus us offers us an unequivocal example in the Scripture where He shows that God had the power to make people repent, but chose not to:

Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” (Matt 11:20-23).

If God, without any exceptions, desired that all men would repent as the Arminians imply, He must therefore do everything in His power to bring a man to repentance. This is why they criticize Calvinists for asserting that God must be the operative force behind the conversion of a man, because if this is true then a god that desires all to repent will compel every man to repent.

However, isn’t it clear that their presupposition, that God is compelled to act in accordance with His desire that all men repent, contradict this passage? God purposely does not act in a fashion where He clearly could have made men repent. Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would all have repentant sinners if Christ (or a preincarnate Theophany of Him) would perform miracles in their locales.

Yet, He did not do so. Was He impotent and thereby incapable? Of course not! Clearly, the Arminian objects in error, because God does not always do everything He can to make men repent. So, it would be true to say that though God desires that all men come to repentance, He obviously does not always will it to be the case because in those cities it was within His power to show miracles so that they would repent. However, he did not. In fact…

Objection 2: The Scripture is clear that God desires to harden men so that they will not repent, but instead come under judgment.

Jesus Christ quickly gives us the correct interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy, saying,For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them’” (John 12:39-40).

Further, the very reason Jesus spoke in parables was so that men who were not given ears to hear would not repent:

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, You will keep on hearing, but will not understandYou will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dullWith their ears they scarcely hearAnd they have closed their eyesOtherwise they would see with their eyesHear with their earsAnd understand with their heart and returnAnd I would heal them.’ (Matt 13:13-15).

Objection 3: Clearly, the Scripture does not contradict Scripture, so God cannot desire all to repent and yet not actually have that desire. Further, God cannot will not to show miracles in Sidon for the expressed reason that they come into judgment, but not desire to judge them. Therefore, we are compelled to interpret all these passages in such a fashion where the given interpretation to one does not requires us deny the truth found in the other passages.

How can we do this? Rather simply, actually. God desires all men to repent. In fact, He desires all men to be saved.

However, God is also just and righteous. The Scripture is replete with passages where God makes clear His desire to punish the wicked.

Therefore, God does not have two contradicting desires, but rather two different ones. He desires all men to be saved, but He also desires to bring into judgment men that have sinned against Him. We may call these “differing priorities.”

Men all the time have two different desires and there is no apparent contradiction in this. For example, a man may desire to eat ice cream every day. Further, the same man also desires to look fit. There is a point in time when one desire is going to outweigh the other, according to the overall intentions and priorities of the man. So, he can get real fat, never eat ice cream, or be somewhere in the middle depending upon what his will is given his own differing priorities.

And so, in God’s hidden counsel, He desires both mercy to all and yet accountability for all. He is gracious to some in so that though they are accountable, He may exercise His mercy. He holds others accountable, as it is not acceptable to Him that no one may be held accountable for his or her own sin.

In conclusion. When we take into account the interpretation of a couple cherry-picked verses that Arminians put forward in order to dispute Calvinism, we find several things. First, their interpretation contradicts the Scripture. Second, it forces portions of the Scripture to hold opposite meanings to other portions. Third, it requires the presupposition that if God, or a man, has a desire then one’s heart cannot be set on any other things. This is contrary to common sense, in which we juggle several different desires and according to our own purposes will emphasize some more than others.

Being that “the Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds” (Ps 145:17), then God is correct in His judgment when He is merciful to some and just in punishing others. He is kind in His choosing as to whom He hardens or shows mercy.

Reformed Commentary on Job: Chapter 21

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In chapter 21, Job anticipates chapter 27 and explores the idea of how can God be fair when wicked people do not always get punished in this life?

A rendering from William Blake of Job wishing he was never born.

Chapter 21 (For Previous Chapter Click Here)

How can Zophar’s argument be true if Job has lost everything even though he did not commit any specific sin that he needed to be punished for? In fact, what Job has observed is that God seemingly treats the righteous and the wicked alike.

In the first few verses of the chapter, until we reach verse seven, Job takes a surprisingly calm tone. Usually he launches into an attack against his friends, coupled with some sort of insult to goad them on. However, here he is careful to avoid this initially. We can only speculate as to why. Perhaps, Job intends to shock them with the harsh reality: the wicked man does not suffer retribution in this life, rather he often does quite well. This totally disproves Zophar’s contention.

Before proving his point, Job as a righteous man makes clear that he reflects on this only in horror (Job 21:6). He finds the following disturbing:

Why do the wicked still live,

Continue on, also become very powerful?

Their descendants are established with them in their sight,

And their offspring before their eyes,

Their houses are safe from fear,

And the rod of God is not on them.

His ox mates without fail;

His cow calves and does not abort.

They send forth their little ones like the flock,

And their children skip about.

They sing to the timbrel and harp

And rejoice at the sound of the flute (Job 21:7-12).

God permits the wicked to live and prosper. While the Scripture says that the sins of the father will be returned to the third of fourth generation (Ex 34:7), observation may lead one to believe that this is not the case. For example, children benefit from the wickedness of their parents, at least financially.

After Job invokes these points to prove to Zophar that the wicked do not always live in constant fear of divine retribution, he then goes on to show that the wicked often die in peace (Job 21:13).

If Job just ended there, it would appear that all he did was created a foil of the caricature that Zophar (and his friends) made. However, the next section of the chapter makes clear that while evil is not always punished in this life, the wicked suffer from the lack of knowledge of God (Job 21:14-15) and from their own finitude (Job 21:16).

Yet, Job does not understand how this is entirely fair. Some wicked are destroyed, but others are not–is there any sort of ultimate punishment for them (Job 21:17-18)? Job does not have an answer for this. It would be unfair if the wicked simply just die and that their children inherit the punishment due to them (Job 21:19-21), an argument that Job anticipates Zophar will use against him (Job 27:14).

But in this Job, again, appears to be accusing God of injustice. The words appear innocuous: “Can anyone teach God knowledge in that He judges those on high” (Job 21:22)? However, what is Job really saying?

Joseph Caryl observed that Jewish interpreters thought what Job meant was, “Doth God need anyone to apologize for him…or need an advocate to plead His cause” (An Exposition… Chapters 18-21, p. 745)? Caryl himself interpreted the phrase more plainly, that it is presumptuous of man to think he can question God or “be His counselor” (Rom 11:34).

However, it is with pains that we diverge with Caryl on this point. Caryl’s observation is correct, it is seconded in Romans 11, but it is not likely this is where Job himself was coming from. Job takes issue with God’s might making right. He has already previously in this book “conceded” that God is just only because of His sheer power (Job 9:19). So, this means that Job is not saying it is foolish to try to teach God in verse 22. Rather, he is saying that it is impossible due to His highest position in the universe, that even those on high (kings? angels?) are stooped low.

“For though I were right, I could not answer, I would have to implore the mercy of my judge” (Job 9:15) obviously betrays a feeling in Job that he is right, God is wrong, but he cannot do anything about it.

How do we know that our interpretation is preferable to Caryl’s? Let’s observe the immediately subsequent verses where Job goes on to describe how God does not supposedly act rightly:

One dies in his full strength,

Being wholly at ease and satisfied;

His sides are filled out with fat,

And the marrow of his bones is moist,

While another dies with a bitter soul,

Never even tasting anything good.

Together they lie down in the dust,

And worms cover them. (Job 21:23-26).

The fat wicked one and the bitter soul given nothing meet the same end. So, the bitter soul is never given justice in this life and neither is the satisfied wicked one. Job’s point is clear: God allows this unfair turn of events to happen, yet He is fine with this. Again, Job justifies himself rather than God.

It is with this view Job sums up his critique of his friends, and implicitly God. “Behold, I know your thoughts,” says Job in verse 27, anticipating his friends next “gotcha” counterargument. “Where is the house of the nobleman and where is the tent, the dwelling places of the wicked” (Job 21:28)?

After first conceding that wicked will be judged “at the day of fury” (Job 21:30, i.e. the day of judgement), Job argues that in the present life there is no justice. No one confronts the wicked or rights their wrongs (Job 21:31) and they end their lives being buried in peace (Job 21:32). The result of God’s supposed inaction is that “men will follow after him, while countless ones go before him” (Job 21:33) in which the cycle of injustice merely continues.

At this point, particularly in light of verse 30, we can observe that Job entertains the idea of retribution in the afterlife. He views Sheol as a place of peace and apparently agrees with Bildad that the wicked will stand before the “King of Terrors” (Job 18:14). However, waiting until the next life to make right of anything is not good enough for Job. Why does God wait? Is he asleep at the wheel?

Before this occurs, we will see Eliphaz’s final attempt to answer the question of suffering using his wisdom.

Lastly, it is worth taking another look at Job’s invoking of the wicked being “fat” in verse 24 and a very similar discussion in Psalm 73. Asaph observes concerning the status of the wicked in this life and appears to initially feel just like Job, thinking that God is unfair in His dealings:

But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling (Why?)

For I was envious of the arrogant

As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Asaph fell into the sin of envying how the wicked profited in this life and did not make the sacrifices that the faithful did, as if being faithful profited him nothing.)

For there are no pains in their death,

And their body is fat. (He envied that they died in peace and lived lavishly.)

They are not in trouble as other men,

Nor are they plagued like mankind. (They lived the easy life.)

Therefore pride is their necklace;

The garment of violence covers them. (Yet, their life was colored by unrepentant sin.)

Their eye bulges from fatness;

The imaginations of their heart run riot. (While their outside appearance reflects their prosperity, their hearts and minds are drenched in sinful inclinations and thoughts.)

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;

They speak from on high.

They have set their mouth against the heavens,

And their tongue parades through the earth… (Yet, God allows these sinful men to curse Him with the whole world as witness! Why doesn’t an all-powerful, just God stop this?)

Behold, these are the wicked;

And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure

And washed my hands in innocence (What benefit is there in being good when being evil gets you ahead in life?)

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”

Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children. (Now, Asaph confesses that he would have sinned even greater if he would have taught his congregants that there is no benefit in being righteous and God implicitly smiles upon the wicked by letting them prosper.)

When I pondered to understand this,

It was troublesome in my sight (Just like in the Book of Job, the idea of the Lord not always punishing the wicked and blessing the righteous seemed to go against what he thought made sense about God.)

Until I came into the sanctuary of God;

Then I perceived their end. (Asaph now understands, thanks to revelation, that though their life is ease at the “end” they are punished eternally.)

Surely You set them in slippery places;

You cast them down to destruction. (These are euphemisms for Hell.)

How they are destroyed in a moment! (In the lake of fire their bodies are burned to a crisp.)

They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! (From the hands of the King of Terrors, who we know with them will experience damnation with them in the lake of fire!)

When my heart was embittered

And I was pierced within, (Embittered and pierced with envy.)

Then I was senseless and ignorant;

I was like a beast before You. (In his sin, he was ignorant of the ways of God.)

Nevertheless I am continually with You;

You have taken hold of my right hand.

With Your counsel You will guide me,

And afterward receive me to glory. (God is with the righteous, like Asaph, and when he will be received into “glory” and experience his union with Christ for eternity.)

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. (God is the only true God and we should pursue only Him in this life, not the wealth and ease of wickedness.)

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Our sinful flesh often conflicts with the Spirit, the spirit in us is willing but our flesh is weak, but it is upon God’s righteousness we stand. It is the Lord who sustains us and gives us strength. Those in union with Christ will “forever” be sustained by Him, He will be their light in the New Jerusalem.)

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;

You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. (Again, Asaph reiterates the wicked will be damned. This is their ultimate punishment and shows that from an eternal perspective there is no profit in evil.)

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good… (Our reward for righteousness is not external blessings. Asaph at first did not understand this. Job’s friends didn’t. Job himself did not! Asaph now realizes: walking with God, even through the shadow of death and suffering, is its own reward. “Though He slay me now, I will place my trust in Him.” Amen.)

Reformed Commentary on Job: Chapter 20

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In chapter 20 Zophar ignores Job’s points and asserts that prosperity does not last for the wicked.

Job’s friends appear more concerned with proving Job wrong than caring about his plight.

Chapter 20 (For Previous Chapter Click HereFor Subsequent Chapter Click Here)

Zophar is livid. He is agitated (Job 20:2) and feels insulted (Job 20:3). One may detect a degree of self-righteousness in his speech. Zophar thinks it is important enough to make clear that his understanding is superior to that of Job’s (Job 20:3).

After this, he begins his counter argument against Job. It is not clear whether he is appealing to man-made tradition or what he views as commonsense. Nonetheless, one may summarize his arguments as the following: “the triumphing of the wicked is short” (Job 20:5).

Apparently ignoring his earlier argumentation that God is inscrutable in chapter 12, Zophar now argues that God smites the wicked man as predictably as the sun rises every morning. Being that this does not always happen instantly, he argues that the wicked are punished eventually for their crimes, though they may prosper for a time.

What one may infer from Zophar’s argument and indignation is that he views Job as wicked. Indeed, Job prospered for a time but eventually God was going to punish him for his supposed indiscretions.

Zophar opens his volley: The wicked view themselves arrogantly and beyond repute (Job 20:6, obviously a response to Job’s claims of blamelessness) but they are quickly brushed away by God as if they were nothing (Job 20:7-10). For a moment they captivate us with their prosperity like a dream, until to be spirited away  in God’s judgment (Job 20:8).

Some of the subsequent verses may be a little indirect, but they all hammer home at the same point: the wicked’s prosperity will come to an end and this reflects God’s righteousness. One concerns the children of the wicked and how they spend their father’s money. Whether the sons of the wicked are foolish and spend all of their inheritance, or they are repentant and do right with it, the fact of the matter is that all the wicked have strived for will not last (Job 20:10).

Further, the wicked man in his youth, he may feel invincible if not immortal. Death is not something the young reflect seriously upon. However, such youthful vigor will pass away with his body and become nothing (Job 20:11).

An overarching theme in the above appears to be how God will right all wrongs. If the wicked deprive the poor of money, eventually (though it may be through the children of the wicked) they will get it back. Further, though for a time the wicked will behave as if they are invincible, they will be humbled. Zophar is merely endorsing the “what goes around comes around theology” as an explanation of why Job is suffering afflictions.

While invoking the same idea, he then takes some time to describe how the riches the wicked swallow will be vomited as a punishment from God (Job 20:12-23). Because of this, the wicked ultimately will not enjoy the “fruits” of their wickedness (Job 20:20).

Zophar’s in the end of the chapter reveal how he views Job’s situation quite explicitly: “The heavens will reveal his [the wicked’s] iniquity and the earth will rise up against him” (Job 20:27). God will pursue the wicked until they are punished for their evil (Job 20:23-25). The wicked will lose, like Job, “[t]he increase of his house” (Job 20:28) because this is “the wicked man’s portion from God” (Job 20:29).

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