|Baron Henri de Triqueti,
Non Mechaberis (Nathan Confronts David) (1837)
A reader emailed me a question about the distinction between the temporal and eternal consequences due to sin In a nutshell, the Catholic view is that sin incurs eternal damnation, and that Jesus Christ takes this consequence away for believers through His Death on the Cross, but that Christ didn’t (and didn’t intend to) remove every consequence of sin. In fact, as you’ll see below, it’s precisely because of Christ’s Death on the Cross that Purgatory exists.
The discussion was related to 2 Samuel 12:13-14. David’s affair with a married woman (who he then impregnates) leads him to engineer the death of her husband in battle. The prophet Nathan confronts him about it, and David repents. Nathan then says, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” That’s a rather clear distinction between eternal consequences (eternal death) and temporal consequences (the loss of his son). The reader suggested that this might be different today, since David lived and died before the time of Christ. I don’t think so. Here’s why:
- I assume the reader believes that David was saved from the fires of Hell. If that’s the case, I assume the reader also believes that this is because Jesus Christ’s merits on Calvary can be applied to anyone at any point in the past, present, or future, since it’s an eternal Sacrifice. That is, Christ’s Death saved the B.C. and A.D. elect, if you will. If all that’s true, then Christ’s Sacrifice applies to all of the saved, under both the Old and New Covenant. But if all that’s true, why would David be punished worse than someone today? He’s just as much saved by Christ’s merits as a believer today.
- Maybe a better way of asking it would be this: did David’s punishment take away the need for Christ’s Sacrifice? Hopefully, we can all say “no” without a moment’s hesitation. David wasn’t saved apart from Christ – nobody was. But if David’s punishment doesn’t diminish the need for Christ’s Sacrifice, why would Christ’s Sacrifice eliminate the necessity of David’s punishment?
- To distinguish between the temporal and eternal consequences of sin, imagine that you steal a car. You regret doing this, and ask forgiveness, and are forgiven. But you might still have to (a) return the car, (b) provide some sort of reparation to the car owner, and (c) be punished by the State. Each of those is a temporal consequence or punishment quite distinct from your soul spending eternity in Heaven or Hell.
- St. Paul talks about the role that the State plays in this regard, serving as “God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). Obviously, the State doesn’t damn or save people, so Paul is clearly describing temporal punishments for sin.
- The Book of Hebrews also describes God as providing temporal punishments to sinners precisely to avoid the need for Hell: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
|Léon Bonnat, Crucifixion (1880)|
|Bernardino Mei, Christ Cleansing the Temple (1665)|