Tag Archives: the cosmic conflict

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Seven, “The Question of Authority”

The Great Controversy is not over who has the greater power, God or the adversary. Satan has never accused God of lacking physical power. In fact, the book of James says that whenever Satan thinks of the power of the One who created the whole vast universe, he trembles with fear (James 2:19). And he knows he has but a short time (Rev 12:12). Satan has not accused God of being weak, he has accused Him of abusing His divine power and failing to tell the truth. Specifically, God has been accused of being arbitrary in His use of power, of being exacting and vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. If those charges were true, then surely it would not be safe to trust in God. Who would want to spend eternity with such a Deity?

And yet one third of the brilliant angels, intelligent as they are, have agreed that Satan is right. They agree that God has indeed abused His power and is not worthy of their trust or ours. For thousands of years they have worked to convince us of the rightness of their charges. Just as God has sought to demonstrate that He is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be, so Satan in many and various ways has sought to twist and pervert the truth in support of his cause. Most diabolically, I believe, Satan has used the teachings of religion and even of Christianity to support his case. He has even perverted the meaning of the cross in support of his accusation that God demands our obedience under threat of painful execution.

“Love Me or I’ll kill you,” is his satanic perversion of God’s warning in the beginning: “Children, I don’t want you to die. If you go your own rebellious, disorderly way, you will die.” Consider the extensive damage caused by Satan’s devilish caricature of God’s words in the Garden of Eden. If God has really said, “Love Me or I’ll torture you for eternity in sulfurous flames,” how could there be any real love? How could there be any real trust? I wonder how many millions have been turned against God by that perversion of the truth. Or worse, I wonder how many people have found it possible to accept that picture of God and still try to serve Him. They offer Him the obedience that springs from fear, and then suffer the destructive consequences of forced submission.

The good news, of course, is that God is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be. The whole Bible presents a refutation of these charges, not based on mere claims, but rather on the evidence of demonstration. The whole Bible demonstrates God’s way of exercising authority and power. I think that is very good news which leads us to repentance and to trust. Understanding the way God runs His universe will keep it secure and free and at peace for the rest of eternity.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Six, “Evaluating the Evidence”

We have learned from our study of the Bible that all God asks of us is trust. If we would only trust in Him enough, He could readily heal the damage sin has done. That is all He asked before the war began. That’s all He asks now of those who have been damaged and caught up in this war. All He will ever ask of us in the future is trust. Where there is mutual trust and trustworthiness, no cheating, there is perfect security, perfect freedom, perfect peace. And this is what God desires the most. But is that conclusion based on the right interpretation of the Bible? Have we rightly weighed and understood the biblical evidence?

Others have read the biblical evidence and drawn different conclusions. Many of these are sincere followers of God, yet they perceive Him as arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. Many of them earnestly seek to win others to that kind of God. But if that is the kind of person God is, then He is not worthy of our trust, nor is He safe to trust. Sadly, this picture of God sounds a lot like the accusations Satan has made against God from the beginning of the conflict.

In responding to the accusations against Him, God is not willing to issue mere claims or denials. Anybody could do that. But when a person has been falsely accused of being untrustworthy, it does no good to deny it or to simply claim to be trustworthy. So God has answered the charges against Him with the evidence of demonstration. Only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a sufficiently long period of time, and under a great variety of circumstances, can trust be re-established and confirmed. The Bible is a record of just such a demonstration.

Why is there so much historical detail in the Bible? So much of it seems of such little importance. But if God’s way of revealing Himself is demonstration, it is involving Himself in human affairs and saying, “Watch the way I handle situations. That’s the way to find out what I’m like.” If we did not have the historical details, we would not be in a position to recreate those original settings and understand why God would thunder one time and speak so softly another time.

The Bible is no mere collection of theological statements. Nor is it a code book of deeds to be done and sins to be shunned. It is rather an inspired record of God’s handling of the crisis of distrust in His universe. The only way to truly understand the Bible and rightly interpret it is to pick up the Bible and read it through as a whole. To be confident that we see the real meaning of the Bible, we must view it as a whole, relating all its parts to the one central theme — the truth about God Himself. Of every story, teaching and event, the same question must be raised: What does this say about God? Another question naturally follows: Can we trust the God that we see? That will be the subject of future chapters.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Five, “The Record of the Evidence”

Without the Bible we would know nothing about this conflict in God’s family. Nor would we have the record of how He has demonstrated His trustworthiness by His infinitely skillful and gracious way of handling the revolt. But can the Bible itself be trusted? Do we have the right collection of sixty-six books? Have the words been accurately preserved? Can we trust the many translations? And, most of all can we have confidence that we understand the meaning?

How should one decide which books of the Bible belong and which books do not? I think it helps a great deal to know the origin of these books. The opinion of centuries of believers, who were much closer to the writing of these books than we are, is of consequence. But nothing compares with reading them all. I have done it several times. It takes a long weekend without any interruption. I read all the way through the Old Testament and then the Old Testament Apocrypha and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, and the New Testament Apocrypha. And when you arrive at the Revelation of Peter, you haven’t forgotten Maccabees and Enoch and Romans and Genesis. They are still in your mind. Based on that experience, I agree with Catholic Jerome, Protestant Luther and the great Bible Societies, that the sixty-six books of our Protestant Bibles are the only ones that really measure up.

Have the words of the Bible been accurately preserved? All the original copies of the Bible have disappeared. There are thousands of hand-written copies, though, that have come down to us through the years. And no two of them are the same, which could distress a person who doesn’t know better. But there is a bright side to this. When you look at thousands of these manuscripts, and note what the differences are like, you would be moved to say that no other ancient document has been preserved with such care and accuracy as the books of the Bible. Let me quote the one-time curator of the British Museum, who spent a lifetime studying such matters, “You can pick the Bible up with confidence and say, for all practical purposes, we have the word of God.”

“In many and various ways” (Heb 1:1-3) God has spoken to us through the years. And in many and various ways those words have been translated into English and most of the other languages on this earth. How else could the gospel go to all the world? How could people find out about our God? So there is no substitute for taking the Bible (or preferably the versions, plural, of your choice) and sitting down together to read and study. Never has the evidence contained in the Bible been so readily available. And having all this evidence so readily available, let’s read it. Can we confidently come to the conclusion that we understand the meaning? That the evidence is really there? That the Bible can be trusted? And, as some of us who have spent a lot of time reading these versions believe: the Author who is behind the Bible can be trusted because there is trustworthy evidence in the record.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Four, “God’s Way of Restoring Trust”

In the previous chapter we concluded that in order to have peace once again in His universe, all God asks of us is trust. And there will be peace again, just as there was before the war that began in heaven (Rev 12). There will be peace once again because all the members of God‘s vast family will trust in their heavenly Father and He in turn will be able to safely trust in them. Along with that, the members of God’s family will learn to trust each other. Wherever there is mutual trust and trustworthiness, there is perfect peace, perfect freedom, and perfect security.

Our heavenly Father, however, has been accused of being unworthy of the faith and trust of His children. He has even been accused of being a liar; of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. It might seem incredible that the Infinite One would permit such accusations. But in His far-sighted plan, God has allowed these accusations and charges to spread throughout the universe, including our planet. These accusations have led to the point of war, open rebellion, and revolt. In light of this rebellion the question arises, How could God ever restore trust in His universe—in His family?

In an atmosphere of accusation, suspicion and distrust, trust cannot be established through shows of superior power. Satan tries to do that. He loves to impress people with miracles, signs and lying wonders (2 Thess 2:9). He has to, because what he says about God isn’t true. In the absence of evidence He has to use other methods to seduce, intimidate, mislead or deceive us. But if God were to use Satan’s methods it would only increase the distrust and cause people to serve Him out of fear.

In an atmosphere of accusation, suspicion and distrust, trust cannot be established through assertions and claims either. When a person has been falsely accused, there’s no way to establish the truth simply by denying the charges. Only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of circumstances – especially difficult ones – can trust be reestablished and confirmed. The sixty-six books of the Bible are precisely the record of just such a demonstration, and every one of those books is an important part. It is particularly in the stories of the Bible, that we see the evidence of God’s character as He patiently deals with the complications wrought by sin. The evidence found in the Bible is God’s way of restoring trust. God seeks to convince us, not by authority or power, but on the basis of truth and evidence.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Three, “All God Asks Is Trust”

It is apparent, from the biblical description of this controversy in God’s family, that there was a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness—even to the point of war in heaven (Rev 12:7-9). That war spilled down to this planet, where we experience continuing misunderstanding and distrust of God. Not that we’ve all become irreligious, but that we’ve allowed ourselves to be deceived by the adversary. Even many who do worship God, worship a false picture of Him—with all the hazards that follow. We tend to become like the kind of God we worship and admire.

The third chapter of Conversations About God explores the meaning and necessity of faith, in the larger setting of the Great Controversy. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul what he needed to do in order to be saved (Acts 16:30-31), Paul did not offer a series of doctrinal lessons, he simply said “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The difference between belief and faith matters in the English language, but there is no such difference between belief and faith in the Bible. There is only one word for both, and it can be translated “faith,” “belief,” or “trust.” Faith is trust in the way God chose to save us. We’re not saved by faith. Faith does not save us, God saves us. But God can only save those who trust Him.
If anything should happen to any of us tonight, I would hope that we would die God’s trusting friend. Because if we do, we will arise in the next moment of consciousness face to face with God. And we will not be afraid, because we will know the truth about God. We will trust Him, know Him, love Him, and all those other things. We will have been set right. And if He should say to us, “You know, there’s a great deal for you to learn,” we would say in response, “I’d be pleased to listen, because I trust and admire You. I want to be Your friend.”

You see, faith is just a word we use to describe a relationship with God as with a person well known. The better He is known the better this relationship may be. Faith implies an attitude toward God of love, trust, and deepest admiration. It means having enough confidence in God – based on the more than adequate evidence revealed – to be willing to believe what He says, to accept what He offers, and to do what He wishes – without reservation – for the rest of eternity. Anyone who has such faith would be safe to save. This is why faith is the only requirement for heaven, and for salvation.

This long debate regarding faith, works and obedience has troubled saints through the years, but it could be so readily resolved when we realize that the Biblical word for obedience literally means “listening under.” It describes a humble willingness to listen. If we truly love and trust God, we’ll be willing to listen. It wouldn’t make sense for us not to listen to one we love, trust and admire.

What matters most is for us to trust God enough to be willing to listen, to stand humbly in His presence and ask “What must I do to be saved? What must I do to be well? What must I do to be safe?” In the beginning God created the entire universe. He is able and willing to heal all of the damage done by sin. There is no substitute for trust. Anyone who has such faith would be perfectly safe to save.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter Two, “What Went Wrong in God’s Universe”

The Bible describes sin as a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness, a stubborn and suspicious unwillingness to listen. Left untreated, sin makes peace impossible. Sin began in heaven, in the mind of God’s most honored and trusted angel. This raises the question, What really went wrong in God’s universe? This question is important because understanding what went wrong helps us to understand the methods God is using to put things right again. In the larger view of the great controversy, the plan of salvation is God’s way of setting things right in such a way that they will never go wrong again.

Before the war in heaven began, there was peace throughout the universe because all the members of God’s vast family trusted each other. They trusted their heavenly Father. And He in turn could safely trust in them. Where you have that kind of mutual trust and trustworthiness, there is perfect peace, perfect freedom, and perfect security.

A crisis of distrust, nevertheless, developed in the family. Our heavenly Father was accused of being unworthy of our trust, of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. Sin entered our universe when angels ceased to trust. As a consequence, they themselves became untrustworthy. And thus sin entered our universe for the first time. For the Bible, sin is much more than a mere breaking of the rules, serious as that might be. Sin changes us, producing fear and mistrust of God. In its essence, sin is a violation of mutual trust, a breakdown of trust and trustworthiness, a stubborn unwillingness to listen to the One who desires only the good of His creatures.

The hazard of regarding sin primarily as breaking God’s rules is that such a mindset tends to encourage an impersonal, even fearful relationship with God. Love cannot be commanded, it cannot be produced by force or fear. When we believe Satan’s lies, we don’t trust God and allow Him to heal us. And the ultimate result of that can be found in Romans 6:23: “Sin pays its servants: the wage is death” (Phillips). So the remedy for sin depends on what sin is. If sin is distrust and its consequences, forgiveness alone will not heal the damage done. Forgiveness does not do away with sin. For there to be lasting peace in God’s universe, trust must somehow be restored. Questions must be answered. Satan’s accusations must be met. God must be seen to be righteous, and infinitely worthy of our trust. How God rebuilds our trust is the subject of the next chapter summary.

Conversations About God: Summary of Chapter One, “The Conflict in God’s Family”

In the beginning, God created a vast family in the universe. That family existed in the context of perfect love, freedom and peace. There was peace because all the members of God’s vast family trusted each other, and all of them trusted their heavenly Father. The Father in turn could safely trust in them. In the context of mutual trust and trustworthiness, there is perfect freedom. Perfect peace. Perfect security.

But the Bible speaks of a war that began at the very center of God’s family, a crisis of distrust. Sin in its essence is a breach, a breakdown of trust. And thus sin entered our universe for the first time. The story begins with the most brilliant of all God’s creatures, the one who went forth from the presence of God bearing light and truth to his fellow angels. But moved by jealousy and pride, this brilliant, most trusted, even revered angel, set out to undermine trust in God by circulating misinformation and lies about our heavenly Father. And thus he became, not a bearer of light and a teacher of truth, but a bearer of lies. He charged that God did not respect the freedom of His children; that He was arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. With carefully chosen words Satan hoped to turn his fellow angels away from God, and win them to worship him instead.

God bore long and patiently as He watched this insurrection developing in His family. He watched until one-third of His brilliant, intelligent angels agreed with Satan that God was not worthy of their trust. It was at this point that “war broke out in Heaven” (Rev 12:7-8). Satan and his angels were expelled from heaven, but the war in the universe continued. He wasted no time passing his lies on to our first parents in the garden, thus involving us in the conflict as well. So whether we want to be or not, all of us are now caught up in the consequences of this war. Everyone in the universe is unavoidably involved. And the future of God’s family, to which we all belong, depends upon the outcome of this war.

Through the book of Revelation you see that God has already won this war, and the angels in heaven all agree with Him. This is the good news. Revelation also invites us to join in the celebration; and then to go out to the world and invite all who are willing to listen, to join in God’s victory in the war. When Christians discover this larger view of things, they don’t need to be on the defensive all the time; they have good news to tell. God and those who are on His side will win in the end. God is waiting until the truth about Him, the good news about His character and government, has been spread all over the world. The highest privilege of God’s friends on this planet today is to understand and to present the plan of salvation in the larger setting of the great controversy.

How God wages this war, how He refutes Satan’s lies, and what He asks of us are all issues to be addressed in the chapter summaries to come.

Conversations About God: Summary of Preface

I am in the final stages of editing a book called Conversations About God. The title not only reflects the book’s content, but also its origin in a series of twenty programs by that name presented at the Loma Linda University Church in 1984. In that memorable series, Dr. A. Graham Maxwell opened each evening’s topic with a presentation, followed by questions and comments from the audience, moderated by then-pastor Louis Venden. The book will be an edited version of the original “conversations.” I have sought to preserve the flavor of the original conversations as much as possible; guided by Graham’s daughter, Audrey Zinke, and his close friend Cherie Kirk. The manuscript is also being enthusiastically examined by Pastor Venden. The words that follow here are from the introductory summary by Graham Maxwell.

These conversations offer another look at our heavenly Father in the larger setting of a universe-wide conflict over His character and government. God is infinite in majesty and power. Yet, when He came in human form, He didn’t try to intimidate or overwhelm people with a show of majesty and power. Instead, He sat down among them. He conversed with them. He even invited their questions. As a matter of fact, Jesus taught some of His most important truths while reclining at tables, eating supper with His audiences.

As indicated in the title of this book, these twenty conversations are primarily about God. But one could fairly raise the question, whose God are we talking about? God is not the exclusive property of any particular denomination. For example, the Methodists and the Baptists worshiped God before Seventh-day Adventists came on the scene. The Lutherans were worshiping God before the Methodists and Baptists came on the scene. The Jews were worshipping God centuries before there were any Christians. Adam and Eve were worshipping God before there were any Jews. And before there were any people on our planet, God’s loyal angels worshiped Him throughout the universe.

God belongs to all of us. While there are religious differences among us, and those differences may be important, we are all members of His family. Or should we rather say that only the good ones among us are members of God’s family? Is that the way you count your children? Will you report today that you have only one child; while tomorrow you may report three? And the next day only two? Do you only acknowledge the children who are behaving well? Frankly, we have all misbehaved. And yet God recognizes every one of us, counts every one of us as members of His family. It is this amazing, gracious God that is the subject of this book. And “conversations” like this are needed today and will continue to be needed. Even eternity will not be long to enough to fully understand and celebrate our God.

How the Cosmic Conflict Changes Everything (Twelve 8)

How should we see the world differently because of the cosmic conflict? What would it be like to live without that knowledge? The cosmic conflict powerfully answers the three great questions of philosophy; 1) where did I come from, 2) where am I going, and 3) why am I here? 1) According to the cosmic conflict, where did I come from? I come, first of all, from the mind of God, who foresaw me back in eternity and shaped me in His image. He has created me free, with the commission to copy His creative work in the formation of little people like myself. My life has meaning and purpose when I live it in relationship with God and in a creative fashion that honors Him.

2) According to the cosmic conflict, where am I going? To join God in resolving the crisis in the universe by non-violent means. God will bring an end to sin and sinners and will restore the universe to a condition of freedom, joy and peace, grounded in love and trust. Along the way it will appear that all is lost, but the lost battles will not undo the final outcome. God and His ways will win in the end and we can know we are on the winner side no matter how bad things may be now. Knowledge of the outcome gives us confidence to keep trying and avoid discouragement.

3) According to the cosmic conflict, why am I here? I am made in the image of God to reflect His character to others. To bear witness to the unique facet of God’s character that He has gifted me with. My purpose each day is to “fight” for the kind of world and universe that God is leading to, to bring a piece of that glorious eternity into everyday experience today. The little battles we fight every day are part of a much larger war. This gives meaning and purpose to all that we do.

Knowledge of the cosmic conflict provides meaning and purpose to all that we do, connects us to a purpose far bigger than ourselves, and enables us to cope with the past, no matter what we have done or what has been done to us, and relaxed about the future, knowing it is safely in God’s hands.

What is the significance of the heavenly “war of words” on our picture of what God is like? God’s side in the cosmic conflict places priority on love and self-sacrifice, respects the freedom of God’s creatures, and does not coerce but rather is patient, seeking to provide persuasive evidence. On the other hand, Satan seeks to win by persecution (force) and deception (telling lies). The casting out of Satan in Rev. 12:9-10 is more intellectual than physical. The hosts of heaven no longer take his lies seriously, his arguments have lost credibility at the cross.

Our picture of God to a large degree determines how we live and behave. If we think of God as severe and judgmental, we become more like that. If we think of God as gracious and self-sacrificing, we become more like that. We become like the God we worship.

The Unspoken Backdrop to Revelation Four and Five (Enthronement 8)

A striking aspect of Revelation four and five is the total absence of Satan or his influence in the heavenly courts, in spite of the fact that the heavenly crisis of chapter five must have something to do with the cosmic conflict. As a character in the story of Revelation’s vision, Satan makes his first appearance in the context of the fifth trumpet. He is the leader of the demonic hosts in the fifth trumpet (the evidence for calling them “demonic” will appear when we get to chapter nine), the one called Apollyon and Abaddon (Rev. 9:11). But he plays no such direct role in chapters four and five.

But the role of Satan in Rev. 4-5 is clarified in Revelation twelve. The main character of the drama in Revelation twelve is the dragon. The dragon lies in wait for the birth of the male child in order to destroy him (Rev. 12:5). The dragon then makes war in heaven with Michael (another image of Jesus Christ) and loses (Rev 12:7-8). The dragon is then defined as Satan, the ancient serpent and the devil (Rev. 12:9). Then in Revelation 12:10 the dragon is described as the “accuser of the brethren.” He accuses them “day and night.”

Revelation 12:10 summarizes the scene of chapter five in terms of Christ’s coming to power. A loud voice in heaven proclaims “the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ.” But His coming to power is paired with the casting down of Satan, the one who accuses the brothers “day and night.” This is strikingly reminiscent of Revelation 4:8, where the four living creature sing the triple holy song “day and night.” This parallel is not an accident. The constant praise of the four living creatures is not a mindless ritual, as might seem at first to be the case. They do this in order to drown out the constant accusations of Satan, which are no longer heard or seen in the chapter. Chapter twelve actually sets the context for chapters four and five.

Satan is absent from the scene of chapters 4-5 because he has already been cast down on account of the cross. The casting down is not a military or physical matter. Satan is cast down as the accuser of the brothers and sisters. He is no longer welcome in heaven because his accusations are no longer believed there. The cross clarifies both the character of God and the reality of the human race. From that time on the heavenly intelligences fully trust in God and see how Satan is seeking to tear down the human race. So by the time the Lamb arrives in the heavenly court to be enthroned there (fifty days after the cross) the heavenly court is freed of the presence and influence of Satan. The crisis his accusations have caused is now resolved by the Lamb that was slain. Jesus Christ is enthroned because the accuser has been cast down. That is why Satan is totally absent from the vision of Revelation four and five.