Lou: I believe I hear you emphasizing that peace comes through knowing the truth about God and knowing that Satan’s charges against God are false. Satan’s charges against God have been summarized in five words that you’ve used again and again: God is accused of being arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. I’d like to address these five terms one by one.
Why can’t God be arbitrary? Don’t we say that God is sovereign? Didn’t God create the world? Can’t He run it any way He wants to?
Graham: Absolutely, God is sovereign. It reminds me of our earlier discussion regarding Romans 9, the potter and the clay. In the larger, great controversy view, God is definitely sovereign. He created this universe precisely as He wished it to be, and He runs it precisely as He wishes to run it, and He always will. But the question that flows from that is, how does God run the world? Is He arbitrary in His government? No, He values nothing higher than our freedom. If we want to say that God is arbitrary about anything, He’s arbitrary about freedom. He would rather give up everything than give up freedom. That’s how arbitrary He is on that.
Lou: I take it you’re comfortable with the word “sovereign,” as long as His being sovereign still allows us to be free. If God were arbitrary, it would mean we are not free.
Graham: That’s right. God exercises His sovereignty in a way that respects our freedom.
Lou: What about the seventh-day Sabbath? Isn’t it true “because God chose a particular day and that’s all there is to it”?
Graham: It might seem arbitrary on God’s part if all we had of the fourth commandment was, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Exod 20:8). But we have much more than that. The fourth commandment also refers us back to creation (Exod 20:11). That means the seventh-day Sabbath reminds us of all the evidence about God that we find there. The Sabbath is a reminder that God respects us and values nothing higher than our freedom. It reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt, and also the answers given during crucifixion week. There are so many reasons for the seventh-day Sabbath, it can hardly be regarded as evidence of His arbitrariness. He gave us the Sabbath to remind us of all the evidence that He is not arbitrary. So it seems to me almost perverse to suggest that the Sabbath is an arbitrary test of our obedience. Just the opposite! It’s a monument to His not being arbitrary.
Lou: All right. Let’s look at the accusation that God is exacting. I think of that reference in the book of James where it says, “If you break one of the Commandments you’re guilty of all” (James 2:10). That sounds rather exacting, doesn’t it?
Graham: Yes, until we stop and take a closer look at the Ten Commandments. Until we look at Moses’ summary of the Ten (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18) repeated by Jesus (Matt 22:36-40) and then by Paul (Rom 13:10). To love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves is the fulfilling of the law. It doesn’t matter which one of the Ten you break; to break any one of the Ten is to show that you are not a loving person. So it’s not about God being exacting. It doesn’t matter which commandment you break. The Ten Commandments, as we have them, are really an expansion on the one, which is love (for God and for each other). Love cannot be commanded anyway.
Lou: All right then. What about God being vengeful? I think about the book of Hebrews. “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay” (Heb 10:30). What about the destruction that takes place at the End, for example? I think we’ve had more questions on this than on any other topic.
Graham: Well, since God says that, and He is clearly involved in the destruction at the End and in many incidents throughout Scripture, we have to look at all those stories very carefully. We need to ask ourselves the question, “When God exercises ‘vengeance,’ how does He do it?” As we have covered earlier, it may be in a form of discipline, or it may even result in Him winning people over rather than destroying them. And when it comes to the final events you have mentioned, how the wicked perish in the end is demonstrated by the cross.