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Bloggin’ the 28: The Great Controversy


All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation. (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6-8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.)​

Whenever I encounter an explanation of The Great Controversy the following questions arise. ​How long does it take to convince perfect beings observing earth that God is better than Satan? How much hate, horror, and torturous pain must humans suffer to vindicate Love? It takes a lot of theologizing to spin much of the mess in this world as part of any plan, much less one driven by justification.

Thus far, the score is pretty bad. An egotistical angel, plus a third more, and all humanity vs. one human who was actually fully God as well. I have a pretty flawed reasoning capacity; I imagine that perfect beings around the universe would have more acute minds. I figure that somewhere between Jesus and the middle of a party by Nero I would have tossed in my vote for God. “That Satan made some good points about Your autocratic ways, but it appears that You’re against torture and harming children. So I vote: God!” But no. It’s more of the same for thousands of years so that some farmers in America can start a new church bureaucracy in Silver Spring, Maryland. One that’s so committed to reflecting God on earth that it still needs to have separate power structures based on skin color.

I hate to say it, but sometimes I’m not sure which side our existence helps out. I could see Satan pleased with millions of people thinking they are on God’s side because of what they believe metaphysically while doing little to alleviate the physical horror around them. One of the weirder examples of this are those opposed to women’s ordination and gay marriage. Here we have self-proclaimed and very sincere followers of God fighting to NOT allow more pastors. Huh? And fighting to NOT allow people who want to publicly commit to each other, sometimes even in church. What? It’s almost humorous it is so backward. I’d laugh if it weren’t so painfully true over and over and over again.

This repetition of suffering and confusion through the ages has got to mean something, we hope. I guess this belief helps some frame these existential questions, but it is not ultimately ethical. Divine beings battle while “all humanity” exists to pick sides. Weirdly most humans neither really prove either side is better.

According to this fundamental belief, the driver of this conflict among angels and humans is “self-exaltation” and a “spirit of rebellion.” But what exactly is “the spirit of rebellion?” Is it what drove the constituents of two unions in the North American Division to allow women to be ordained? Can only men handle the exaltation of being church leaders? Was there a “spirit of rebellion” among the founders of America and other post-colonial nations? Is there “self-exaltation” and a “spirit of rebellion” among the poor protesting in Brazil and Turkey, and the restless in the rest of the world?

In his book, What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?, Delwin Brown argues that the essence of evil in the world is not pride or rebellion, but self-deception. From Eve’s statement of being tricked to Paul’s litany of human sin and deception in Romans, the core of the problem lies in our lies to ourselves. Romans 1:22,23 makes this paradoxical point:

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

We make images and metaphors of the divine. We also make theodicies. Molding words into an intellectual moving image of divine action is as foolish as idol worship.

The profound truth about good and evil becomes even more paradoxical as Paul hammers home the moral nail in Romans 2:1.

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

Within this ancient language there is an echo of the moral paradoxes we see today. Those condemning marriage equality to save marriage are, in a very real way, destroying marriage for others. Those fighting against ordaining women to save the church actually weaken it by limiting full participation by more than half its members.

Evil paradoxically works the best when we hurt what we think we are protecting. Anyone who has ever hurt someone they love knows this paradoxical pain. Self-deception lies at the core of evil. Employing a tableaux of battles and cosmic actors to explain the human situation only distracts from looking at ourselves. The war is much closer than we want to believe.

Behind The Great Controversy lies self-deception. Theodicy is paradoxically evil. As the Jewish philosopher, and former German POW, Emmanuel Levinas famously argues: “justification of the neighbour’s pain is certainly the source of all immorality.”

It is immoral to use The Great Controversy to explain a tragedy or justify an action throughout history. In fact, the cosmic conflict image causes pain for those who believe it. It has been used over and over to justify horrific acts as well as the pettiest of arguments. It provides an easy binary for any Adventist power struggle. The fastest to deploy it gets first pick of the side they’re on: good vs. evil. God or rebels. Obedience or apostasy.

The Great Controversy defines its believers. Oddly, the Adventist remnant was founded in a spirit of rebellion and concomitant self-exaltation. We are our own painful problem. I don’t know what the answer to this paradox is, but since I started with questions here’s another to end on: does the Image we’ve created for ourselves, our essential understanding of Good and Evil, lead us to anything more just than justifying our moral judgments of each other’s pain?

Image: Margaret Bourke-White, German civilians are forced by American troops to bear witness to Nazi atrocities at Buchenwald concentration camp, mere miles from their own homes, 1945.

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