I had the wonderful privilege of reading Dante’s Purgatorio with my students recently, and Dante’s symbolism repeatedly came to mind as I prepared for this devotional. As Protestants we get a little nervous around words like “purgatory,” but rest assured, once you dive beneath the surface of Dante’s Purgatorio, at its heart is an allegory of the soul’s journey through repentance and restoration made possible through the power of God’s grace.

The journey Dante takes in Purgatorio is a process of becoming reordered back into a proper love for God, and this is a process of being completely and utterly undone. Dante’s whole self must be renewed so that what he wants to do and what he ought to do are one and the same thing (in other words, his will becomes completely aligned with God’s will). It’s a beautiful picture of what Paul speaks of in Romans: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Dante goes through a process that completely reconforms his mind, heart, and inclinations to love what God loves, and to see as He sees.

Once Dante has been undone and remade, he must pass through a wall of fire and be consumed by its purifying blaze. Afterward, Dante is described in the last lines of the poem as having become “pure and prepared to leap up to the stars,” which symbolizes Dante being ready to enter God’s presence.

When we are “consumed” by God after we offer ourselves to him as a living sacrifice for the first time, we become transformed and renewed through Christ’s work on the cross. But this passage in Romans and Dante’s journey in Purgatorio is not about salvation. It’s about becoming transformed in our desires, inclinations and thoughts every day. About the transformation that occurs when we allow God to move and work in sanctifying us, because being transformed by God when we offer ourselves to Him wholly and completely is not just a one time thing, but a never-ending process.

It is when we repeatedly choose to come to God in total surrender that we really get to experience–not just the opportunity to live our lives with the benefits of his grace, free from guilt and shame–but the majesty, awe and joy that comes from being in his presences after relinquishing our will and desires to Him and saying with Job, “Though [You] slay me, yet will I trust in [You]” (Job 13:15).

Ashley Carr

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