Monthly Archives: June 2017

Questions and Answers (5:1)

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 fifth presentation, “The Record of the Evidence.”

Lou: No one has wanted to burn a new version in quite some time, as far as I know. Although I do know someone who wanted to burn the Reader’s Digest Bible.

Graham: Well, that’s an improvement, in any case. In Tyndale’s day they burned the translator. In modern times, they burn the translation. Now they cremate people with words as they talk about them in the press.

Lou: In a way Graham, I can understand the frustration of a person who says, “Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of all these versions? It’s so confusing. Why are there so many? I go down to the religious book store, and I say, ‘I would like to buy a Bible.'” But it’s not that simple any more. The sales person responds, “Well now, what version do you want?” How do you respond to the confusion that is created by all these versions?

Graham: It’s a pity that such a blessing is perceived as confusion. I think a lot depends on how much one knows about the source of the Bible. If it had been written originally in our own language, maybe one version would be enough. But when you look at the Greek and the Hebrew and the Aramaic, you realize that the same phrase can be translated in different ways. Like, “Be ye therefore perfect,” in Matthew 5:48. Now is that a command, or is it a promise? You cannot tell from the Greek. It is very difficult to bring that ambiguity over into English. This is where Goodspeed shows himself such a master. His English translation of Matthew 5:48 is, “You are to be perfect.” That can be read as either a command or a promise. But most versions would say it either one way or the other. So in view of the difficulty of bringing ambiguity over into English, I don’t want to limit myself to a single version that would give me only one possibility. I want to have all the possibilities that are available.

Lou: I noticed you spoke of Goodspeed, I’ve sometimes thought that was your favorite. But then I’ve heard you say, “Well, today this one is my favorite, but tomorrow it may not be.” Of all these translations, which one is the most trustworthy and reliable?

Graham: It’s simply incredible that the Goodspeed translation has held up so well over the decades. By the way, Goodspeed did the New Testament and he did the Apocrypha. He did not do the Old. In The Chicago Bible, a group of others under Dr. Smith did the Old. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Smith-Goodspeed Bible. Which is my favorite? Which is the best? It all depends on what you use it for. When I get home at night, if I want to put my feet up and read something inspiring, it’s still difficult to beat Phillips. Absolutely marvelous! But if I am doing serious preparation for teaching, I’ll have the original out in front of me but also several versions. One of them would be the Revised Standard Version. Though it was burned in 1952, it has proven to be one of the most precise, conservative, and safe English translations ever.

Lou: Do you think that a group translation, a committee translation, is a little more reliable than one by an individual?

Graham: That’s a very useful question. Group translations may be a little more dull. For example, when the Revised Standard Version was being prepared, they always had to have a two-thirds vote before they would arrive at a decision. Often, Goodspeed was on the committee and so was Moffatt. Sometimes they would disagree with the two-thirds vote. So when it was all over, Goodspeed wrote a book, Problems in Bible Translation, to list the one hundred or so places where he was voted down. And it’s very exciting reading. So if the translator is an individual, there is a little more freedom. And in spots an individual translation may even be more correct, because the group had to arrive at a compromise in order to get the two-thirds vote. You know, textbooks written by committees aren’t as exciting as books written by an individual.

Can We Trust the Translations?

Conversations About God (5:6)

But what about all the translations? There are about two thousand languages on earth, and there are at least parts of the Bible in almost every one of those languages. And hundreds of translations in English! The story behind each of them is long and colorful. Beginning in 1382, the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” Wycliffe, directed the translation of a magnificent Bible, all written out by hand. Printing hadn’t been invented yet. In 1525 along came Tyndale, who provided the first printed English New Testament. Ninety percent of Tyndale’s work is in our King James Version. In his Bible he was inclined to include some notes that were rather inflammatory, such as opposite the story of the Golden Calf: “Yea, but the Pope’s bull slayeth more than Aaron’s calf.” This was hardly designed to win him friends and it may have cost him his life. Poor Tyndale was arrested, strangled, and burned to death at the stake for daring to translate the Bible into such readable English.

In 1599 the great Geneva Bible was produced by the Calvinists who fled from England to the Continent. It is also called the “Breeches Bible,” because it says that “Adam and Eve took fig leaves and sewed unto themselves breeches.” And then in 1611 came the great King James Version. It was published with no notes, because the notes in preceding Bibles had stirred up so much trouble. And then there are all the revisions of the King James: The English Revised, The American Revised, The Revised Standard, The New American Standard Bible, and even The New King James Version.

Around the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the modern speech Bibles began to appear. I think of Moffatt’s great work, and Weymouth’s, and Goodspeed. The Goodspeed New Testament is still one of the very best, finished in 1923. But some were opposed to using modern speech in Bibles. In fact, some have even thought that the King James was too vulgar. A Boston man named Dickinson (in 1833), for that reason, redid the King James Version. For example, when Elizabeth and Mary met together during their pregnancies, it says in the King James, “the babe leapt in her (Elizabeth’s) womb.” And Mr. Dickinson thought that was very crude. So in his Bible he changed it to, “the embryo was joyfully agitated.” The whole Bible reads like that, all the way through.

And then there are versions that were produced by women: Mrs. Montgomery in 1925 and Helen Spurrell in 1885. There have also been many magnificent Roman Catholic translations—the Knox, the Kleist and Lilly, the Jerusalem, the New American, the Spencer, the Alberhouse, and the Rheims-Douay, the one that started it all. There are also great Jewish translations. I recall the quality translation of Genesis 2:7 in one of them: “God breathed into man the breath of life and man became a living being.” A footnote to that excellent translation says that the Hebrew word for “soul” means “the whole person, even the blood in his veins.”

There are also joint Protestant – Catholic Bibles, for example, the Revised Standard Version – RC (Roman Catholic.) There is even a joint Protestant, Catholic and Jewish Bible—the biggest one ever to come out– the Anchor Bible. In addition to these, there are translations that are especially helpful for study. The New Testament from Twenty-six Translations, for example. There are also smaller collections of translations, some with four columns and some with two.

Some translations are extremely readable, like Phillips. I think his work is so magnificent. Then there is the Good News Bible, or Today’s English Version, by the American Bible Society. The New English Bible was England’s desperate attempt to save the British Isles for Christianity. That explains why they made that one so different and so readable.

And then there are the paraphrases, like The Living Bible. It is very rewarding to read, even though its author said it is only a paraphrase. Included in this category of paraphrases are the Cotton Patch New Testament, Letters to the Saints in Atlanta, Georgia, and God Is For Real, Man. The last one is the ultimate limit, trying to make the Bible readable to the gangs that roamed the streets of New York at that time. Would you support a translator who would do that? The twenty-third Psalm in that translation turns out to be “The Lord is my probation officer,” because the intended readers had never seen sheep or a shepherd on the streets of downtown New York. I have unlimited respect for the people who have been willing to do all this work. It takes a lifetime to produce some of these translations. I even have room for the Reader’s Digest Bible, though it leaves out some of my favorite sections. It is only meant to be an appetizer.

The Bible has never been so available, and has never been so readable. Fear of versions has been lessening. People aren’t burning new translations, the way someone did when the Revised Standard Version first appeared. The address of that public burning was appropriately Furnace Street, Akron, Ohio. The right attitude towards versions, I think, is in the original Preface to the King James Bible. I wish it were still there. You see, nobody wanted the King James when it first came out. It wasn’t just the size, people were upset that the words were changed. So the men who prepared this great Bible say in the introduction, “Hath the Kingdom of God become words and syllables? Why should we be in bondage to them when we may be free?”

“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.

Do We Have the Right Words?

Conversations About God (5:5)

That brings us to the question, “Do we have the right words?” That’s a huge subject. There are people who devote all their lives to this question. First of all, I am sure you are aware that the Bible was not written in English, but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Not only that, ancient written Hebrew provided only the consonants. Although they were not written out, the vowels were understood by the original readers. Scholars have worked ever since to provide the appropriate vowels to the Hebrew words of the Bible. The Greek, on the other hand, was all in capital letters and there was no separation between the words. Can you imagine reading that? For example, how would you read the phrase: GODISNOWHERE. Are you going to read it as an atheist might? “God is nowhere.” Or are you going to say as a believer might; “God is now here.” No wonder the saints have argued and accused each other over the meaning of the Bible. But it’s often much more innocent than that. How easily one could make a mistake.

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.”

What Got Left Out of the Bible and Why

Conversations About God (5:4)

The sixty-six books of our current Bible are not the only books that have ever claimed to be biblical. There may be more such books outside the Bible than inside it. Many of them were written during the time between the Testaments, and some bear a striking resemblance to the books that are in the biblical canons. About a dozen of them were taken so seriously by the Jews outside of Palestine, that they found their place in the Greek Old Testament. The Septuagint (as the Greek OT was called), became the Bible most widely used by early Christians. And that’s how those extra books (called The Apocrypha) found a fixed place in the Latin Bible and in Roman Catholic Bibles today. The Old Testament Apocryphal books are: I and II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther (usually woven into biblical Esther), Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (different from Ecclesiastes), Baruch, Susanna, Song of the Three Children, Bel and the Dragon (these last three are often included in Catholic versions of Daniel), Prayer of Manasseh and I and II Maccabees.

Although these books are in Catholic Bibles, the ancient Jews did not recognize them as inspired Scripture. They called them “hidden,” suggesting they were not genuine. And many Christians have agreed with the Jews, including many Catholic theologians and biblical scholars. Even the church father Jerome did not want to include them in his revision of the Latin Bible (the Vulgate). But the people were so accustomed to them, they insisted they be left there. When Luther gathered them in the middle and took the position on them that he did, the Catholic Church felt that it had to respond. So at the Council of Trent in 1546, the books of the Apocrypha were pronounced sacred and canonical. That’s why they are in such Bibles as the Jerusalem and the New American.

How should we decide which books belong and which books do not? I think it helps a great deal to know that there were many other “hidden” books whose sources were unknown and whose teaching was even more questionable. The collection of these is called the Old Testament “Pseudepigrapha,” which is based on the Greek words for “falsely inscribed.” These books were not only rejected as Scripture by the early Christians but also by our Roman Catholic friends to this day. Some of the best known of these are The Testament of Adam, The Book of Jubilees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Job, the Book of Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, the Assumption of Moses, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Psalms of Solomon, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, and the story of Ahikar.

One can go even further. There is a whole collection of books called the New Testament Apocrypha. These include books like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth, the Acts of John, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Barnabas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Epistle to the Laodiceans, 3 Corinthians, and so forth. These books were written in the early centuries of the church and expand on the life and teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

How should one decide which books 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 think the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are in a class all by themselves.

There are some Apocryphal books that seem more acceptable than others. But as you go into even the book of Maccabees, it teaches that “it’s a good thing to pray for the dead, that they may be relieved of their sins.” If it’s true that our prayers to God can change the status of somebody who died a rebel, it would cancel out much of what we want to say about God in this book. “The giving of alms atones for sin.” Do you see what model of sin that implies? There are many hard to believe stories in the New Testament Apocrypha: stories of magic and mystery. How Peter made a camel go through the eye of a needle. The story of John and the bedbugs. The story of how Peter prayed that Simon Magus would fall down over the city of Rome. And when it happened, Simon broke his leg in three places. You should see these stories. But when you read them all together, I agree with Catholic Jerome, Protestant Luther and the great Bible Societies, that the sixty-six are the only ones that really measure up.

How We Got the Sixty-Six

Conversations About God (5:3)

To orthodox Jews, the ones who had the Bible first, the Scriptures consisted of only the thirty-nine books that make up the Christian Old Testament many of us are familiar with. Sometimes the thirty-nine were combined together and counted as twenty-four or twenty-two. It all began with Moses and the first five. When Moses came down Mount Sinai, carrying the Ten Commandments, his face was shining so brightly they couldn’t even look at him. It’s no wonder that when he said, “I am giving you some dependable messages from the Lord,” there was every reason to take those messages seriously. So they built up a collection of the first five books. These became known as The Law or The Law of Moses. These five became a standard or rule among the Israelites, like a miniature canon.

Later on other prophets wrote books, and they were all measured by the first standard: The Law of Moses. By and by a prophetic collection developed and we had The Law and the Prophets. And then other books came along known as The Writings, or The Psalms. These were compared with The Prophets and with The Law until finally there were thirty-nine books, divided into three canons: The Law, The Prophets and The Writings; or The Law, The Prophets, and The Psalms, (since Psalms was the first book in the third canon).

The New Testament consistently recognized these three canons without any question as to their dependability. Look at what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 24:44: “Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (RSV). There are times in the New Testament when writers shortened The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms down to just The Law and The Prophets. Sometimes they shorten it clear down to simply “The Law.” So sometimes in the New Testament “The Law” means the whole Old Testament.

Look at some examples of these. First of all, in Matthew 5:17, 18 “the law and the prophets” means the whole Old Testament:

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished (RSV).

Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that “the law” in verse 18 must be the Ten Commandments. But Jesus is actually talking about the whole Old Testament under the name of “The Law.” Another illustration of that is the reference in John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, `Is it not written in your law, “I said you are gods?”‘” (RSV). Jesus was quoting Psalm 82:6 here, but He called the Psalms “your law.” And He goes on to declare His confidence in the Old Testament: “Jesus answered, . . . ‘We know that what the scripture says is true forever’” (John 10:35, GNB). It seems to me that Christ’s confidence in the Old Testament should be of great significance to a Christian.

You can see these three canons of Scripture; The Law, The Prophets and The Writings, developing already in Old Testament times. Look at Isaiah 8:19, 20:

When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony, if they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn (NIV).

“The law and the testimony” is another way of referring to the five books of Moses and to the prophets. Bit by bit, the canon of the Old Testament was developing. Each book was tested. Does it measure up to the rule? Zechariah 7:12: “They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets” (NIV). Eventually the New Testament was measured by the same canons and the same rules.

Note the books that are in these three canons. The Law includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and all the twelve so-called Minor Prophets up to Malachi. And then the Writings, or the Psalms, include the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. Yes, to our surprise, Daniel was included by the Jews in the Writings rather than the Prophets.

You add to these thirty-nine the twenty-seven in the New Testament canon and you have the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible.

Inspiration and the Sixty-Six

Conversations About God (5:2)

First of all, let’s briefly consider the question: Do we have the right collection of sixty-six books? Some Bibles, particularly those used by our Roman Catholic friends, have many more books than that, and these books together are usually called the Apocrypha. In Catholic Bibles the dozen or so books of the Apocrypha are often not collected in the middle, but scattered throughout the Old Testament. Now what do you do when you are visiting a friend who has a Bible with these extra books and that individual has confidence that his or her Bible is the inspired word of God? Are you going to say, “Well, your version is not inspired but mine is?” Would using 2 Timothy 3:16 clear up the question of whose Bible is inspired? “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching. . . .” (2 Tim 3:16, RSV). Does that settle the question? What books are being referred to as “all Scripture?”

In the King James Version 2 Timothy 3:16 is familiar to many, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God. . .” But the early editions of that same Bible contained all those extra books that are in the Roman Catholic Bibles. In fact the Apocrypha remained in King James Bibles until 1827. And the reason it was left out in 1827 was that the British and Foreign Bible Society decided that it didn’t have the funds to continue circulating those Apocryphal books along with the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible. So quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 in the KJV won’t settle the question.

Luther was the first translator to gather these extra books together and put them in the middle, between the Old and New Testaments. His influential German Bible version had much to do with the rise of the Reformation. As a Roman Catholic translating from the original, he had to decide whether or not to include the extra books that were scattered throughout his Old Testament. So he gathered them together and put them in the middle with the following notice: “These books are interesting and useful to read, but not for doctrine.” Then when he turned his attention to the New Testament, you may remember, he came to four books that he couldn’t fit in there too well either. He didn’t call them Apocryphal, but saw in them less authority because they “didn’t teach Christ.” So he put Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end, where they remain to this day in German Bibles.

If you are in a Roman Catholic home, of course, your Catholic friend may say, “Well, my Bible has that verse (2 Tim 3:16): ‘All Scripture is inspired of God’ and since this is my Scripture that verse proves the inspiration of the Apocrypha.” Before you answer, it is important to know that the Greek of 2 Timothy can be translated another way, and I believe the context dictates that it be so translated. Look at how the New English Bible puts it: “Every inspired Scripture has its use for teaching the truth. . . .” (2 Tim 3:16, NEB). That means there is such a thing as “uninspired scripture.” You see, it is very likely that Timothy’s Bible was the Greek Old Testament, which contained these extra books. And that’s why Paul had to say to Timothy, “Timothy, you have many books in your possession, but only that scripture which is inspired of God is profitable. . . .”

Notice the total context of what Paul wrote to that young pastor:

But for your part, stand by the truths you have learned and are assured of. Remember from whom you learned them; remember that from early childhood you have been familiar with the sacred writings, which have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind (2 Tim 2:14-17, NEB).

Chapter 5: “The Record of the Evidence”

This blog begins chapter five of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

This chapter is the fifth in a series that looks at our heavenly Father in the larger setting of the great controversy over His character and government. Without the Bible we would know nothing about this controversy. Neither would we know about God’s infinitely skillful and gracious handling of this conflict—this crisis of distrust in His family. We have been assuming all along that the Bible can be trusted. But there are legitimate questions that can be raised, and have indeed been raised, through the years. How do we know that we have the right collection of sixty-six books? How do we know that the words of those books have been accurately transmitted through the ages? How do we know that they have been adequately translated? Can you trust the versions of the Bible? And most important of all, can we have any confidence in our interpretation of these books and these words? When we have read it through can we say, “I really have seen dependable evidence about my God?”

Questions and Answers (4:4)

Lou: The question has come up in connection with Revelation 12, where it speaks about Michael and His angels. Someone wanted to know a bit more about Michael. Who was Michael?

Graham: It’s good to raise the question; because in the Apocrypha there are a number of suggestions as to who Michael might be. But in the Bible all the references to Michael the archangel point in one direction. For example, it says in Thessalonians that the dead will arise at the voice of the archangel (1 Thess 4:16), but the gospels say they will arise at the voice of the Son of Man (Christ—John 5:28). Jude 9, then, not only connects “the” archangel with Michael, it connects the archangel Michael with the resurrection of Moses. This combination of texts ties the archangel, Christ and Michael together as the same person.
But there is more to it than that. The name Michael means “who is like God,” or “the one who is like God.” And the name is only used of Christ in places like Daniel, Revelation and Jude, where the great controversy is involved. So when the leader of the loyal side is referred to, he is called “the one who is like God”: Michael. The leader on the other side would like to be like God, but is not (see 2 Thess 2:4 and Rev 13:4). So I like it that Jesus is called Michael when He is operating in the great controversy setting.

Lou: That’s an interesting play on words there. We now have two questions from different individuals about perfection. Let me read through them rather quickly. First. “You said that as trust in God grows, we behave more like God. That is, we move more toward being God-like or being perfect. Can we be perfect in this present world? If not, when can we expect to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect? If we can be perfect here, can we be recognized as being perfect, and will everyone have the same degree of perfection?” Let me add this one: “You mentioned that when we get to heaven we might possibly have a lot to learn. Does this mean that while we are sinless, or perfect, we can still make mistakes?” People want to know about perfection.

Graham: Fortunately we will deal with this at some length in chapter 14, “God Can Completely Heal the Damage Done.” Some may want to read ahead. I think these are important questions, because a misunderstanding of perfection is a heavy burden and puts God in a very bad light. Now I believe God can perfectly heal the damage done by sin. No question about it. And perfection also needs to be understood in terms of maturity and growing up. We will need to be so settled into the truth that we can survive the time of trouble. But as far as mistakes are concerned, a mistake is not a sin. In the hereafter, you could plant your pomegranate tree too close to where you are living, and the Lord may come by later and say “You know, you put it too close, didn’t you? You might as well move it.” That is not a sin. Sin is rebelliousness. Sin is distrust. Sin is not “making mistakes.”

Lou: But if God is waiting for us to grow up in Him, won’t He have to wait forever? Because there are always people being converted; is that why time goes on? When are we going to grow up?

Graham: It’s true that there will be conversions right along, and we might wonder how a child in the faith could grow up to this maturity that we talked about. If God is not going to allow the closing events to occur until He has a generation like Job, mature enough in the truth to pass through the time of trouble, He might be waiting a long time. But I think we have assumed it takes a very, very long time to grow up from rebirth to maturity. Yet when Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he suggested that they could have been grown up much sooner (Eph 4:11-16).
A few years later in Hebrews he said, “By now you should be teachers, but I see you are still babes in the truth” (Heb 5:12-13). I think that we should encourage people to believe they can grow up from rebirth to maturity much sooner; and it would be a much more exciting experience. You know, when we’re baptized, many of us think, “I’ve launched myself on sixty-five years of slow sanctification.” Instead, I’d like to think, “Why not grow up as quickly as possible and be settled into the truth?” But when we have an unreachable, forbidding conception of perfection, we think “Well, I’m not going to make it anyway.”
In my understanding, the biblical concept of perfection is when an individual is completely convinced of this truth about God. You don’t need to be sixty-five years old to be convinced, that could happen even at the age of twelve. If Satan came to a convinced twelve-year-old as an angel of light, or even as “Christ,” and said God is arbitrary, vengeful, unforgiving and severe; they would respond, “That’s not true and I will not believe it.” Perfection is being so settled in the truth about God that we cannot be moved. And it needn’t take a long time to happen. I think we have made the distance between the start and the finish line too great. Under the accelerating, energizing events of the close of time, God can produce a generation of grown-up Jobs of all ages in a short period of time.

Lou: It strikes me that when it comes to spiritual growth, we tend too easily to think of performance. But when you have the issues clearly in mind, growth is in terms of trust. And that could happen very quickly if you were willing to really examine the evidence.
One final question to conclude this chapter: “Was the thief’s trust developed only by the words and circumstances around the cross, or was it the culmination of years of searching and being prepared by the Holy Spirit?” What about the thief on the cross?

Graham: Oh, I like what that implies. We don’t know how much the thief knew about Christ, but he surely must have known some things about Him. Based on the rest of Scripture, you know the Holy Spirit was working on that man. Christ is the Light which enlightens everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9). But when the thief was hanging on the cross, he saw the most incredible evidence of what God is like. Though the man was cursing and swearing, the Holy Spirit was developing tenderness inside and a willingness to listen. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit his attention was pointed to the One in the middle, the one who said “Look after mother” and “Father forgive.” And that experience is what finally won him.
Lou: In the next chapter we’ll explore the Bible itself under the title, “Can the Evidence Be Trusted?”

Questions and Answers (4:2)

Looks like I skipped this part of the questions and answers to chapter 4 on how God rebuilds trust in the universe. Given the fluid nature of this discussion, being out of order should not impede reading—Jon Paulien

Lou: You talked about faith as a gift. I remember the man who was worried about his boy and said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24, KJV). What does God do to help unbelief in a situation like that?

Graham: The father obviously did believe, or the healing wouldn’t have happened afterward. He did believe; he just wished he had more faith. Whether the man understood how God would increase his faith, the text doesn’t say. We have to look through the rest of scripture to fill that out. My understanding is that God strengthens faith by offering evidence, by helping us to think about the evidence, and by protecting us from the adversary who would becloud our minds and deprive us of our freedom to weigh the evidence. Sometimes the Holy Spirit even adds to our understanding directly. I don’t mind the Holy Spirit impressing me, God works in many and various ways. It’s just when I feel an impression, I want to make sure it’s the Holy Spirit, and not what I had for supper.

Lou: I hear you saying God doesn’t pop a pill into our mouth. Developing faith is a process that involves our thinking and our understanding.

Graham: We want shortcuts. I think that was the appeal at the tree in the garden, when Eve was told, “eat this fruit and you will be like God” (Gen 3:5). It was as if she said, “I thought sanctification was the work of a lifetime. And you can do it with one bite?” A similar approach happens sometimes in evangelism. “Go down to the front, and you will be saved.” We are always wanting shortcuts, busy people that we are. Instant salvation is rather attractive. So is instant faith. But things don’t actually work that way.

Lou: Here’s a question that takes us back to the great controversy perspective: the war in heaven. “Why doesn’t God take more firm control of the universe—even at the expense of a little freedom? Isn’t the price of freedom almost too much? With all the pain and the tragedy that happens in our world, couldn’t God have done a better job of protecting us from the consequences of freedom?”

Graham: I remember years ago a lady came up after a meeting, and she said, “I’d be willing to give up some of my freedom to have peace and security once again; to be safe. I wish God had not given me quite so much freedom.” Like today, to be safe from terrorists on the plane, we’re willing to stand in line and go through those electronic devices. We give up some of our freedom in order to be safe. Would we say to God, if we had the chance, “I know you’ve paid a great price for freedom, but I’d rather not be that free?”
I imagine God might say in return, “Well, I’m sorry. That’s one thing that is not negotiable. I will keep my universe free, or your trust and love will mean nothing. Yes, I could save everybody your way, but it would turn my universe into a penitentiary.” You see, if God locked us up in solitary confinement so we couldn’t hurt each other, He could save everybody. But instead God says, “I refuse to be a prison warden for the rest of eternity. Forgive me, but I would rather die than give up freedom.” And He has already died to show what freedom means to Him.

Questions and Answers (4:3)

Lou: Something you said reminds me of another question that I should ask. If God is all-powerful, why isn’t He able or willing to save everyone? You’ve mentioned how this approach might turn the whole universe into a prison house . But isn’t there a way God can lovingly save everybody?

Graham: Well, if salvation just meant admitting us into the kingdom, He could. He has the power to do that. He even has the power to put us all in terrorized subjection, and then have us grumbling for the rest of eternity. What human father would want that for his family? No matter how powerful a father is, he cannot enforce love and trust in his family. You cannot terrorize your children into a happy home. It just doesn’t work. They may behave as long as you’re around because you scare them so, but once they’ve grown up and gone their own ways, they will do what they wish. So I think people who have families and teaches of children are in a position to understand what God is trying to do. He is omnipotent, to be sure. But you cannot produce love and trust by force. It simply can’t be done; hence the length of the experiment, and the extent of the scriptures.

Lou: Here’s another question: “If Satan was the first creature to rebel, where did the idea of sin originate? Or was there sin before Satan sinned?”

Graham: Well, there’s no record of there being any sin before Lucifer. According to the Biblical record, the whole diabolical thing was created within the mind of the most magnificent of all God’s beings. It wasn’t that he lacked intelligence, or that he had a bent toward evil, or that he didn’t know God. He lived in the presence of God. He knew what God was like. In fact, I think he knew God so well that he dared entertain these thoughts without fear. He knew how gracious God was. That is what makes his rebellion so diabolical, so utterly rebellious. And of course it’s also insane, that a creature would think that he could be equal with God. He even asked his creator to get down on His knees and worship him. This whole insane thing was created in the mind of Lucifer himself. But maybe if we could explain sin, we could find some excuse for it, some rationalization.

Lou: When you say “created in the mind of Lucifer”; you don’t mean God created it there, do you?

Graham: No, Lucifer did it all by himself. We are quite capable of that too. But there’s something good in it. While God is not the author of sin, He has actually created us capable of thinking things like that up. When He made us free, He made us creative like Himself, and what a risk He took in doing that! Evidently freedom means everything to God. So even the terrible thing Lucifer did speaks well of God. In light of that, how could I say to God, “take some freedom back from me?”

Lou: This same person went on to ask, “Does Satan really think he’s going to win in the end? Or does he know he’ll lose, and he’s just trying to take down as many people as he can?”

Graham: I think that’s rather well said. When Hitler realized he had lost the war, he announced that he would take the whole Third Reich down with him. And the world said, “He’s mad. He’s a maniac.” I also believe that when Lucifer realized that he had lost the war—and Revelation says that he knows that he has but a short time left (Rev 12:12)—he dedicated himself to taking down with him as many as he can.