Fundamental Belief Number 8 (Great Controversy)

All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood, as presented in the historical account of Genesis 1-11. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation. (Gen. 3; 6-8; Job 1:6-12; Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-18; Rom. 1:19-32; 3:4; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 3:6; Rev. 12:4-9.  (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.)

Aside from the re-arrangement of the biblical texts, the major change in this fundamental was the addition of a sentence that could have been placed in FB6, “as presented in the historical account of Genesis 1-11.” I understand that there were two reasons for placing the statement here instead. First, it is the only place in the 28 FBs where the Flood is mentioned. Second, since this fundamental also mentions creation, it made it possible to reference Genesis 1-11 as a whole and not just the chapters related to the Flood. While many scholars have questioned whether the primary intention of Genesis 1-11 is history, this sentence certainly expresses how the average Seventh-day Adventist views these chapters.

This statement opens with the phrase “all humanity,” but that by itself is open to misunderstanding. The entire universe is involved in the great controversy and is affected by its outcome (Col 1:20; Eph 1:9-10; Rev 12:7-10), as the sentences that follow in the statement make clear. The ultimate outcome of the controversy is the vindication of God’s character of love. The statement leaves ambiguous, however, just how or by whom God’s love is vindicated. It is interesting that while the worldwide flood is mentioned here, the cross is not! From the Adventist perspective, the cross is more about theodicy (vindicating the character of God or defending God’s reputation) than it is about soteriology (how people get saved). Recent scholarship affirms that even Romans and Galatians are more about God and His character than what Luther saw in them, a revelation of how we get saved.

A key text upon which this statement is based is Revelation 12. At first glance Revelation 12 seems to be about a war against aggression and rebellion. How do you reconcile the self-sacrifice of the cross with such an aggressive story? A closer look at Revelation 12 makes clear that the battle language there is metaphorical. It is not a war fought with tanks and planes and guns, the great controversy is a war of words. The tail of the dragon (Rev 12:4) reminds the reader of prophets telling lies (Isa 9:15). The ancient serpent of 12:9 recalls the Garden of Eden where the serpent spewed out deceptive words (Gen 3:1-6). The method of the dragon’s attack in heaven is to accuse the “brethren” (Rev 12:10). And he is overcome by “the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11). The battle language is the metaphorical backdrop to a war of words.

A Loma Linda perspective on this Fundamental focuses on the picture of God that human beings hold. God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be. He is not arbitrary, vengeful, unforgiving and severe. Instead He is both infinitely powerful and infinitely gracious. Not everything that religion says about God is true and some of the things even Christian religion says about God make Him look bad in the eyes of the world. God is often portrayed with a character more like that of Satan. So a major theme in Adventist evangelism is that everyone, including Christians, need to critique their own religion. Human beings do not, by nature, gravitate to an accurate picture of God. And if all who want to know God are willing to exchange what they think they know for truth, it will bring us all closer together.

There are practical implications of this picture of God for patient care. In more traditional types of chaplaincy, people are encouraged to think of death as simply part of life. When people are suffering, Jesus is portrayed as a sustaining presence more than as a healing one. There is also a desire to avoid doctrine at the bedside. While these points make sense in general, at Loma Linda we find it helpful in many cases to go further. While doctrine may not normally be appropriate at the bedside, it can at times be important for the chaplain to explore with a patient. Chaplains need to minister to a patient on the basis of the spiritual resources the patient brings with them. And in a world of great diversity, the chaplain needs broad spiritual and doctrinal understanding in order to be able to minister to many different types of people.

It is also true that there are occasions where what the patient believes is itself a source of suffering and can make both the dying process and the healing process harder than it needs to be. Patients often believe that they are sick because God is punishing them. While a doctor or a chaplain may not want to get into the details with a patient, the great controversy motif gives the caregiver the confidence to gently confront destructive doctrines with a message of God’s love and care even for those who have made a mess of their lives. The great controversy offers a perspective for understanding some of the difficult stories in the Bible that may be part of a negative narrative in a patient’s life.

In the Adventist view, the essential nature of God’s character is love. And for love to occur, it needs to be freely chosen. Love that is commanded or forced is not love. In creating the universe God was expanding the circle of love that was always there among the members of the Trinity. But for His creatures to truly love God they had to be free to do so. And being free to love meant they were also free to rebel and reject God’s love. God so highly values the freedom of His creatures, that He allows them the freedom to choose and also the freedom to reap the consequences of their choices. That means that God does not will that people be sick or die. Sickness and death are the consequences of freedom and illustrations of what happens when freedom is exercised in rebellion and self-centeredness. People are not sick because God is angry with them or because he is punishing them (although He can use misfortune to get our attention), suffering is a natural consequence of the present human condition. Suffering does not exist because God is evil or weak, it exists because God values freedom above all else. And one day the universe will be healed and safe, not by superior force, but through the abundant evidence that the universe is ruled by self-sacrificing love.

The Great Controversy motif also has powerful implications for geopolitical issues today. Some ask the question, Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of violence? In light of the Great Controversy that is the wrong question. There is a universal conflict between God and Satan. That conflict is being played out in every nation and every religion. The line between good and evil is not between “us” and “them,” it runs right down the middle of every religion and every person. That means God is at work within Islam, and so is Satan. God is at work in Christianity, and so is Satan. God is at work within Adventism, and so is Satan. Because of the cosmic conflict, Islam can be a religion of peace and a religion of violence at the same time, because both God and Satan are at work in the hearts of Muslims. This FB has powerful implications for many aspects of religion.

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