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: Why do you feel that the tree in the midst of the Garden was the only place Satan could tempt Eve? And how was God’s commandment not to eat of this tree protective?
Graham: It’s true that there’s no text that says Satan could only approach Adam and Eve at the tree. But if you had been the devil, which tree would you have chosen? Wouldn’t you have gone to the tree of life? But Satan never met them at the tree of life. He only met them at the tree where they were not supposed to go. So apparently he was limited to that one tree. And he knew they had been told not to go there. So I’ve connected two facts together; 1) God only warned them about that particular tree, and 2) that’s exactly where Satan met them. So he didn’t have free access to the entire garden. That means the tree was put there to protect Adam and Eve. Satan’s freedom to tempt was limited to that tree. I think
that’s the only logical inference.
Lou: This next question ties in a bit with that. “Does evil exist in order to allow human beings to be able to choose between good and bad, to use our own judgment?” That sounds like evil is something good because it gives us a chance to grow. What do you think of that?”
Graham: Fortunately, Paul dealt with that in a very potent way. In a sense it is true, the more evil we have been, the more gracious God has been to us. And so Paul says “Why don’t we be a little more evil then, so He’ll look more gracious” (Rom 3:8; 6:2)? Paul raises the idea twice and then condemns it twice as a terrible thought (Rom 3:7-8; 6:1-2)! It is true, the worse we have behaved, the more graciously God has stooped to meet us and love us and treat us so graciously. Well, if the blacker the backdrop the more brilliant God’s righteousness appears, why don’t we paint Him a blacker backdrop? Paul says that’s a terrible thought. In fact, in Phillips’ translation it says “What a ghastly thought.”
So I don’t think we should suggest that our sinfulness and our evil has helped God. Rather, He has taken an emergency and turned it into something good. He’s the only one that looks good in this. Let’s not think we are serving Him by being a little more wicked so that He can show how good He is. We’ve been bad enough without trying.
Lou: All right, here’s another question. “If a person is sincere about religious things but sincerely wrong, whose fault is that?” And I suppose implicit behind the question is, “What will happen as a result? Will the person be punished or suffer consequences from that?”
Graham: I like that question and what it implies. I do believe that if one sincerely takes the wrong path, one will sincerely arrive at the wrong destination. That’s true.
Lou: So whose fault is it then?
Graham: Keep in mind that if we are truly sincere; if we’re really willing to listen, God has not left us in the dark. As John says, Christ is the light that enlightens everyone who comes into this world (John 1:9). Paul even says that there are Gentiles who know nothing about the Bible, who know nothing about God’s law and instructions. But they do by nature the things that the law requires, and they show that the law has been written on their hearts (Rom 2:13-16). And I love the paragraph in Desire of Ages that tells about heathen who worship God ignorantly; to whom the message was never brought by human instrumentality. Instead, they’ve heard the voice of God speaking to them in nature (DA 638). They’ve done the things that the law requires, which is love. And they’re recognized as God’s children. God is not going to abandon anyone on this planet who is sincerely and humbly willing to listen. He will not leave them in the dark.
Now it’s a great privilege to be the one who gets there with the good news, but sometimes somebody else gets there first. Think of missionaries who have been shipwrecked as they’re about to arrive on an island to somehow “turn those cannibals into Christians.” As they’re drowning out there by the reef, here come these cannibals paddling their canoe. So the missionaries say farewell to each other; they know what’s going to happen shortly. But instead, the cannibals put them in their canoe and take them to the beach and revive them. When they are finally comfortable the missionary says, “Let’s assemble these people and give them the truth.” And he starts to preach to them about love.
His missionary wife nudges him and says, “Wait a minute. These people risked their lives to rescue us from the reef!” The minister replies, “But nobody’s preached to them yet.” He forgot Romans 2. The Spirit of God was there before the missionaries came. God has always approached people “in many and various ways” (Heb 1:1). So I would say that if one is really sincere, one will not wind up sincerely wrong. If one is “sincerely wrong,” one has probably been saying no to truth for a long time. True sincerity is open to evidence and open to correction. True sincerity is humble. False sincerity is often simply lazy.