In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night following by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the seventh presentation, “The Question of Authority.”
Lou: Earlier you mentioned how God’s response to the great controversy was not a great show of power or force; you said He took His case into court. I wonder if you might explain just a bit more what you meant by the word “court.”
Graham: It is an absolutely magnificent verse in Romans 3:4. Sometimes it’s translated “You [God] must be shown to be right when you speak; you must win your case when you are being tried” (TEV). And the verse is so crucial in understanding why Jesus had to die, that in the next chapter we will look at that verse in a number of versions. Now I deliberately chose the translation that I used. The closest to the meaning of the verse is the translation by Goodspeed, although I modify that slightly. “God, may You win Your case when You take it into court” just rings a bell with me; it fits there. What court is this? It is the court of the universe.
Lou: Oh, that does answer what I was wondering. By “court” you mean the entire universe. Could we say that we are included in that court, too?
Graham: Very much. And I would want to use many passages in Scripture that speak of God taking His case into court. Look at the gathering in Daniel seven, when a hundred million angels are watching. Or in Job 1 and 2, where God conducts a conversation with the adversary about God’s friend, Job. There are many references to this in Scripture.
Lou: Our subject tonight raises many questions that have come up in the past, and I would like to press some of these questions. You talk about God establishing the authority of truth and trust and love, but didn’t God, in fact, use force and power? Isn’t the Old Testament record filled with incidents that would support the idea that God was putting on a show to intimidate us?
Graham: There’s no question! That’s what always astounds people who have never read the sixty-six books through before. Innumerable times God is pictured as showing His physical force and power. I don’t think He ever did it to win anybody. In fact, I don’t think He ever won anybody that way. He often did it simply to get their attention. Or at the time of the Flood, He did it in order to maintain His contact with the human race. But if it puzzles us, how it must delight the adversary to have this information to use! I think the devil is puzzled that God would hand him so much evidence in support of his accusations.
Lou: Let’s look at a specific instance. Here is Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus, and you’ve already referred to how Saul misunderstood Jesus. But here he is on the way. And Acts says that a great light flashed from Heaven and he fell to the ground. That’s a very impressive use of force or power. Didn’t it win Saul?
Graham: No, it just floored him. But it got his attention. And I would judge, with a man like Saul, nothing less would have gotten his attention, as he was quite a firebrand. Now already he was quite tormented within because of the behavior of Stephen. When Stephen said, “Lay this not to their charge,” he must have remembered the report that when that Heretic died on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them.” And Saul knew his Old Testament well; he knew that this was ideal, godlike behaviour.
In order to stifle the prickings of his conscience, he went out to conduct another “evangelistic” effort. So God floored him on the Damascus road, and got his attention. But then notice what God did once he had his attention. He just said, “Saul, you’re having trouble with your conscience, aren’t you?”
And Saul said, “Yes, I really am.”
“Then why don’t you give in?”
“I give in. What do You want me to do?”
And Christ didn’t say, “I want you to do the following, and be sure you do it or else.” No, the Lord said, “Your way is to overwhelm people. Mine is for you to go and talk to Ananias, one of your peers. That’s all I’m going to say.” And from then on, Saul/Paul never pressured anybody. He said, “If you disagree with me, well—let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom 14:5).
Before the incident on the Damascus road, Paul put Christians in prison or had them stoned. Afterward he realized that persuasion can only really come when in the highest sense of freedom you yourself become convinced; and he adopted that method. Now he truly knew God. He didn’t change his diet, his Sabbath, his dress, his Bible, or even the name of his God. He changed his picture of God. But he wouldn’t have done it if God had not hit him with a two-by-four on the Damascus road.
Lou: So the show of force on the Damascus road was to get Saul’s attention. It fulfilled a function.
Graham: Well, we know from experience with children, you sometimes have to do this.