Lou: You referred to the struggle that Romans 7 describes. What is this struggle? When is it? Is it before conversion, or is it after conversion?
Graham: Let me summarize what Paul says there: “The good that I would do, I don’t do; and all the evil that I don’t want to do, is what I do. I delight in the law of God in my inner man, but in my body I feel captive to the law of sin” (based on Romans 7:19-23). People say, “That couldn’t be a converted person.” And yet if he delights in the law of God, he sounds like a converted person. If you are struggling before conversion, if you are struggling during conversion, if you are struggling after conversion, if you are ever struggling, then look to Jesus Christ. It doesn’t really matter. It’s unnecessary to squabble about when the struggle occurs. Struggle is also mentioned in Romans 8, which all interpreters recognize as applying after conversion (Rom 8:18-25). Whenever you are struggling; before, during, or after conversion, be thankful to God for Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lou: Since we are talking about peace, it seems to me that human beings often live with a sense of guilt. Guilty people are surely not at peace with God. What is God’s remedy for guilt?
Graham: What worries so many people about guilt is the fear that goes with it. “I just got caught with my hand in the cookie jar, what is He going to do to me?” There is a lot of fear mixed in there. There is also a loss of dignity and self-worth. The woman taken in adultery felt very guilty and very ashamed. And the first thing Jesus did was to restore her dignity and self-respect. He did that time after time. How can we act with dignity, as people created in God’s image, if we have had our self-respect destroyed? Often, the chronic torture of unnecessary guilt is one of the negative consequences of the legal model.
In the great controversy model, the emphasis is on the truth about God. How does God regard His child who is in trouble? Look at the prodigal son. The father says, “Don’t even finish your speech of repentance. Come home and get a shower and put on the best clothes I can give you. I’ll even give you back your ring of authority” (access to his father’s bank accounts). By so doing the father endeavored to give him back his self-respect. And the son said, “But I am guilty; look what I have done!” And the father said, “Look, I’m willing to forget it if you will.”
Who was the one who wanted to rub the son’s nose in his misdeeds from time to time? The pious older brother, of course. But as far as God is concerned, He’s our physician, He doesn’t want to talk about guilt. He doesn’t even want to dwell long on forgiveness. He says: “Son, you’re My patient; you’ve come home; you trust Me. Let’s not waste any time on the past. Let’s work from here on. I want to make you well. And if you’re depressed about what you’ve done, it’s going to retard your healing. So please forget about it the way I have.” The real remedy for the anguish of guilt is the truth about God. The remedy for guilt is to know what God is like.
Lou: All right. We know what God gave up to have peace in His universe, but I guess I’d like to close with this question, What is it that we have to give up to really have peace?
Graham: There is a sense in which we don’t have to give up a thing. The gospel is about God not about us. Yet, at another level, there are things we have to give up or they will get in the way of what God wants to do for us. We need to co-operate with the Great Physician. So we do have to give up prejudice, bias, and fixed opinions. We do have to give up our unwillingness to listen, a self-satisfied stubbornness that there can be no new ideas. We do have to be willing to investigate the evidence. But in the end, we don’t give up a thing. The great good news about God is His gift to us. And I wonder sometimes how anybody could turn it down.
Think how the Son of God was the most skillful and persuasive teacher of the truth there will ever be, God Himself in human form. And He came to a very pious people who had bought into the Devil’s picture of God. Driven by that understanding of God, they were doing many of the right things, but for the wrong reasons. They were moved by law and by fear. And in most cases, Jesus couldn’t change their minds. But He did change a few minds, the very ones who gave us the marvelous picture of God we find in the New Testament.
Perhaps even today we have “dear idiots” scattered all over the planet, like the “dear idiots” of Galatia, who seemed to have a spell cast over them (Gal 3:1, Phillips). We must realize the Devil is our foe. He does not want us to see the truth. He does not want the Great Physician to heal us. He does not want us to become friends of God. But the good news about God is too good to turn down. It is everything that the old English word “gospel” implies. What good news!
Lou: Someone once said, “The gospel we preach must be the gospel by which our own souls are saved.” As we draw this book to a close, could you summarize your understanding of that gospel one last time?
Graham: For me, the heart of the gospel is this. God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be: arbitrary, unforgiving and severe. Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). God is just as loving and trustworthy as His Son, just as willing to forgive and to heal. Though infinite in majesty and power, our Creator is an equally gracious person who values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of His intelligent creatures. He desires that their love, their faith, their willingness to listen and obey, may be freely given. He even prefers to regard us not as servants but as friends. This is the truth revealed through all the books of Scripture. This is the everlasting good news that wins the trust and admiration of God’s loyal children throughout the universe.