heaven and hell and the wet market in between

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My neighbour shed a tear last week while we were chatting about the Roman Catholic and Christian faith. I sure hope it is the Holy Spirit and not me! It was an unexpected conversation, really. I had forgotten to bring my keys with me to the market. Locked out of my house with a bag full of tofu, pork, liver and beef balls, I went next door to ask for help.

Since my exam revision plans were pretty much kaput, I stayed and chatted about my family, the new wet market and then, church. I was listening to her tell me about All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day which the Roman Catholics commemorate annually, and at the same time marveling that God used my forgetfulness to bring about this conversation.

We were talking about hell, heaven and purgatory when I asked her, “Are you afraid of the possibility that you have to go to purgatory?”

No, no, she said, it’s just something we have to go through. According to her understanding, Jesus’ death only opened the gateway to heaven. Believers still sin and pay for their sin by going to purgatory, before they are allowed into heaven, “as long as they don’t do the really bad things such as killing and robbing.”

“If believers still have to pay for their own sins in purgatory, then what’s the point of believing in Jesus for a Roman Catholic?”

Her answer came as a total surprise: she believes that having a religion secures a resting place for your soul, and becoming a Roman Catholic means you have a chance to pay off your debts in purgatory; not having a religion just means you become a wandering soul after death! (I am not sure if this is the official Roman Catholic doctrine.)

She also has a sister who had started attending a Christian church in recent years, so I asked, “Does she have different views now? Do you two talk about it?” At this point I noticed her eyes were watering and one tear was threatening to fall out of her right eye. She wiped it off a moment later with the back of her hands and we returned to “safer” topics.

I still don’t know why she teared that day and I was very alarmed yet in awe of God all at the same time. At least I am sure now it’s not me, since she just called me a minute ago. She invited me to go together to the newly opened wet market in our neighbourhood tomorrow. And I said yes, of course.

By the grace of God, I hope to tell her that Jesus’ death more than opened the gateway of heaven for us; he died in our place to secure a place in his Father’s heavenly kingdom for all those who believe in him, even the worst of scums.

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