Free Will: Really? How? Why?

Life is all about choices… or is it? Is free will just an illusion or is there an immaterial, moral dimension to our experience, to reality? Are we really free? And if so, how should we make the most of that freedom and make the best choices? Is there a shortcut to optimising our decisions by consulting some fortune-telling God? Watch this video to find out.

My Modern 95 Theses

500 years ago Martin Luther kick-started the Protestant Reformation with his own 95 theses posted in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. Much has changed in our world since then, and Martin Luther’s protest was a significant moment in improving many things.

But there’s still a lot left to protest about. I’ve chosen my own 95 points of protests about various social, environmental and religious issues relevant to our world today.

Second coming & prophecy

  1. The same revolutionary Jesus Christ who literally restarted how we count history 2017 years ago promised He would come back to earth and restart history again.
  2. The Bible prophecies of Daniel 2 and Daniel 9 give astoundingly accurate predictions of future events, culminating in Jesus first and second comings. Dead sea scrolls demonstrate authenticity. Jesus’ first coming was exactly as predicted, as were major world events through to now. One event still outstanding: Jesus’ second coming.
  3. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe. John 14:29 – Jesus
  4. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Matthew 24:6 – Jesus
  5. I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:3 – Jesus

(Ir)relevance of the church

  1. Protestant = one protesting against misrepresentations of God and the Bible. 500 years after Luther posted his 95 theses, such protest is very much still relevant. But Christians fighting amongst themselves to be “right” is rather missing the point.
  2. I protest the child sex crimes of the church!
  3. When church is done right, it’s one of the very best things on earth. When church is done wrong, it’s antichrist. – David Asscherick
  4. The aim of most religion is to work to improve one’s standing. Sadly, that’s why religion is losing its relevance – there are far more effective self-help programs out there. Religion IS relevant if it helps us rest in God’s goodness, not pursue our own. He took our bad and gave us His good.
  5. Church done well is a hospital for the sin-sick, not a museum for saints.
  6. Biblically, the church’s role is proclamational not salvational. We have something to SAY but we are powerless to SAVE. Jesus alone saves. – David Asscherick

Separation of church & state

  1. Religious freedom and separation of church and state: one of the best things to come out of the Reformation. Surprisingly, Luther himself didn’t embrace this principle. It’s being obscured again today.
  2. The conservative right wants to impose religious values on society. The liberal left correctly separates church and state. However, the left imposes secularism and makes it difficult to uphold one’s own religious values without being treated – even punished – as a bigot.
  3. When you vote, ask not “Who will legislate my religious values?” but rather “Who will allow freedom of religious values and beliefs, even those opposed to my own, and freedom to express and share religious beliefs and values with others?”

Government & economy

  1. Polarised partisan politics combined with the shallow social media analysis are unravelling Western liberal democracy.
  2. On evidence to date it seems the best of bad options for political systems is liberal democracy. But the jury is out again now thanks to 24/7 (fake?) news cycle, ‘scrutiny’ of social media and plethora of self-serving leaders.
  3. Capitalism: a logical extension of the Reformation and Protestant work ethic. Great source of individual freedom and opportunity, but also basis for huge inequality, populist uprising and global conflict. “Income from labor is about as unequally distributed as has ever been observed anywhere. “ – Thomas Piketty
  4. Given the fundamental selfishness of human nature, it makes sense to legislate on the assumption of homo economicuseven though this presents a less-than-ideal foundation.
  5. I still believe that free market capitalism, with regulatory intervention to protect externalities, is the best of bad options in current circumstances. Only the permanent and complete removal of selfishness and greed will present a better system, but we have to wait for God’s final perfect solution for that.
  6. American exceptionalism only gets off the ground as an idea if the role of government is celebrated (as opposed to minimised) or if the foundational ideology is racist. Otherwise America is just like any other nation, but with a unique set of chance characteristics that happen to put it in a position of global dominance for a limited time.

Salvation & sacrificial atonement

  1. Jesus took the guilt, shame and death that we each deserve so that we could have the abundant life that only He deserves. Amazing!
  2. Jesus on the Cross: the unique story where the hero voluntarily dies for the villain. The best news ever!

Bible

  1. The Bible is full of profound and timeless wisdom. Such gems as “do to others what you would like them to do to you.” It’s worth regular reading.
  2. “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.” Martin Luther

Hell & death

  1. Eternal torment in hell: if true, then God is not love but a tyrant. Thankfully, not true. Imported into early Christianity from Greek philosophy.
  2. Ghosts, witches, séances, apparitions, Wicca, etc – all propped up by two wrongs: the myth that the soul cannot die and the real but passing presence of evil supernatural beings.

Health & health care

  1. A vegetarian diet was largely scoffed at just a few years ago. Now it is the rage. 150 years ago Ellen White received prescient health insights and set up a whole demographic for longer healthier living. #AdventistHealthStudy
  2. Affordable universal healthcare saved my life. Thanks Australia!

Abortion

  1. How can a mother’s rights over her womb trump her unborn baby’s rights to life while after birth, a baby’s rights to life trump a mother’s rights to her breasts and uninterrupted sleep? I’m all for consistency: let’s also prioritise the rights of the unborn child.

Judgmental intolerant society

  1. The moral relativism, ‘tolerance’ and non-judgmentalism of the left unfortunately tends to lead to absolute intolerance and judgmentalism of anything deemed not to fit the new ethic.

Sabbath

  1. Marriage and the Sabbath. Two institutions given by God right at the beginning in a perfect world. Both under extreme attack.
  2. The Sabbath is the most misunderstood gift to humanity. It is an institution of rest. The exclusion of work. Yet for many it is confused as a works-based approach to God. How can: (no work + rest) = work?

Marriage

  1. “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom 1:22). The prevailing wisdom of the age on sexuality, gender and reproduction is foolishness. – David Asscherick
  2. Arguing for ‘marriage equality’ from an ‘evolutionary origins of species’ point of view has no principled basis for restricting ‘equality’ to two consenting non-related adult humans. From a genetic perspective, ‘marriage equality’ arguments should either let any combination of any number of organisms marry or restrict it to identical twins. Something between those extremes is ‘optimisation’ which negates the whole argument for ‘equality’. I’m all for optimisation. Enough genetic difference (e.g., X & Y chromosomes) yet similarity (e.g., homo sapiens) to optimise life for succeeding generations.
  3. The truest thing about each human’s identity has little to do with their sexual identification or sexual preference. It is that each of us is created in God’s image, and is loved by the Creator of the universe, enough for Him to die for us!
  4. Marriage provides an amazing foundation for a resilient family unit, the building block of a successful society. It is more about fierce uncompromising commitment than about feelings of romance or sexual attraction. Let’s move the conversation to setting the bar high for healthy resilient marriages rather than merely defining legally what marriage is and isn’t.

Gun control

  1. Thanks John Howard for Australia’s gun control. Americans seem to have a hard time figuring out why controlling access civilians’ to personal nukes would be a bad idea.
  2. If you’re going to argue that gun rights are sacred, please articulate a principle that logically differentiates a civilian’s right to bear guns from their right to bear nukes.
  3. The NRA and its ties to conservative politics in the US (actually, both sides for that matter) has totally warped American perspectives on gun violence. One American’s personal stance on never touching a gun speaks volumes: the story of Desmond Doss. #HacksawRidge

Conspiracy theories & polarised discourse

  1. Conspiracy theories are much easier to concoct than accurate explanations of complex realities. Some ‘alternative facts’ may end up proving correct; but there is very little value in peddling conspiracy theories.
  2. Any debate these days tends toward extreme polarised points of view. Truth usually comes with at least two associated error traps often at opposite ends of a spectrum. Slogans and strawmen arguments abound, but wisdom and understanding requires committed engagement.

Inequality & social justice

  1. Thank you Jesus for positively discriminating to assist the downtrodden and disadvantaged.
  2. Act your wage: “People buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” – Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish
  3. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus, Luke 12:15
  4. But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him—how can God’s love be within him? Little children, let us stop just sayingwe love people; let us really love them, and show it by our  1 John 3:16,17

Gender & sexism

  1. The biblical view that I hold is that both genders are of equal value but are created to be different and complementary both ontologically and functionally.
  2. While I don’t believe women should be actively prevented from doing things that men traditionally do, nor valued or remunerated less, I question whether an objective of 50-50 splits or equivalent sameness in all functions and roles is helpful. Men will never be able to perform the incredible functions of women in bringing children into the world.

Climate change & environmentalism

  1. There is overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic global warming is a major global issue. The conservative right, with its ties to the energy and resources industries, has manufactured unreasonable doubt, successfully obfuscating the evidence.
  2. With strong links between evangelicals and right-wing politics, Christians have fallen for twisted logic to believe that humans could not possibly alter earth’s climate.
  3. I’m no leftie, but the left is far more realistic than the right on the diagnosis of climate change, even if not all their proposed remedies are ideal.
  4. Christians take note: caring for the natural environment and animal welfare are very much biblical principles and responsibilities of all humankind.

Foreign policy, immigration & armed conflict

  1. A softer stance on foreign policy happens to be in harmony with biblical principles of “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, and so on. I’m not saying there is never a place for the use of armed forces, but I resonate with stories such as that of Desmond Doss. Far too much is spent on military. #HacksawRidge
  2. Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan as an example of showing open friendship and love to foreigners, who Jesus preferred to call neighbours.
  3. For people who claim to be children of God, having open borders and sharing our wealth and resources makes a good deal of moral sense.
  4. The example of modern Germany, being prepared to take in Syrian refugees, is much more similar to the principles of Jesus than aggressive border protection policies of other Western countries.

Globalisation vs nationalism

  1. Nationalism – putting self first – is against Jesus’ principles of open friendship and sharing. But globalisation can easily entail attempts at coercive central government control.
  2. Globalisation is inherently socially disconnected and isolating. To the extent we embrace global connectedness, we lose local connectedness. We simply do not have the capacity to maintain loving close relationships with that many people.
  3. Christians take note: neither extreme of globalisation nor nationalism is in harmony with biblical counsel and the wisdom of Jesus. How about open, sharing local communities whose open borders are more for the purposes of giving than accumulating and protecting?

Islam

  1. The left sees nothing wrong with Islam; while the right sees many things wrong. Yet the right is unable to see own faults. Christians take note: Jesus called out the faults of those who claimed to be God’s followers far more vehemently than He called out the faults of the ‘heathen’ religions outside of Israel.
  2. Jesus continually said good things about Samaritans. He was a friend of the Samaritan; and is a friend of the Muslim today.
  3. The Samaritans were the equivalent of modern day Muslims. Yet somehow Jesus seemed to ignore the hostility of a few of them and focus on the hypocrisy of His own chosen people.
  4. I open my heart, wallet and the place I call home to refugees of all faiths. I’m all for shielding and protecting Muslims, even if not the religion of Islam, or any religion, for that matter.

Morality & law

  1. Finding a basis for moral laws is a philosophically fraught area. It is difficult to argue for any version of foundational morality without appealing to religion (e.g. the Judeo Christian moral law). There does not appear to be any better alternative.
  2. Abandoning the foundation of Judeo Christian law usually diminishes law and order. However, I would only make a pragmatic appeal to a solid foundation of morality rather than attempt to impose religion.
  3. If morality was solely defined by consensus or utilitarian ethics, it seems doubtful that there would always be protection for the basic human rights of minorities or the voiceless – e.g., the unborn.
  4. While I do think that the last 6 of the 10 commandments are the best basis for upholding morals in society, the challenge is finding an appropriate extent to legislate these. For example, it makes sense to outlaw rape, in harmony with the seventh commandment (against adultery), but probably not to outlaw consensual adultery. Similarly, it makes sense to outlaw perjury, but probably not lying about the size of the fish you caught. I can’t think of any reasonable legal application of the commandment against coveting.
  5. To me it seems hypocritical to fight against same sex marriage while not fighting, to the same extent, against the legal provisions for ‘no fault’ divorce. But equally it is hypocritical to claim that opposition to same sex marriage must necessarily be imposition of one’s religion on non-believers.

Personal revival of spirituality

  1. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3
  2. God can be more than ‘proved’ – He can be known and experienced – David Asscherick. See Psalm 34:8
  3. Faith rests on evidence and reason, but God offers more (not less) than this: firsthand experience and personal relationship (Heb 11:1). – David Asscherick
  4. Letting go of self and pride, admitting you were wrong, and continually learning. This is the most liberating way to live, and enables us to grow spiritually.

Suicide, mental health, screen time

  1. There is a direct correlation between the amount of screen time and the decline in mental health of our current generation. – Numerous scientific studies.
  2. Enjoy the outdoors with family and friends but without technology!

Is God real? Creation vs evolution

  1. “In the beginning God.” – the Dawkins delusion, by God (apologies to Alister McGrath)
  2. I’m against pseudo-science. But atheists who are respected scientifically get away with speculative and unprovable ideas such as SETI and the multiverse. So it seems reasonable to let Christians get away with the idea of “God” being the answer to SETI or the multiverse. Atheism 0 Theism 0
  3. The common picture of God has been so badly distorted from reality so as to make atheism attractive in comparison. Like the erroneous doctrine of eternal hellfire. That one piece of distortion makes the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin look like child’s play. And God an absolute tyrant. Own-goal by theists.
  4. Theism wins easily, in terms of utility, risk management & opportunity maximization, and philosophical/logical coherence. And, according to John Lennox, empirically, to boot. #PascalsWager Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  5. Accounting for free will. in a materialist (atheist) worldview, everythingis known or determined (even if humans do not yet have insight into the future). There is no freedom. No choice. Just the illusion of it. It is in this (atheist) worldview that I have to conclude that my choices are pointless, that there is no free will, and that everything that was going to happen is already determined. The script is already written. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  6. The fact that freedom exists is what the new atheist unwittingly tries to take advantage of when he or she tries to persuade others to choose to abandon belief in God. But freedom of choice does not exist in a purely material universe.
  7. The fact that true freedom exists powerfully argues that a powerful intelligence (God) designed it that way. That God loves you enough to give you the choice of whether to believe His claims or not. To serve Him or not. And to love Him back or not.
  8. Abiogenesis: a major stumbling block to an evolutionary explanation for the origin (not just diversity) of species. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  9. Consciousness: another major hurdle for material explanations of the universe. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  10. Morality: either it has a transcendent and absolute quality, allowing (say) paedophilia to be vile under any circumstances, or it’s entirely a relative social construct which may change across time and place. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  11. Meaning, purpose, destiny: without these, life is axiomatically meaningless, directionless, and pointless. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  12. Material explanations for the universe are struggling to come up with any sort of compelling explanation for the presence of information (e.g., genetic code), logic, and finely tuned physical laws. All from nothing!? Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  13. In the years ahead there will be two massive pendulum swings away from atheism. One will be true (Rev 14:6-12), the other will be false (Matt 24:24-25). The false correction will swing from atheism to experience-based spiritual phenomena (2 Cor 11:14-15). The true correction will swing from selfishness to self-sacrificing love (Jn 13:35).

The great controversy between good & evil

  1. Evil may look like it has a strong foothold, even the upper hand. But love has already won the war. Evil and death have been forever defeated at the cross!
  2. I’m keen for the world as we know it to come to an end, but not because I want conflict and destruction. Instead, I am looking forward to God restoring our lives and planet to the perfect eternal love and happiness He intended.
  3. Christians please note: the Bible teaching regarding the ‘investigative judgment’ as a mechanism for transparently dealing with evil totally makes sense and comes naturally if you believe in ‘soul sleep’ and Arminianism (i.e., personal freedom of choice). It’s a natural fit into the narrative that “God is love”.
  4. God is love! Love requires freedom. Freedom entails risk.

God’s presence in and direction for my life

  1. As our loving Father, God wants us to learn to make good decisions for ourselves based on the principles and values of His character of love and freedom. Not to treat Him as a Divine fortune-teller.
  2. I miss my dad, who died a year ago. He had a big positive influence in my life. He was an atheist who found God and totally changed his direction to live for God. I look forward to seeing my dad again.
  3. I love my wife, Renee, and my kids. They have taught me much about selflessness, love and God. I have found marriage to be the best way to refine one’s character, reduce selfishness, and increase happiness.
  4. I have had numerous life experiences that demonstrate to me that God is real, life has purpose and meaning, and authentic love and freedom truly exist. A ‘chance’ meeting at a train station and recovery from a freak accident are just two of many life-shaping experiences that confirm experientially the empirical and philosophical evidences that God is real and God is love.
  5. Jesus of Nazareth: my guru, friend and Saviour. God of the universe. Yours too.

Being filled with God’s Spirit

Being filled with God’s Spirit is a goal for my whole life, but this year I am committing to extra prayer for being more filled with God’s Spirit.

What does that mean? And what does it NOT mean?

When on Earth, Jesus promised His Spirit so that we can experience His personal presence in our lives to the same extent as when He was on earth. This intimacy leads to fruits in the life, such as love, joy, peace, etc. And an empowered life.

I’ve already experienced a closeness with God brought about by God’s Spirit, and want more.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a good Christian friend, saying I was seeking for more of God’s Spirit. He replied: “So you’re speaking in tongues?”

I don’t have the privilege of the gift of tongues. But I don’t feel deficient because of that.

I’ve done a bit of study to see what the Bible says about speaking in tongues. I had two questions:

  1. Is speaking in tongues an essential sign of being filled with God’s Spirit?
  2. Are ‘tongues’ foreign or unintelligible languages?

This is what I found:

Doctrinal cluedo - Tongues

I believe in the gift of tongues in our day. I have a good friend, a pastor currently in Sydney, who was on a mission trip in Papua New Guinea and was given the gift of tongues to be able to communicate with the locals there, crossing the language barrier. That is, after all, the purpose of the gift of tongues, as seen in Acts 2. Ultimately, the gifts of the Spirit are for the purpose of empowering our message about God and His true character of love.

But tongues (as in, crossing the foreign language barrier) is just one relatively minor footnote in the story of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit is about bringing truth, knowledge, power and a better life, not about bringing the confusion of unintelligible utterances (which would hardly be a convincing ‘sign for unbelievers’). Nor about quick-fix emotional highs like a drug (which perhaps could have been a ‘sign for believers’, albeit a fickle one). He brings lasting love, joy and peace that transcends circumstances.

I believe in and desire the outpouring of God’s Spirit. I’m seeking it daily.

I believe God’s Spirit is more about truth, goodness, wisdom, peace and love than about the fleeting ecstasy that many have unwittingly come to expect.

Christians, please think twice before supporting Trump

james-dobson-2

James Dobson. Source: Speakerpedia

James Dobson and many other Christians support a vote for Trump because, they say, he upholds traditional Christian and family values better than Clinton. But coerced morality has a murky history of backfiring.

It is true that the Republicans have traditionally upheld conservative values in social policy more strongly than the Democrats. Trump has tapped into this history – e.g., with his slogan “Make America great again”. Of course, the slogan is also a catch-all reference to many other things such as turning the economy around.

I do believe that the success of modern Western civilization is built heavily on Christian principles and values, which, I agree, are currently being eroded. But I believe the successes of the West were not built on the legislation of religious values. Rather they were built on principles of religious freedom; the separation of church and state. And appropriate enforcement of law and order.

But law and order is not always the same thing as morality. There is definitely a connection, but also a lot of confusion. An obvious example of overlap is murder. Murder is both morally wrong and against law and order. But what about adultery? Is it immoral? Most would say yes. But is it, or should it be, illegal? Most would say no.

Then there’s a hotly contested grey area in between where what may be considered immoral is not necessarily considered illegal. Gay marriage and abortion would have to be placed here.

As Christian values are slowly being eroded, it is tempting for Christians to fight the changing moral landscape through legislation. But I argue that the attempted legislation of conservative morality is a sure sign of a society in decay. Look back at history. The Jews tried to codify hundreds of additional laws to ensure that their people wouldn’t suffer the natural consequences of breaking God’s moral laws. But they ended up crucifying Jesus and lost their nationhood. The Roman church of the Dark Ages tried to burn heretics to preserve their version of Christianity, but that merely spawned the Reformation and then the rise of atheism. Centuries later the Roman church’s deadly wound is only now being healed.

Western Christian leaders are now trying to legislate to marginalize Muslims, gays, immigrants, women and anyone else who poses a threat to white male beliefs, values and power. Trump has harnessed this mentality to garner electoral support. Will history look back any differently on today’s latest attempts at coerced religious morality by an unholy alliance of church and state?

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Donald Trump. Source: globeandmail.com

Trump is hardly a standard for virtuous morality himself. And his constantly changing policy positions appear to be simply calculated to generate votes rather than being aligned to any moral compass. This hypocrisy has historical analogues in the corrupt Jewish leaders and the corrupt leaders of the Roman medieval church.

I understand there is widespread feeling that the American political system is broken. My appeal to my American friends is to consider whether you want to restore Christian values through legislation by a broken political system or through grass roots Christian revival unfettered by government coercion?

So when you go to vote, ask not “Who will legislate my religious values?” but rather “Who will allow freedom of religious values and beliefs, even those opposed to my own, and freedom to express and share religious beliefs and values with others?” State sanctioned coercion and persecution has only ever backfired, helping spread religious values opposed to the church-state union of the day. Just look at the early Christian church and then the Reformation for evidence of that in the past. And the Bible predicts another repeat in the near future.

So please take this perspective into account before promoting or voting for Trump. Note that I’m not asking my American friends to vote for a particular candidate. There are potential problems ahead if Clinton wins, too.

There is abundant evidence that Bible prophecy is compellingly accurate about our world’s past and present. Thus the predictions about the future are also compelling. Europe and America are focal points of Bible prophecy relevant to today. With the assurance of a track record of reliably fulfilled prophecy, I know the immediate future is not pretty, regardless of the outcome of this election. But God’s love and grace are enough to get us through whatever details the future holds.

I’m keen for the world as we know it to come to an end, but not because I want conflict and destruction. Instead, I am looking forward to God restoring our lives and planet to the perfect eternal love and happiness He intended.

Needle in a Haystack: True Story

You’re about to read an amazing true story of an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances that saved a friend of mine from suffering, separation and loss. So unlikely that it gives me reason to believe in an unseen hand guiding the affairs of our lives. You can have confidence in the story because I was directly involved, wrote down the details shortly after it happened, and know several others who can also verify details of what happened.

Have you ever tried to find one person among millions? Source: limenika-nea.blogspot.gr

Have you ever tried to find one person among millions? Source: limenika-nea.blogspot.gr

Joe[*] was deeply distressed. He had tried his hardest to be the best Christian he knew how to be, but felt that God did not accept him.

Joe was a reclusive young fellow. He’d previously been involved in dark satanic arts and rituals. He struggled with depression and anxiety. But he was most earnest.

A few years ago, Joe reached the point of despair. The Christianity he was pursuing was not working for him. He reached a very private personal crisis that only he knew about. Feeling unable to talk to anyone, he devised a plan to bring resolution. At least he hoped it would resolve his struggles.

He would leave everything he knew and go back to work in the satanic music store in another state where he had previously worked.

He left work early that afternoon, then gathered his most important possessions. He dyed his blond hair black, shaved part of his head, and put on black clothes, sunglasses and boots. He was making a definite departure from his search for light to go back to the darkness he knew. He wanted nobody to recognise him or to intervene.

He got in his car and drove to the train station near the church he had been attending. He scribbled a note to say goodbye. He left the note on the car seat, and left a loaded gun in the car boot. He grabbed his bags and caught the train to Sydney’s Central station where he would then catch the overnight train that was due to leave at 7pm.

His family noticed that he didn’t come home at the usual time so started to make some enquiries. They realised something was not right with Joe so quickly became worried. They thought perhaps he had gone to a midweek church meeting so went looking there. They found his car and saw his note.

Their hearts started racing. What had happened to their beloved Joe? The note was brief and gave no indication of whether he was leaving or … They did not want to think.

Then they opened the boot, saw the loaded weapon, and their worst fears flooded over them.

They quickly called some of Joe’s friends to try to trace him, hoping he had not harmed himself. But nobody knew anything of Joe’s movements that afternoon.

Joe had been a member of the youth group in an active and growing church, and so he had a couple of close friends with whom he sometimes socialised. These two young men embarked on a city wide search for their friend.

But it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Finding one missing person in a city of 4 million seemed futile. Joe left no clues as to where he was going or what he intended to do.

His friends and family asked the whole church to pray for Joe, that he would be protected from harm and restored back to his family.

The message to pray for Joe reached me at the University of Technology that evening. I had an evening class and was heading home a little after 7pm. I prayed silently for Joe as I was walking back to the train station to go home.

As I was hurrying through Sydney’s Central station to catch my train, I thought I recognised a vaguely familiar figure in the corner of my eye.

Country link train on Central's Platform 1. Source: mjtravlife.blogspot.com

Country link train on Central’s Platform 1. Source: mjtravlife.blogspot.com

There was Joe, sitting on a bench on Platform 1, waiting for his interstate train.

I almost walked right past him. He was barely recognisable.

He tried to avoid my eyes. I did a double take, called his name. It was Joe alright!

He was shy, embarrassed, but most important was still alive and well! The lost needle had been found in the haystack the size of Sydney!

Joe told me of his plan to go and work at the satanic music store. I was so happy to have found him, but so sad for his desperation. I pled with him to stay with us. “We love you, Joe. God loves you.”

Joe was a little bit cautious and reserved. I assured him that his parents were really worried for him, and truly loved him. He hesitated. I continued to plead with him.

After a couple of minutes he decided not to leave Sydney. He would come back home with me! What joy and relief!

As we were leaving Platform 1 to go buy Joe a ticket to get the train back home instead, the overnight interstate train pulled onto the platform. It was half an hour late!

I went with him all the way back to his car parked near our church. On the way he showed me what he had packed in his bags. He showed me a couple of clubs covered with spikes that he had prepared to use as weapons. I was shocked but happy to have Joe back safe and sound.

I believe in a loving God who was looking out for Joe that night.

There was a board meeting at the church that evening. They were all praying for Joe. Imagine their surprise and joy to see the direct answer to their prayers.

Joe’s parents were filled with relief to see their boy back home. The whole ordeal was over in just a few hours, without the need for any emergency services.

How much worse it could have been for Joe, his family, and his friends.

Praise God for the safe and happy ending to the day’s drama.

***

Just think about all the things that happened that evening, and ponder with me the probability that all of this just happened by random chance.

Joe had maybe about 50 people praying for him, and just a handful actively looking for him: his family and his two mates. He was one person lost in a city of 4 million, and on his way to another city.

I had prayed for him but had no idea that he would be anywhere near me on my route home from university. I was definitely not looking for him. Joe normally lived and worked about an hour from where I was studying.

Normally closed passageway to enter via Platform 1. Source: Google Streetview

Normally closed passageway to enter via Platform 1. Source: Google Streetview

I was catching a suburban train at Central. Joe was catching an interstate train. He was already on his platform waiting for his train that arrived half an hour late. Had it been on time, or just a bit less late, our paths could not have crossed.

And what was I even doing on an interstate platform? Occasionally I did enter the station that way, but I usually went the way most people do, via the Devonshire St tunnel that links Broadway directly to the suburban train platforms.

Sometimes I would take the above ground route. And rarely, I would enter an opening in the wall at Platform 1. If you go to Central you will find this opening is usually closed. Entry is not permitted. For some reason, that evening, I went via Platform 1.

My normal route to catch my train would not normally lead me to where Joe was waiting for his train. Source: Google Maps

My normal route to catch my train would not normally lead me to where Joe was waiting for his train. Source: Google Maps

Even still, Central is a very busy station and Platform 1 was crowded with people waiting to board that train. The chances of me seeing Joe that evening were vanishingly slim.

It all makes sense looking back. God was in control. These were not mere random coincidences.

We have a God who loves and cares for each of us deeply. But He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. He doesn’t even provide incontrovertible evidence that He exists, because He wants people to freely choose to love Him back. But He provides enough evidence on which to solidly base our faith. This story is one such example.

As I look back in my life the evidence of His love for me and for all of humanity is overwhelming. We have an amazing God of love and grace!

[*] Not his real name

Twenty-three hundred… and now only three minutes to midnight!

Here’s an interesting way to remember the significance of the Bible’s 2300 day prophecy. This is by no means the prophet Daniel’s intended interpretation. But noteworthy nonetheless.

doomsdayclock

The Doomsday Clock. Source: phys.org

It relates to the doomsday clock, by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. According to these eminent scientists, the threat of human caused global catastrophe due to nuclear weapons and climate change is so high that they characterise it using the time 23:57.

The closest we have come to midnight by this clock was 23:58, at the height of the Cold War.

As that threat receded the doomsday clock wound back as far as 23:43 but has since climbed back to 23:57 in 2015, and stayed there notwithstanding the recent Paris climate agreement.

Pretty precarious times, these.

Now, back to the 2300 day prophecy. Let’s ignore the units and the start period of the 2300 day prophecy for a moment.

What does “twenty-three hundred” bring to mind?

One hour to midnight? If so, good! As they say about great minds… Never mind. Just let me say I think this provides a helpful way to remember the significance of the prophecy, even if not its intended interpretation.

According to Daniel 7, 8 and 9, the 2300 day prophecy brings us to within the period of time we know as the “time of the end.” We could metaphorically call this stage of Earth’s history the time approaching midnight.

Now, if the 2300 days does indeed bring us to 1844, and a day does indeed represent a year, when would midnight be? Simple extrapolation brings us to the denouement of World War II. The year 1944 included one of the last major turning points in Europe: D-Day. But there were bigger turning points in the preceding 3 years, where the threat of Third Reich global domination was largely averted.

Needless to say, we sailed perilously close to midnight during World War II, even before the Doomsday clock started plotting our situation from 1947.

And we have flirted with midnight for quite some time, now.

The progression toward midnight has not been uniform at all. It is as though there are opposing forces driving us both toward and away from disaster.

It reminds me of Bible passages that talk about God holding back the “four winds” of strife, and that there appears to be a delay in His return. All for the sake of not allowing any to perish without having the chance to be rescued.

Even if not the original intention, I find the “twenty-three hundred” nomenclature significant in highlighting how close we are to the end. The Bible and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have common ground on this point. But only the Bible presents a glorious rescue plan and future for humanity, if we choose it.

For other recent posts on the Investigative Judgment, see:

What’s the big deal about Adventism’s Investigative Judgment?

scalesofjusticeI believe the Seventh-day Adventist teaching on the Investigative Judgment (IJ) for several reasons.

The Great Controversy Narrative

The IJ makes sense as part of the over-arching Great Controversy narrative of God’s transparent interaction with His created intelligent beings and His character of love and freedom. It contributes to my appreciation of the awesomeness of God’s character of love.

It is the Logical Outcome of Soul-Sleep and Arminianism, without Compromising Assurance

The IJ is the natural outworking of our unique Adventist position on soul sleep, the Great Controversy narrative and our understanding of freewill and how that plays out in salvation.

Any attacks on the IJ as though it undermined assurance are really fundamentally an attack on our Arminian understanding of salvation – appealing to either Calvinism or a hybrid form where we have some freewill of once saved always saved. Or they are a straw man attack.

A common criticism is that the IJ doctrine undermines assurance. “You have a 7 year old wake up with nightmares about the judgment and wondering if he is going to be with his Saviour in heaven.”

The theology change necessary to remove this criticism is not changing the timing or manner of any judgment, but a change in basic understanding of salvation and/or freewill. Either the child needs to understand that salvation is not dependent on his own keeping of the commandments (legalism) but on Christ’s righteousness, or salvation needs to be independent of freewill altogether.

The Adventist church has always taught that salvation is by grace through faith. Christ is our righteousness. The part we play in our own salvation is to choose whether or not to believe in the good news of Jesus. This belief is not contradicted by the Adventist teaching on the Investigative judgment; although many have misunderstood salvation and/or judgment and become confused as to the significance, implications and interrelationship of the teachings.

Adventists have not always presented our doctrines in a Christ-centred way; so the misunderstanding is somewhat understandable and definitely unfortunate.

But if our salvation is understood as being dependent on Christ’s righteousness and not our own, then the next logical option for the above 7 year old is not to question the doctrine of the investigative judgment but to question our basic understanding of human freewill. We should soon realise that any doctrine of the investigative judgment has little to do with the question of assurance. Any lack of assurance is because we either misunderstand Christ’s role in our salvation and take our eyes off Him, or because we can’t accept that our role of choosing our destiny, based on human freewill, remains. This is independent of any doctrine of timing or transparency of pre-Advent judgment.

If we remove freewill, then there are two broad options. Salvation would either not depend on one’s choices but on an arbitrary decree of God (Calvinism) or be applied to everyone regardless of their preference (universalism). Or some hybrid (e.g., once saved always saved).

The hybrid is an interesting one. In attempting to provide assurance by providing the “best” of both Calvinism and Arminianism, ‘once saved always saved’ actually delivers the worst. It removes freewill without satisfactorily improving assurance. Assurance isn’t guaranteed because it is always humanly possible to doubt whether you’ve ever crossed the line into salvation. Even in Calvinism, the nightmares should really become worse because we can never quite be sure whether we are among the predestined elect or not.

A useful analogy here is a high school student having nightmares about whether her exam scores are good enough to get her into studying medicine. The solution to removing the nightmares is not a change of the method, transparency or timing of the marking process. The solution would have to be one of changing or relaxing the entry requirements to remove the anxiety. The equivalent of simply removing the IJ doctrine but keep every other doctrine the same is to do instantaneous exam marking by a super-computer in the split-second before ATAR scores are published. It should be obvious that such a change would actually do nothing to prevent the anxious student’s nightmares.

It Resonates with Human Experience

A lot of the internal critics of the IJ complain that people who have questioned the teaching of the IJ have been silenced without a proper hearing. Their ideas and questions, they feel, were not given the light of day they deserved.

I resonate with their desire for open, transparent dealings with contradictory ideas and the people who hold them. That seems like a better application of the Golden Rule than simply shutting down dissent and excluding dissidents.

The interesting thing is that the IJ under question is actually all about providing just what the human heart desires: open, transparent and fair dealing. From the God of the universe, no less. He could simply annihilate all opposition. Instantaneously. But the beauty of His character is that He takes time to allow rebellion to demonstrate its true character and results for all to see. He also takes His time in investigation and judgment.

You may ask how and why does an open and transparent process that’s happening entirely outside of my present observations resonate with me? Let me go back to the above illustration of a high school student and exam marking. Does she have any visibility of the exam marking process between when it starts and when the ATAR scores are announced? No. Does she care that the process is open, transparent and auditable? Yes; she would be far less satisfied if the marking was done instantaneously by a ‘black-box’ supercomputer immediately before ATAR scores are announced. Especially if there was a background of accusations about the fairness of the supercomputer.

So in the context of Satan’s accusations about God’s fairness, the transparency of God’s judgments matters to us personally, even if our access to that transparency is not until after the judgment is pronounced.

Circumstantial & Prophetic Corroborating Evidence

There are too many serendipitous features regarding the way that the understanding of the IJ came about for me to regard it as a convenient cover-up of human devising for mistaken date-setting of the Millerite Adventists. These include:

  1. The prophecy of Revelation 10-11.
  2. The typology of the Old Testament feasts and what they represent. No better fit for the fulfillment of the Old Testament Day of Atonement has been put forward.
  3. An understanding of early SDA church history, and the characters involved.
  4. Overwhelming evidence that Ellen White was given special revelation from God, and her inspired corroboration of our pioneer’s conclusions from Bible study as to what was signified by the prophecy of Daniel 8. There are numerous pieces of evidence that Ellen White had special revelation. Any cursory study of her life story is sufficient to reveal that. But lest anyone accuse her ‘believers’ of rewriting history to paint her in a favourable light, there is one area alone that settles it for me: her amazingly accurate insights on healthful living over 100 years ahead of her times.

What the Bible Actually Says

My own understanding of the relevant Bible texts leads me to believe the Adventist teaching on the IJ. Now I don’t have personal in-depth understanding of the original languages, nor all the Hebrew culture and meaning attached to the Sanctuary. But from my limited knowledge, the traditional SDA teaching on the IJ does make more sense than alternatives that I’ve investigated.

Nonetheless, some of the alternative ideas do appear to have some grounding; thus their conclusions appear to have some legitimacy. However, they don’t have enough of a ‘smoking gun’ for me to decide to either reject our teaching and follow the ‘majority’ view (of Christianity at large), nor to motivate me to become enough of an expert in linguistics or systematic theology to be able to decide what the teaching should be for myself from first principles.

I happily trust the Bible’s promise of God’s Spirit to lead me into all truth (John 16:13) as I follow His leading (John 7:17).

Going back to the in-depth theological evidence, however, as it is also important to be true to the text (Acts 17:11). While we need not all become world-leading experts on every question (that would be impossible), there is a time and place to defer to experts.

For example, we’re not all experts on global warming. Yet we’ve decided, using a mixture of our understanding of the facts and our personal values, which “experts” to believe. Ditto for vaccination. Ditto for, let’s face it, most things that we believe in, or choose not to believe in. This includes electricity, CT scans, evolution, the age of the earth, etc. I don’t know anyone who refuses to believe something until they personally become an expert in that particular field. Most of us even choose to believe something other than the majority of experts in the field for at least one of their beliefs. None of us are strict slaves to empirical epistemology as revealed in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

So I’m happy to look at what the relevant experts have to say about the Investigative Judgment. Which experts do I choose? I let both my existing knowledge and values, guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, determine which experts are worth consideration. My Dad is one of those whom I consult in this particular field, although we see things differently in a number of fields. In this case, I do believe his arguments on Daniel 8 are worthy of consideration. His doctoral dissertation was on Daniel 8:14 (from UNE) and he has since deepened his appreciation of the case for the Investigative Judgment by broadening the hermeneutical undergirding through principles from degrees in Linguistics and Philosophy. I have posted a recent article which shares some of his insights in a more lay-readable, or at least educated lay-readable, format.

The Implications of the Choice

The implications of giving up my belief in the Adventist teaching on the investigative judgment would be profound. I would necessarily need to give up my belief in Ellen White, and in the Divine origin of the SDA movement. To avoid being hypocritical, I would also need to not regard our church or our teachings as any more valuable than the rest of Protestant Christianity except that in some areas we may happen to be more biblical than some others. But that would be true for any group.

To be fair to the church, I would have to declare these significant deviations in my belief system before taking up any leadership or teaching/preaching appointment.

This “risk” or “cost” cannot be justification for holding onto a weak or errant belief system; but I believe counting the cost is important and requires full consideration of the implications. Sitting on the fence and trying to have the best of both worlds is not fair to either one’s self or to others.

But the benefits of holding onto this teaching are that it gives us certainty of the nearness of the Second Coming and thus focus for our message and mission. The first angel’s message makes sense: “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come” (Rev 14:7).

Does Seventh-day Adventism Hang on One Word?

Guest post by my dad, Dr Eric Livingston, who has studied multiple postgraduate degrees regarding this “one word.” I provide my own thoughts and introduction at another post.

Abstract

It is claimed that “cleansed” in Daniel 8:14 is a mistranslation and that it should be “justified” or similar and does not link to Leviticus 16 where the ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’ has a different word. Also, the ‘Little Horn’ context, it is asserted, does not support a sanctuary ‘Investigative Judgment’ of believers. Should these repeated claims be sustained, Seventh-day Adventism would have taught wrongly for 170 years. We will suggest that the critics misunderstand how words work, that the ‘cleansed’/‘justify’ association and interrelationship renders “cleansed” a legitimate translation, and that the context does support a judgment of professed believers. Being some of the most prominent and sustained objections of critics, should their assertions be found lacking in the appreciation of the Daniel 8 context, in linguistic method, and regarding the ‘cleanse’/‘justify’ connection, their case would lose much credibility.

scalesofjusticeA former Seventh-day Adventist lecturer wrote: “Why do Adventists use a mistranslation such as ‘cleansed’ for the basis of their judgment doctrine? Why do Adventists ignore the context of Dan. 8:14 . . .?”[i]

More recently the critic’s biographer asserted: “He [Ford] explained the SDA habit of taking Daniel 8:13 and 14 out of context . . . .. The word ‘cleansed’ (Daniel 8:14), he added, is a poor translation and has no linguistic link to the description of the Day of Atonement service (Leviticus 16).”[ii] The assertion is that the Hebrew word (sdq) in Daniel 8:14 is a legal word that means ‘justified’, ‘restored’, or ‘vindicated’, while the unrelated sanctuary word for ‘cleansed’ (thr) in Leviticus 16 has to do with purification.[iii] In 2016, Des Ford is still pressing his questions about the Investigative Judgment and this translation issue.[iv]

If correct, this undermines the Danielic basis for the Day of Atonement typology of the ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’ as the end-time judicial review. That vital judicial investigation-review assesses three major issues in the universe: the destiny of professed believers (why these and not others are genuine and safe to pluck from sin’s infestation), the principles of good and evil (considered the ultimate cosmic perplexity, raising questions about the efficacy of God’s mode of governing the universe), and God’s character (the justice-mercy and law-love interrelations tied to the foregoing)—all seen through Seventh-day Adventism’s most distinctive teaching, the Investigative Judgment.

A number have succumbed to the critics and left Adventism in body or mind, some slipping into atheism, more into mere ‘church club’ socialisation. Have they made a tragic mistake in believing the glib assertion that it is simplistic to accept the KJV “cleansed” translation in Daniel 8:14 and link it to the Day of Atonement ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’ in Leviticus 16? Is our foundation so poorly laid in outdated, non-scholarly, “flimsy assumptions”[v] via proof-texting with a mistranslation?

We could say, “I’ll just keep things simple. If the good old KJV and some recent translations have ‘cleansed’ that is sufficient.” To such simplistic escapism, thinkers will respond as one former pastor: “We are expected to leave our brains at the door when we enter church.” It is actually in a judicial lawsuit passage that God says, “‘Come now, let us reason together …’” (Isa 1:18). God created us with minds that reason.

I would propose that biblical evidence and linguistic method abundantly support the translation “cleansed” and that the Daniel 8 context surely does link to Leviticus 16 and ‘the cleansing of the sanctuary’. The keys to the issue are context, semantic (or meaning) flexibility in word usage, and the fact that the concept of righting or restoring can be expressed by seemingly unrelated words, such as the legal term ‘justify’ and the sanctuary purification word ‘cleanse’. We will first view context, then the “cleansed” word.[vi] 

The Witness of Context

In the wider context, Daniel 7 and 8 are recognised as closely parallel for decisive reasons: They commence in the same way: “In the first year” (7:1) and “In the third year” (8:1) of King Belshazzar, with 8:1 referring back to the chap. 7 vision/dream. They continue with similar formulaic introductions to their visions (7:2; 8:2). They conclude in similar fashion with a perplexed prophet (7:28; 8:27). Their literary layout is identical (first half vision, second half interpretation). Both chapters are historical apocalypses with animal symbols. Finally, each chapter prominently features an arrogating Little Horn power that follows earlier nations and takes the reader into the final judgment (Dan 7) or the ‘cleansing/righting of the sanctuary’ in the end time (Dan 8; cf. vv. 14, 17, 19, 26).

Within this close connection, Daniel does give a notable contrast by moving from the ferocious, unclean beasts of Daniel 7 to the clean, sacrificial animals of the ram and goat in Daniel 8. This ‘contrast within correspondence’, together with other sanctuary references, sharply focuses the sanctuary as the counter to the Little Horn in Daniel 8. The vision climaxes with the ‘cleansing’/‘righting’ of the sanctuary reversing the work of the Little Horn power.

While evident that the cleansing/righting of the sanctuary is Daniel 8’s answer to the Little Horn and in Daniel 7 it is the judgment, Daniel 7 should be noted for its repetition and decisiveness. Three of the four times when the Little Horn is described in chapter 7, a judgment scene immediately follows (v. 8–>9-10; 20-21–>22; 24-25–>26). The one other depiction of the Little Horn in Daniel 7 implies that it is active during the Investigative Judgment and/or its activities are relevant to it (v.11a between vv. 9-10 and 13-14).

It would be expected that the closely paralleled chapter 8 would similarly connect the Little Horn with judgment, particularly as the context calls for judicial redress of the Little Horn (8:10-12). Compare the parallel from a non-Adventist scholar:

The trampling down of the sanctuary . . . does have a term set to it [the 2,300 evening-mornings/days = years]. The forensic metaphor of judgment being given for the holy ones on high (7:22) reappears as the vision promises that the sanctuary will ‘emerge in the right’ ([sdq]), ‘be vindicated’.[vii]

So both the immediate context of Daniel 8 and the broader Daniel 7/8 context support the idea of a judgment coming upon the Little Horn’s activities. But how does this relate to professed believers? This Little Horn power claims religious rights (7:20-22, 25), displacing “the Prince of the host,” “the daily/continual” provisions of the Prince, “and the place of his sanctuary” (8:11) and persecutes “the saints” (7:25) or “the host”/“holy people” (8:13, 24). These are all religious activities or preoccupations, strongly suggesting that the context is dealing with those professing to be believers. Consequently, the “judgment” distinguishes “the saints of the Most High” from “the same horn” pretender who “made war with the saints” (7:21-22).

A related thought is that this judgment reveals to the universe a concrete picture of what Lucifer, if not evicted, would have perpetrated in heaven as the initial “man of sin” sitting “as God in the temple of God” (2 Thess 2:3-4; cf. Isa 14:12-14). Principles of good and evil, and God’s wisdom and character, are reviewed in the Arch-Deceiver’s ecclesiastical Little Horn/Man of Sin representative facing off against true believers.

So the context supports a judgment between professing believers, just as the Day of Atonement ritual prefigured through the earthly ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’. Then, the likes of Israel’s pretenders, such as the Nadab, Abihu, Korah, Dathan and Abirams, would come to justice. But what of Daniel’s use of a word (Hebrew root sdq) that normally is translated as “justified,” “restored,” or “vindicated,” and is not the verb used in Leviticus 16?

Words –> Meaning or Meaning –> Words or Both Directions?

The tendency of ‘cleansed’ critics is to take a sole ‘Words –> Meaning’ dictionary approach, treating words as the pre-packaged containers of meaning and unconsciously override historical, cultural and literary context. This is called the ‘Container Method’ or ‘Determinacy’ and is often implemented even when a writer professes to know better.

Such Lexical (or Word) Determinacy misunderstands how we conceive and express concepts. We typically do not lock in to one or more preconceived dictionary definitions (though they have their place, as do etymology and cognate languages). Rather, prior usage gives meaning potential that may be employed in varying ways, sometimes accenting one aspect relating to its semantic range, other times another, or occasionally a quite creative usage that the context shapes.

As we speak or write we are following a train of thought and our mind consults our store of words to structure the concepts being communicated. This is an ‘online process’ in which the flow of thought calls upon our mental lexicon or encyclopedia for words to express the concept at hand. It is the ‘Encyclopedic Method’ that is based on previous usage of terms, but, most importantly, permits the present context to direct usage, sentence structure and associations so that the intended meaning of the speaker/writer is ultimately context-determined.

We will give four positive examples bearing on our topic. The first reveals the shift in concepts within the usage of the same word; the other three illustrate the interchange of words and settings to express the same concept. The first manifests the flexibility in the semantic range of a word; the other three show how the same concept can be expressed by seemingly unrelated words taken from different realms of experience, literature and cultures.

The first example: The Hebrew verb ‘see’ (r’h or ra’ah in its simple active form) classically denotes physically looking with the eyes, visual sensory perception. This primary usage is sometimes called the ‘core’ or ‘basic meaning’ in a semantic range. Contexts of speech/writing, however, show that a great many of the 1300+ usages of ‘see’ (r’h) in the OT have called for a translation that reflects the faculty of understanding; e.g.: “And Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What were you thinking [r’h] of, that you did this thing?’” (Gen 20:10, RSV, NRSV; CEB similar); “‘What was your reason.. .?’” (NIV); “‘have in mind’” (NABRE).

Given this figurative shift into conceptual perception, if the context called for the idea of evaluating, investigating, examining, then the verb ‘see’ could be utilised. So: “The priest shall examine [r’h] the disease on the skin of his body, . . . after the priest has examined [r’h] him …” (Lev 13:3; NRSV, NIV, etc.). “then the priest shall make an examination [r’h], . . . pronounce him clean [thr]” (v. 13, NRSV; ‘examine(s)’ in NIV, NLT).

These translations of r’h move from ‘see’ to ‘examine’ simply because the context required the idea of examining. The concept, utilising prior usage and the present setting, determined the translation. Likewise, sdq can move from ‘justify’ to ‘cleanse’ in the context of the righting of the sanctuary (Dan 8:14). We will now move to the New Testament (NT) to illustrate direct substitution of words for the same concept.

The second example: Gordon Wenham briefly states, “According to Paul we are justified by Christ’s blood; according to John we are cleansed by it.”[viii] Paul characteristically uses Greek words with the dik– stem that come from the language of the law court and translate as ‘justify’, ‘just/righteous’ ‘righteousness’. So: “… being now justified (dikaiothentes) by his blood (Rom 5:9; cf. 3:25-26). When John expresses the same concept of righting or justifying by Christ’s blood, he employs the sanctuary vocabulary of cleansing: “. . . and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses (katharizei) us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7; cf. v.9).

The analogy with Daniel 8:14 of the sanctuary and its adherents being ‘justified’ (sdq), and with Leviticus 16:19, 30 where the sanctuary and its adherents are ‘cleansed’ (thr) is clear. The same idea of righting or restoring is the meaning being conveyed by both expressions, by the legal term ‘justified’ and by the sanctuary purificatory word ‘cleansed’. The concept of righting/restoring is central. Moreover, when the context of sdq is the sanctuary, the translation ‘cleansed’ is quite appropriate.

The third example, from anthropology, manifests the same interchange of ‘legal’ and ‘cleanse’ terms and ideas to express the shared concept of righting or restoring. Discussing the characteristics of worldviews, Paul Hiebert lists three cultures with their varying “Images of Moral Order.”[ix] We will concentrate on two, to represent the West and the East. In this oversimplification we can understand that right relationships, shame, etc. would also feature in different sections.

Focus Legal Order Cleanliness
Response Guilt Repugnance
Salvation Punishment,
Restore Moral Order
Washing, Purification,
Restore Cleanliness
Image Righteousness Holiness, Purity
Example United States India

So we have two cultures seeking the same righting/restoring outcome through different paradigms. Righting is accomplished through both the Legal focus (cf. sdq ‘justified’ Dan 8:14) and through the Cleanliness focus (cf. thr ‘cleansed’, Lev 16).

When we think of the diversity of atonement metaphors in the NT (legal, ‘cultic’ [a technical term for religious ritual and worship, as in the sanctuary], ransom, victory, redemption, adoption, exemplarist, etc.), the inclusive double approach of justify/cleanse should not surprise. It reaches into varying literary, metaphorical and cultural backgrounds through the different associations and connotations linked to the complementary sdq/thr concepts.

Since atonement (kpr) and cleansing (thr) overlap in Leviticus 16 (see vv. 18, 20: kpr; v. 19: thr; cf. v. 30) and since, even though in a neutral setting, Daniel associates atonement and righteousness (Dan 9:24: kpr and a sdq noun form), the connection of righting/cleansing with atonement is pertinent. The NT (and OT) atonement metaphors coalesce around the legal and the cultic/sanctuary (which two are actually more analogical than metaphorical)[x]:  The “cultic and legal images must be regarded as providing the objective foundation of a doctrine of atonement,” “the objective core.”[xi] This is seen in the OT: e.g., Isa 53: sanctuary expiatory sacrifice (v. 10) immediately following by the judicial act of justifying (sdq, v. 11); and in the NT: Rom 3: the sanctuary idea of propitiation through sacrificial blood (v. 25) in the midst of legal language involving overt justice (vv. 24, 26).

It could be said that Hebrews and any Bible students with a tendency to left-brain activity would grasp the more propositional sdq; others with right-brain activity would gravitate to the thr sanctuary symbolism. However, they should be allowed to complement and fortify each other whatever personal tendencies we have. The “sacrificial and judicial … have a special relationship to the event they interpret.”[xii]

Our fourth example is one of Scripture’s interchanges. We now compare Leviticus 13 (priestly laws regarding a scale, leprosy-like disease) with Ezekiel 18 (regarding individual responsibility for right doing, moral accountability)—two differing topics in different genres (types of literature), but each approach having the same idea: investigation to determine fitness:

Leviticus 13: Investigation of physical fitness for sanctuary ritual/spiritual life in the community, leading to the declaration: “He is clean (thr) / unclean (tm’).” See Lev 13:13, 17, 37; cf. vv. 6, 23, 37: “and the priest shall pronounce him clean.”

Ezekiel 18: Investigation of moral fitness for moral and spiritual/sanctuary life in the community, leading to the declaration: “He is just (sdq) / wicked (rš‘).” See Ezek 18:9.

The list of virtues in verses 5-9 of Ezekiel 18 “is patently an elaboration of what ‘righteous’ means.” This calls to mind Psalms 15 and 24 and “a liturgical ceremony conducted at the sanctuary gate . . . the declaratory verdict ‘He is righteous [sdq]’ pronounced by the priest after the pattern of similar such declaratory pronouncements in Leviticus 1:17, 2:15, 13:3 [sic., assume v. 13].”[xiii] “Ezekiel’s ‘mirror of virtue’ ends with a declaratory formula of priestly vintage: he is righteous [sdq], he will surely live.”[xiv]

The important point for Daniel 8:14, is that the ‘justify’ (sdq) – cleanse (thr) conceptual interchange seen here is made in sanctuary contexts of investigating/examining the fitness or right standing before YHWH at the sanctuary. Space forbids listing other scriptural examples of a cleanse/sdq interchange, save an abbreviated footnote,[xv] but it is significant that quite often this happens in the context of investigation, reflecting Daniel 7 and 8. As Blocher affirms regarding the atonement images which

exhibit the same structure (isomorphism), so that they naturally translate into one another—hence the intertwining in so many passages. As soon as one discerns that cultic holiness can be translated ‘righteousness’ in the ethical-juridical sphere, one understands that the danger of the Presence’s devouring fire, the danger of being struck dead by sacred intolerance [such as sanctuary presumption: Lev 10:1-11; 16:1-2ff], is the danger of being condemned and punished by divine justice. With the biblical God (not any numen [non-personal divine spirit/power]), what is the stain to be covered or wiped out if not the guilt incurred by sinning?—actually ‘sin’ and ‘sin-bearing’ belong to both sacrificial and judicial languages.[xvi]

Blocher adds how the spotless “slaughtered animal . . . together with the priest. . . satisfies the demands of justice,” and “the worshipper . . . declared to be in the right by him who judges justly.”[xvii] The worshipper being declared to be in the right by One who judges justly is quite applicable in the context of Daniel 8 where the ‘religious’ Little Horn subjugates the true people of God, eliciting the cry “How long . . . ?” (v. 13). We have just seen in Leviticus, Ezekiel and Psalms that “cultic holiness [with its ‘cleansing’] can be translated ‘righteousness’ in the ethical-juridical sphere,” so with Daniel 8:14 (sdq) and Leviticus 16 (thr). 

Conclusion

In sum, the immediate and wider contexts of Daniel 8:14 call for judgment on the Little Horn power. Since this symbol represents a religious body that persecutes the saints, Daniel and Leviticus reassure us that there comes a time when all will be righted through the Investigative Judgment and its verdicts.

Linguistics explains how lexical meaning is not to be pre-determined. There is far more flexibility. We gain the sense of words by noting the context in which the ‘on-line’ production of the speaker/writer is communicating. The setting sparks or drives a person to seek a word from their mental encyclopedia–the ‘Encyclopedic Method’–to best portray the sense intended, rather than resorting to a mere dictionary ‘Determinacy’ approach. It is a combination of previous usage plus present context, with the context being the final determinant of meaning.

We noted the interchange between the word used in Daniel 8:14 (sdq) and that used in Leviticus 16 (thr), and most importantly the sharing of the same concept of righting/restoring in order to be able to freely make the interchange. It is connected, concurrent and complementary, rather than oppositional, thinking. In Daniel 8:14 the sanctuary context naturally takes us to the ‘righting’ or ‘cleansing’ of the sanctuary that engages the symbolic Day of Atonement ritual of Leviticus 16.

Footnotes

[i] Desmond Ford, Daniel 8:14: The Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment (Casselberry, FL: Euangelion Press, 1980), 312.

[ii] Milton Hook, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist (Riverside, CAL: Adventist Today Foundation, 2008), 228. See also pp. 230, 254, 357-358, 378. Hook quotes a 1971 Ford article acknowledging that this “key word of the text” links to judgment (123), but soon quotes another claiming “cleansed (wrong translation)” (125).

[iii] Cf. Ford, Daniel 8:14…, 63, 292.

[iv] Ford asks: “Why is this controversy important? Firstly, it strikes at the very vitals of Adventism.” (Desmond Ford, The Investigative Judgment and the Everlasting Gospel: A Retrospective on October 27, 1979 [n.p., 2016], 6). Ford then lists AD1844, Ellen G. White writings (which connect Daniel 8:14 with the Leviticus 16 ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’; e.g., GC 409–436) and Historicism. In this 2016 compilation with brief update comments, Ford reproduces his 1979 PUC forum talk that includes, “On the basis of that word, our pioneers linked this prophecy with Leviticus 16, but the word isn’t there. You say, ‘Of course it’s there.’ No, it’s not there. The KJV is a mistranslation. The word translated ‘cleanse’ there is not found in Leviticus 16. It’s a different word altogether. That’s why almost all modern translations do not use ‘cleanse,’ and therefore, from all other translations, you are crippled as a way of getting back to Leviticus 16. Now let me state it again. Adventists have traditionally jumped from Daniel 8:14 to Leviticus 16 on the basis of the word ‘cleanse.’ ‘Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.’ The point is, the word ‘cleanse’ isn’t there. It’s a mistranslation” (ibid., 12).

[v] Hook, 288. Hook’s assertions seem prejudiced by his disdain for what he calls “the fabricated doctrine of the Investigative Judgment” (224; cf. 215-217, 223-231, 238, 241-244, 345-346, 379). Even the liberal Spectrum blog questioned Hook’s caricaturing (David Larson, “Why Does Desmond Ford’s Biographer Lament our Wesleyan Heritage?,” Spectrum, 15 September , 2008; http://spectrummagazine.org/article/column/2008/09/15/why-does-desmond-ford%E2%80%99s-biographer-lament-our-wesleyan-heritage; accessed 25th Oct, 2015). The narrowed justification/forgiveness truncated ‘gospel’, particularly proclaimed within Western SDAsm since the 1970s, has been re-broadened in the wider Evangelical world by the influence of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Despite the flaws and excesses in NPP, the way has been opened to return to a biblical gospel that is inextricably tied to obedience and a final judicial review: Rom 2:12-16; 10:16; 14:1-12; 2 Thess 1:5-8; 1 Pet 4:17-19.

[vi] This essay can only include a fraction of available evidence. There is (or was!) an academic publisher waiting for a longer version, but continued agitation calls for a brief response on a more popular level.

[vii] John E. Goldingay, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 30: Daniel (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1987), 212.

[viii] G. Wenham, “The Perplexing Pentateuch,” in Vox Evangelica, 17 (1987): 18.

[ix] Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 62.

[x] Henri Blocher, “Biblical Metaphors and the Doctrine of the Atonement,” in Journal of the Evangelical Society 47/4 (December 2004), 643, in relation to the judicial language of atonement, “probably the least metaphorical of all” (645).

[xi] Nico Vorster, “The Nature of Christ’s Atonement. A Defence of Penal Substitution Theory,” in Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth: Essays in Honour of Abraham van de Beek, ed. E. Van der Borght and P. van Geest (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 140, 146. Compare the Reformers generally and Calvin specifically (130-131). “Why, then, does Paul use legal and sacrificial terms more often than family ones? Probably because of the deeply-ingrained Pharisaic [and biblical: Zech 3; Dan 7] notion of an afterlife lawcourt. Judgment Day is a compelling metaphor for Paul . . .” (Stephen Finlan, The Background and Content of Paul’s Cultic Atonement Metaphors [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Lierature, 2004], 158; cf. 190, 229: “The significance of the Messiah’s martyrdom is interpreted through cultic metaphors; even justification and reconciliation emanate from the place of sacrifice”).

[xii] Blocher, 641, where the writer is suggesting their elucidating the meaning of the death of Christ. So, too, we will see how they interact around the concept of investigation in our next example.

[xiii] R. M. Hals, “Methods of Interpretation: Old Testament Texts,” in Studies in Lutheran Hermeneutics, ed. John Reuman (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1979), 272.

[xiv] Joseph Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 83.

[xv] For example, Job 15:14-16 with 25:4-6 that relate sdq to the ‘cleanse’ field of words, this time through zkh, a synonym of thr. What is striking is the threefold relationship: by substitution between the passages and speakers, by synthetic parallelism, and by a chiasm between the passages. Also, more generally, see Elias Brasil de Souza, The Heavenly Sanctuary/Temple Motif in the Hebrew Bible: Function and Relationship to the Earthly Counterparts, ATS Dissertation Series (2005), 446-450, 464 (drawing on H.T. Fletcher-Louis), regarding sanctuary imagery of fire and clouds and the Son of Man as a priestly figure in Daniel 7:9-14 paralleling, with Day of atonement imagery, 8:9-14; and the interweaving of judicial and cultic elements and procedures in Zech 3:1-10 and Lev 16 (deferring to R Gane) (328).

[xvi] Blocher, 643-644 (Blocher’s italics).

[xvii] Blocher, 644.

Soul Mortality Doctrinal Cluedo

The original lie of Satan was “You shall not surely die” (Gen 3:4).

The lie has been believed by billions of people and the myth remains alive and well today.

Immortality of the soul gained popularity in Christianity thanks to the popularity of Greek dualism. The traditional view of eternal torment remains the dominant view throughout Christianity, leading many to discard belief in a ‘tyrannical’ God.

Yet there is an awakening among thought-leaders to rediscover the truth of annihilationism, including none less than world renowned theologian John Stott.

Here is a starting guide that I put together for anyone wanting to go back to the relevant Bible passages and assess the evidence. Feel free to add to or change this. Leave your feedback.

I’m not afraid of learning more about God’s character of love, so don’t hesitate to challenge my framework. A deeper understanding of this truth reveals an amazing and perfectly good God.

Doctrinal cluedo for the state of the dead (by the author)

Doctrinal cluedo for the state of the dead (by the author)

Earth Hour: When an Hour of Darkness Saved the World

(Cross-posted from www.recyclingearth.com)

Millions of people in over 100 countries will be turning their lights off over the next 24 hours or so, as part of Earth Hour.

What for? To help save the planet from environmental threats such as climate change.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am all for avoiding any waste of resources – especially non-renewable energy sources. And I do believe humanity is doing much that is needlessly environmentally damaging.

But there’s some great news about Earth Hour that deserves much greater focus and attention.

An hour of darkness has already guaranteed the best possible future for Planet Earth! When Jesus died to save the world, there were three hours of darkness.

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:44-46

While I commend people for turning off their lights to do their bit to help save the planet, I am ever so much more grateful to Jesus for His death – and the three hours of darkness that surrounded it – that has already saved the planet. Completely. Forever.

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4