The theme of chapter two of Conversations About God by Graham Maxwell is what went wrong in God’s universe, in other words, what is sin and how did it mess everything up? After the lecture, Maxwell took questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, Lou Venden (1984). Edited by Jon Paulien.
Lou: This question also concerns the previous chapter. “Could you explain within the larger view the text ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin’ (Heb 9:22)? Is the word ‘remission’ here used with a different meaning than the common medical interpretation that an illness is not cured or gone, but is simply in a state of inactivity without symptoms? I’d hate to think that Christ’s shed blood only ‘inactivates’ the rebellion, but doesn’t really cure it.”
Graham: That question is a sermon in itself. On the matter of “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,” that will be covered in the chapter on why Jesus had to die (chapter 8). But I’d like to comment on the second half of the question, the remission of sin. “Remission” in the Bible is not a medical term. If sin were only remitted, we would be in a sorry state and our infections would get into the hereafter. And our rebellions would continue.
The actual word translated in some English Bibles as “remission” means forgiveness. According to Hebrews 9:22 God actually sent His Son to “forgive” sin. The best translation is really “without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness.” But God sent His Son to do even more than that, Jesus came to do away with sin (Heb 9:26, NIV). God is not through with sin until it has been eliminated. But these texts do raise the question, Why is blood necessary? And that we will treat most seriously in a later chapter.
Lou: I’d like to return to a question we talked a little about in the previous chapter. “If we say that God has already won the war, why are we still here? What is God waiting for? Shouldn’t the war be over?”
Graham: We have a whole chapter on what God is waiting for (chapter 18). But since it came up here, it would be good to address it briefly now. When Satan and his followers were cast out of heaven there was victory of a sort, but not much of one. There were so many questions yet to be resolved. Peace had not been confirmed. Even the loyal angels had their questions. Getting sin out of heaven might seem “the real victory.” But it was no victory for our heavenly Father. It was only when Jesus died that it could be said, “It is finished.”
When Jesus returned to heaven on resurrection Sunday, He found the universe celebrating that He really had won the war. In the book of Revelation, the heavenly throng says over and over again, “You’ve shown Yourself to be merciful and just and good and righteous and holy” (see Revelation 5:12-13; 15:3-4; 19:2). “You have the victory” (see Revelation 3:21; 5:5-6)! So in a real sense the war was won then, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The angels and the inhabitants of other worlds have paid such close attention to what Jesus revealed in His life, teachings, suffering and death that they got the message. And they couldn’t wait to tell Him on resurrection Sunday, “You’ve won our loyalty. As far as we’re concerned, You have won the war.”
Unfortunately back on this planet we didn’t get the message. Jesus invited three of the disciples to watch some of the evidence in Gethsemane. And the brethren slept through it all (Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:41-46)! He repeatedly invited them to come to the cross, and see the most important answer of all (Matt 16:21; 17:22; 20:19; Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 18:32-33; 24:7). The universe watched. But where were “the brethren,” as He called them? Eleven of them were off in deep depression. Only one of them was there. And that’s why John was the disciple who wrote the most significant things about why Jesus had to die.
So God has been mercifully waiting for this one tiny planet of people to make up their minds. We know there are awesome events to take place here before Jesus comes. And until we are as settled into the truth as the angels are, God will not let the closing events come. He puts them off, and He mercifully waits. That is what God is like. He gives His people all the time they need to become settled into the truth about His character. God waits until His people understand. You can trust a God like that!
Lou: But Graham, doesn’t the Bible speak often about the wrath of God? Can you really trust someone who is angry a lot?
Graham: We will have more to say on that in the chapter on why Jesus had to die (chapter 8). For now let me just say that if you take all sixty-six books of the Bible and look at the references to God’s wrath all the way through, you’ll find so many places that explain God’s wrath as simply God’s turning away in loving disappointment from those who do not want Him anyway, thus leaving them to the inevitable and awful consequences of their own rebellious choice. God’s anger is not like our anger. And we will have a lot more to say about that later.
Lou: Could you say a word or two to introduce the chapter which follows? What is the next topic?
Graham: The next topic is “All God asks of us is trust.” The basic point of that chapter is that God can and will save all who trust Him. When it comes to salvation there are no limits on the part of God. He can readily heal the damage done. The crucial issue is whether or not we will trust Him enough to stand humbly and teachably in His presence and ask, “What must we do to be saved? What must we do to be well?” The problem is not with our creator, the problem is with us.
Lou: It seems to me that in this chapter, Graham, you have emphasized that problem. We need to understand the problem before we can fully understand the solution. In a sense, everything hangs upon how we understand the nature of this sin problem. And in the next chapter we will talk more about the solution.
Graham: Very much so. A correct understanding of sin will make a big difference as we continue our conversations about God.