Guests: and

One of the interesting results of the 1844 experience has been a persistent and developing interest in questions of “theodicy” in Adventism. Classically, “theodicy” has focused on the question of the vindication or justification of God, a God who claims to have created the universe – a universe marred by the ongoing suffering of the innocent – and who claims to be its sustainer still. The theodicy question is, then: How could a good God allow such a horrendous world as the one in which we find ourselves? Is it possible that he is not all good? Conversely, the fact that he has not intervened to halt evil suggests the possibility that he is not all-powerful. Adventists have adopted the position that God has chosen to limit his power in order that his goodness may be vindicated in the end. All of this makes most sense in a setting of a cosmic conflict. The last lines of Ellen White’s The Great Controversy constitute a marvelous testimony to the conviction that, in the end, the whole universe will be able to see the goodness of God. God will be seen to be open and transparent, granting freedom to his creatures so that they my choose to love him. Check out the evidence for yourself, God says. In short, it is not a simply a demonstration of God’s power that enables him to bring the controversy to a close, but a demonstration of the power of his goodness. And it will be a knowledge of his goodness that will keep the universe secure from sin in the future. In that kind of setting, the lives of the faithful play a key role, bearing witness on behalf of God’s goodness.

Interestingly enough, in the history of Christianity, only those who stand solidly in the free-will (Arminian/Wesleyan/Methodist) tradition have shown any kind of sustained interest in the “theodicy” question, i.e. the issue of the “justification” or “vindication” of God. Those who stand in the predestinarian (Augustinian/Calvinist/Reformed) tradition find it easy to shrug at the question, or even to resist it, rebuking those who raise it. For them, God is all-in-all and not to be questioned; he has the right to do as he pleases. In the end, he simply will consign the wicked to eternal torment, a fate declared by his sovereign will.

The author of this Probe Study Guide has developed a persistent interest in the tension between the free-will tradition and the predestinarian tradition. To illustrate the tension, he has used two phrases often heard from young children as they seek to develop under the careful tutelage of their parents. “Let me do it!” (free-will) and “Carry me Daddy”(predestinarian). One could also describe the differences in terms of the tension between those who emphasize human initiative (anthropocentric) and those who emphasize the divine initiative (theocentric). In terms of classic terminology, the anthropocentric tradition emphasizes sanctification, the work of becoming holy, while the theocentric tradition emphasizes justification, God’s work of declaring us holy.

For reasons which may be known only to the maker of the universe, it would appear that free-will parents often give birth to predestinarian children and predestinarian parents often give birth to free-will children. The author of this Study Guide would argue that Adventism has tended to be weak in the preaching of Paul precisely because of its emphasis on free-will and sanctification. That tension between the two perspective must be addressed carefully if Adventism is to be a healthy body of Christ. Both “extremes” can quote Scripture in support of their position. The church needs to learn how to bring the two together.

Interestingly enough, Paul raises the theodicy question in Romans 3, but with a much narrower focus on the salvation question: “So that you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judging” (Rom. 3:4). This positive valuing of the theodicy issue is unusual for Paul. He would be quick to declare that God justifies humans; but he is also inclined to say that humans cannot, indeed dare not, seek to justify God! In Romans 9, for example, he reacts forcefully to those who raise questions about God’s apparent lack of fairness (cf. Rom. 9:11-21). Paul’s attitude contrasts sharply with Abraham’s willingness to confront God over the fate of Sodom in Genesis 18.

Discussion: It could prove profitable simply to discuss the differing perspectives represented by Abraham (Genesis 18) and Paul (Romans 9). The differences in perspective – and the ensuing tensions – are likely to emerge unless the group has already excluded one side or the other.

Under the headings of “Let me do it” – “Carry me, daddy” labels, here is an over-simplified list of differences between the two perspectives, though rarely is a given person purely on one side or the other. In general, those on the left side demonstrate “liberal” impulses, while those on the “right” are inclined to be more conservative:

“Let Me Do It” – “Carry Me, Daddy”
An Over-simplified “Liberal” – “Conservative” Typology
Human Freedom-Divine Sovereignty
Free Will-Grace
Secular Humanist-Christian Humanist
“How dare You, God?” — “God gives, God takes”

A final personal note from the author of the Probe Study Guide:
Before concluding this lesson and this quarter with the exhilarating final passages from The Great Controversy, I want to step out of the “third-person” style of the study guide and give a first-person comment on the contrasts between this Study Guide and the official one authored and edited by Clifford Goldstein. Goldstein and I have discussed these issues on several questions as brothers in Christ. That dialogue is more richly represented in my book review of his Graffiti in the Holy of Holies included in this Study Guide as Appendix D. The most challenging aspect of this quarter’s lessons has been his strong stance against multiple applications of the prophecies of Daniel. It is also worth noting that his experience contains a stronger Pauline element; mine has been shaped more by the Gospel of John, especially John 14-17, though Paul is becoming increasingly important in my own experience.

For reasons which are still mysterious to me, Goldstein wants to hold to a strict historicism, rather than move to a modified historicism or a modified idealism a position which would recognize the value of multiple applications. In this Study Guide I have suggested the phrase “applied historicism” as a possible way of labeling the Adventist position, a label that I would hope could be intentionally inclusive, representing a “both/and” approach to those issues which divide us.

Finally, let me comment on a statement Goldstein makes in the official Study Guide for this final lesson: “While the Millerites got the event wrong,” he says, “they got the date right.”
I tend to view the date like a birthday or an anniversary. Yes, it can be terribly important; but the crucial factor is what happens to the person who was born on a particular day, or to a couple who were married on a particular day. Remembering the right day in the right way makes life richer and more meaningful. But it isn’t essential in some absolute sense. None of us knows what really happens in heaven. But our symbols of what is happening there are still very important. In 1844 God gave birth to a people for whom God has a high and holy purpose I hope and pray that we can work together to help realize that purpose which we both hold so dear. I suspect that Goldstein and Thompson are much closer on essentials than might appear on the surface. But both of us are looking forward to carrying on this discussion in the kingdom.

The Controversy Ended
(Closing paragraphs of the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy, 676 – 678)

“I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Revelation 21:22. The people of God are privileged to hold open communion with the Father and the Son. “Now we see through a glass, darkly.” [676/677] 1 Corinthians 13:12. We behold the image of God reflected, as in a mirror, in the works of nature and in His dealings with men; but then we shall see Him face to face, without a dimming veil between. We shall stand in His presence and behold the glory of His countenance. {GC 676.4}

There the redeemed shall know, even as also they are known. The loves and sympathies which God Himself has planted in the soul shall there find truest and sweetest exercise. The pure communion with holy beings, the harmonious social life with the blessed angels and with the faithful ones of all ages who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the sacred ties that bind together “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Ephesians 3:15) –these help to constitute the happiness of the redeemed. {GC 677.1}

There, immortal minds will contemplate with never-failing delight the wonders of creative power, the mysteries of redeeming love. There will be no cruel, deceiving foe to tempt to forgetfulness of God. Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized; and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body. {GC 677.2}

All the treasures of the universe will be open to the study of God’s redeemed. Unfettered by mortality, they wing their tireless flight to worlds afar–worlds that thrilled with sorrow at the spectacle of human woe and rang with songs of gladness at the tidings of a ransomed soul. With unutterable delight the children of earth enter into the joy and the wisdom of unfallen beings. They share the treasures of knowledge and understanding gained through ages upon ages in contemplation of God’s handiwork. With undimmed vision they gaze upon the glory of creation – suns and stars and systems, all in their appointed order circling the throne [677/678] of Deity. Upon all things, from the least to the greatest, the Creator’s name is written, and in all are the riches of His power displayed. {GC 677.3}

And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character. As Jesus opens before them the riches of redemption and the amazing achievements in the great controversy with Satan, the hearts of the ransomed thrill with more fervent devotion, and with more rapturous joy they sweep the harps of gold; and ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of voices unite to swell the mighty chorus of praise. {GC 678.1}

“And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” Revelation 5:13. {GC 678.2}

The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love. {GC 678.3}

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