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.


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). 


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.


[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)

Terrorism in the Christian Bible

An atheist meme on the internet in the wake of the Paris attacks caught my attention. An image compares the biblical character of Samson with modern day terrorists such as the suicide attacks of September 11.

Atheist meme: Samson's final act compared to that of the 9-11 hijackers.

Atheist meme: Samson’s final act compared to that of the 9-11 hijackers.

Samson’s final act was to literally bring the house down on about three thousand Philistines, killing them all as well as himself.

On face value, the stories seem analogous. Yet is this really just a cheap shot?

Popular Western culture regards Canadian John Gallagher as a hero for dying a couple of months ago in similar circumstances to Samson. Gallagher was fighting ISIS in Syria.

I say similar because this may well be a better modern-day parallel for Samson when considering the back story to Samson and the Philistines. Could it be that Samson was just as much a hero as John Gallagher?

But the greatest hero of the Bible was Jesus, who died Himself that others may have life.

Looking more closely at the story of Jesus, He actually took on a known ‘terrorist’ (i.e., traitor) in Judas into his inner circle. Not for His own benefit. His inclusive tolerance cost Jesus His own life.

Jesus’ embracing of Judas is in stark contrast to the closed-minded, closed-hearts and closed-borders stance of many professed Christians towards Muslims today.

Perhaps a better parallel image for terrorism in the Christian Bible is the following, which shows Jesus as the innocent victim of treachery worse than that of Australian teenager turned ISIS suicide bomber Jihad Jake.

A better comparison between the Bible and terrorism. Jesus took on a known traitor in Judas leading to His own betrayal and death. "Jihad Jack" is regarded by his parents as a traitor for joining ISIS prior to his death.

A better comparison between the Bible and terrorism. Jesus took on a known traitor in Judas leading to His own betrayal and death. “Jihad Jake” is regarded by his parents as a traitor for joining ISIS prior to his death in Iraq as a suicide bomber.

Utilitarian and other perspectives on the question of God

Arguments for and against atheism invariably tackle the philosophical and epistemological problem of whether one can know that something doesn’t exist in the universe even though one’s knowledge of all things in said universe is extremely limited.

That sounds like a good argument against positive atheism – one that would allow a reasonable person to be agnostic but not atheist.

However, the response of the atheist is usually twofold:

  1. The definition of atheism need not be a positive claim to know that there are no gods worth having, but rather the absence of belief in God. (Thus the definitional distinction between agnosticism and atheism is somewhat blurred.)
  2. The atheist also claims that the choice not to believe in a Deity is the equivalent of choosing not to believe in Santa Claus, the Loch Ness Monster, fairies in the bottom of the garden, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Most reasonable people would probably state that they do not believe in any of those fairy-tale, mythological beings. People (me included) are less likely to sit on the fence and say they are not sure whether or not the FSM exists.

We know so little of all there is to know. So any argument over whether we can reasonably claim to know there isn’t a God will only go so far.

Sooner or later, it becomes germane to compare other possible options for extra-terrestrial intelligence and/or the origin of life and/or our universe. These are big unknown questions in the scientific community, even if the question of God has been largely classified as beneath modern scientific intelligence.

In contrast to the search for God, these questions tend to be framed toward fitting the epistemological constraints of scientific enquiry. Yet philosophically they are not very much different to the question of whether or not there is a God.

Epistemologically, the germane question is whether everything worth knowing can be found through empiricism.

There are a lot of other epistemological alternatives beyond empiricism.

Naturalism and empiricism look for natural, observable causes. The past removal of superstitions demonstrate the triumph of the scientific method. Modernism thus rejected the use of any other epistemological lenses to view reality.

But adherents to naturalism assume that naturalism has the answer to ultimate reality without actually ever being able to prove it. For example, the scientific method can never discover or explain the uncaused – or original – cause. I believe it will always struggle to provide any meaningful account for the origin of: matter/energy, physical laws, information, life, consciousness, morality and freedom of choice.

Let’s lay aside empiricism for a moment, and use a variety of lenses to evaluate five options for extraterrestrial or supernatural entities. The following table compares the options.

Lens Intelligent beings outside earth Creator God Multiverse Loch Ness, FSM, Santa, Fairies Nothing exists outside of our knowledge
Experiential evidence existing? None of significance Yes. Significant. Many people report their lives being profoundly impacted by encounters with God. None Limited Not logically applicable
Empirical evidence existing? None, though SETI has tried hard to find it Not reliably reproducible. Many would also question validity of claimed evidence. None None Not logically applicable
Evidence or logic that precludes this None None None Strong Yes – we frequently discover that we previously had not observed everything there was to observe
Possibility of being able to verify Strong From human perspective, weak. From God’s perspective, strong (if He indeed exists). None, insofar as our current definitions go Strong (i.e., to verify absence) Impossible
Logical / philosophical case Neither strong nor weak Strong (see below) Neither strong nor weak Weak Weak (see above)
Hypothesis of its existence lends itself to scientific enquiry Yes No No Yes, to the extent that one can be convinced that these don’t exist. Yes, though frequently disproved
Utility of this belief None so far Pascal’s wager suggests significant Limited Negative Negative (stops enquiry)
Moral consequence if proven true Unknown: potential for catastrophic conflict or synergistic benefit Humans have a responsibility to their Creator None None No change
Life’s meaning & purpose To the extent that they were not involved in our origin, limited. Profound (to the extent involved in our origin) Limited None None
Life’s origin Unknown Fullest and most complete answer available, acknowledging a possible follow-up question of “what caused God?” Would take the search for the ‘uncaused cause’ a step further back None None
Life’s destiny Unknown: potential for catastrophic conflict or synergistic benefit Full and complete answer None or limited None None
Votes for this A few key thinkers such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Paul Davies, Carl Sagan. Almost everyone until around 150 years ago. Still majority of world, and significant portion of current thinkers, leaders & scientists A few key thinkers such as Stephen Hawking and even Richard Dawkins to some extent. None None (in its purest form, though some objectivists & empiricists, as well as subscribers to scientism & logical positivism come close)
Plausibility that this extra-terrestrial being exists but would hide itself (at least in our lifetime) To be determined once identified. On current knowledge, plausible. Plausible, even necessary based on Great Controversy meta-narrative By logical necessity Relatively implausible N/A
Motivation for acceptance Search for answers to limited carrying capacity of planet Love of God awakens response of love in our hearts. OR: fear or selfish desire to escape suffering. Philosophical pursuit of answers. Emotional sentimentalism and/or fear Desire to maintain status quo
Motivation for rejection Difficulty of identifying Desire to avoid responsibility for our choices. Perceived impossibility of verifying and thus desire to dispel false hope or fear. Impossibility of verifying Desire to dispel false hope or fear Desire to explore, discover
Aligns with these components of experiential reality Limited. Some observed phenomena that currently do not have better explanations Aligns with our observation that matter, life, consciousness, morality, love, altruism and free choice all exist. Aligns with the difficulty (i.e., impossibility) of establishing deterministic explanations for experiential phenomena. None Almost none. From perspective of children, Christmas presents align with the story of Santa. If we continually repeat previous experience, yes
Related phenomena that would prove difficult to explain otherwise UFOs, to a very limited extent. (I.e., almost none.) Many: consciousness, life, freedom of choice, fulfilled prophecy. Also growing scientific evidence that aligns poorly with naturalism. (See Ashton, Lennox, etc) The existence of our universe (not that the multiverse theory is the only option here) Almost none. History repeating itself; “Nothing new under the sun”
Observed phenomena that this fails to explain and thus is weakened by Fails to explain a lot of things but is not weakened by any of these omissions Experiential phenomena such as suffering and evil can be difficult to reconcile with a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator. There are also some scientific discoveries that, at face value, appear to contradict the typical account of a Creator God. E.g., natural selection, evidence for the Big Bang, the geologic record Fails to explain a lot of things but is not weakened by any of these omissions Agency of known mechanisms to account for Christmas presents etc. Constant discovery of new knowledge
What lost if turns out to be true Unknown: perhaps some freedoms? Independence and autonomy (perceived) Little – maybe Uniqueness Little – maybe safety Hope for discovering more ‘out there’
What gained if turns out to be true Unknown: perhaps some opportunities? Infinite eternal happiness Little? Little – perhaps realization of children’s fantasies has some value? Removal of fear of the unknown
What lost if turns out to be false All the money poured into SETI Little – maybe hedonistic pursuits Little? Little – maybe children’s fantasies squashed Opportunity to discover more
What gained if turns out to be false Unknown: perhaps some freedoms? Independence and autonomy (perceived) Little – maybe Uniqueness Little – maybe safety Hope for discovering more ‘out there’

Under the “Creator God” heading, there are a number of possible options for which deity. At the high level of this comparison, this should really only be a comparison of theism to atheism.

If there is a Creator God, it would be plausible that there could be multiple interpretations/perspectives of His character and attributes. That need not weaken the case that such a Creator God exists. Especially if it is assumed that the Creator God gives freedom of choice based on love. If he/it were a coercive god, then any argument against the existence of such a deity would be more compelling on the assumption that he/it would be more likely to coerce everyone to form uniform perceptions of who he/it is.

My belief in God is that He is a love personified – the opposite of coercive. This may be reflected in some of my entries under the “Creator God” column in the table above.

The only gap in the above analysis, according to the modern scientific mindset, is the lack of consideration of empirical evidence. But since when is empirical evidence the only way to knowledge? Modernism gave way to post-modernism precisely because of the overwhelming realization that there are other valid epistemologies.

Coming back to empiricism, though, I will let the words of John Lennox assist in wrapping up my blog post. Having systematically exposed the weakness of the empirical claims of atheism of Richard Dawkins et al, he concludes:

In conclusion, I submit that, far from science having buried God, not only do the results of science point towards his existence, but the scientific enterprise itself is validated by his existence.

Inevitably, of course, not only those of us who do science, but all of us, have to choose the presupposition with which we start. There are not many options – essentially just two. Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter; or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.

So I conclude, then, that the case for a Creator God is the strongest of the above options. (I have made five options to help demonstrate the comparative utility of theism and futility of atheism, but they can be boiled down to the two that Lennox presents.)

Theism wins easily, in terms of utility, risk management & opportunity maximization, and philosophical/logical coherence. And, according to Lennox, empirically, to boot.

Try the varied epistemological approach for yourself, using the above table as a starting point if you wish. I’m curious to see how my framework withstands scrutiny and critique. Are there elements that are wrong, arguable, incomplete or missing?

The Futility of Promoting Atheism

Imagine you were one of the two miners trapped alive in the Beaconsfield mine collapse. You sense that rescue may be near. You perceive faint glimpses of communication from the outside world.

But your mate plays down your optimism as blind faith and misplaced hope. He takes a purely evidence-based empirical view of your shared new world, trapped almost a kilometre underground. From his perspective, one of his colleagues is already dead, and there’s insufficient reason to believe anything other than imminent demise through further collapse, starvation or exposure. He tries to convince you to give up hope of rescue.

Sounds like Richard Dawkins arguing for atheism, doesn’t it?

My adaptation of the Beaconsfield tragedy is hypothetical. Both Todd Russell and Brant Webb were, in fact, optimistic believers in their developing rescue as it unfolded. Their optimism helped them to survive their ordeal.

But my imagined scenario highlights the futility of arguing for atheism. Atheism, if true, offers no hope relative to its alternatives.

Theism, if true, offers unlimited hope, love and happiness.

Atheism offers no satisfying solutions to the deep questions of life – its origins, meaning, purpose or destiny.

Why expend energy articulating ideas that extinguish hope, meaning and purpose?

Perfect love allows freedom to believe that faith in God is futile. It even allows freedom to promote those beliefs, no matter how dark and sad they may be.

But why promote darkness and sadness over light and happiness (see John 1:1-14)?

Part of the answer is that 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.

There are many more deceptions about God’s character, too. Their chief source? Ironically, the Christian church.

Back to my imaginary scenario at Beaconsfield. The trapped miner arguing against hope for rescue may have had good reason to mistrust the rescuers based on past negative experience. And that would make his pessimism more understandable, though still not justifiable.

How? Let’s follow my imaginary scenario just a bit further. Imagine that in the weeks leading up to the Beaconsfield mine collapse tragedy, your pessimist miner friend had tried to improve safety standards and culture at the mine. But the mine safety manager’s response was to show a blatant disregard for personal wellbeing. Instead he pursued vindictive vendettas for the purpose of his own career development. Under this scenario, his pessimism entirely makes sense!

But the good news is that God is love (1 Jn 4:8)! Just as the rescuers at Beaconsfield were actually working for the best interests of the trapped miners, so too God is good! In fact, perfectly good.

He truly does have your best interests uppermost in His heart and mind (Rom 5:8). When you realise the depth of His love for you, your life will make perfect sense (Jer 29:11). Your happiness will be unlimited (Jn 10:10, 15:11).

Atheism and Religion: a swinging pendulum?

Atheism has gained increasing and widespread acceptance since the French Revolution a couple of hundred years ago. There are a lot of things right about atheism’s ‘correction.’ Atheism is a reasonable reaction against the excesses of the church.

Interestingly, atheism wasn’t the answer to preventing the needless bloodshed perpetuated by institutionalised religion. In its first few years the French Revolution was just as bloody as the Church to which it was reacting.

Why was atheism not able to provide a completely satisfying answer to the ills of religion?

Reality Simplified in Three Word Slogans

Human nature has a habit of taking an issue and simplifying it down to slogans that address only one end of the tension. Australia’s former PM, Tony Abbott, has a penchant for such “three word slogans” such as:

  • “Stop the boats”
  • “Axe the [carbon] tax”
  • “Islam needs reformation”

There are virtuous principles, good values, and undoubted truth behind elements of each of those slogans. But they clearly ignore a whole different set of principles, values and truths that quickly neutralise any enduring appeal or significance of such three word slogans.

Could it be the same with atheism and religion? Does “There are no gods worth having” eventually ring hollow?

History Repeats in Swings and Roundabouts

Election cycles quickly take care of political over-reach. Political leaders’ own parties can even intervene earlier – just ask Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard. Political leadership changes tend to provide correction back and forth from one extreme to the other with only an occasional centrist refreshment.

Could it be that we have done the same in the area of religion and atheism?

Throughout history there have been many pendulum swings, over a variety of issues:

  • Democratically elected governments go between emphasis on a welfare state and free-market economic rationalism.
  • Germany’s territorial expansion associated with both world wars, with a period of overly harsh treaty provisions in between.
  • The Bible documents Israel’s inglorious history, going between abject apostasy and over-zealous Pharisaism.
  • The Christian church, going between syncretistic pluralism and fundamentalist persecution of heresy.
  • The renaissance and scientific advancement, going between belief in a Creator of natural order and the positive atheism of the New Atheists.

The above examples demonstrate that some pendulum swings can be fast; some exceedingly slow. A single pendulum isn’t always going to swing back to the exact same spot it came from last time. The cliché is true: history does tend to repeat itself, but the pattern can be irregular.

Atheism’s Future Correction: Back to Religious Fundamentalism?

What will be the popular opposing pendulum swing to atheism, when patience for its failures eventually runs out? I don’t think it’s likely to be a widespread return to narrow-minded dogmatic expression of religious fundamentalism. There may be the odd recruit to ISIS for whom fundamentalism is an appealing correction. But for society at large, we’ve come from there too recently to want that again.

Something that would both oppose atheism and have popular appeal would be a supernatural experiential phenomenon. An observable manifestation of a spiritual dimension would, by logical necessity, neutralise the appeal of a materialistic atheist worldview. It would also be likely to interest or even satisfy someone searching for more out of the vicissitudes of life regardless of their faith orientation.

In fact, it is prophesied in the Bible (see 2 Thes 2:9). True Christianity will soon be threatened not so much by disbelief in the existence of God, but by faith in manifestations from the spirit world that are fundamentally evil.

The world has lost its spiritual discernment, in part because it has largely chosen an atheistic worldview. Without spiritual discernment, any widespread appearance of spiritual phenomena will, of logical necessity, be embraced as enlightenment compared to atheism.

Another Overdue Correction

Not all pendulum swings are resolved by coming to rest in the middle position.

The one pendulum swing that we need above all others – without a settling into the middle – is a switch from widespread selfishness (Matt 24:12) to pervasive selfless love (Jn 13:35). The selfishness of our society is evident in such catchphrases as “if it feel’s good, do it.” It is a natural and unfortunate outcome of a Darwinian worldview where survival is for the fittest.

The world has seen one great display of self-sacrificing love, when Jesus Christ came to earth (Rom 5:8). That display sparked a revolution that spread internationally through the early Christian church. But institutionalised religion soon obscured any glimpses of God’s true character into one that looked like a coercive tyrant.

I believe we will see a widespread return (Rev 18:1-4) of this selfless Christian revival (2 Cor 5:18-21) in the near future (Matt 24:14).

Two Corrections Coming in Parallel

Thus there will be two pendulum swings away from atheism. One will be true (Rev 14:6-12), the other will be false (Matt 24:24-25).

The false one will swing from atheism to experience-based spiritual phenomena (2 Cor 11:14-15). The true one will swing from selfishness to self-sacrificing love (Jn 13:35).

Gun control – my attempt at a biblical perspective

It’s hard for me to think of any biblical reason for desiring the use or availability of weapons. Yet conservative Americans, including many Christians, and indeed friends of mine, argue against gun control.


It baffles me.

I don’t have as much personal interest, experience or detailed knowledge as others in this debate. I will make a few high level comments, though.

Historical Accident

The Second Amendment to the US constitution provides for ‘the right to bear arms.’ Now I don’t have any additional personal insight as to why the founding fathers thought that was important to put there. There are a variety of views held by people who know a whole lot more about it than I do. There were no doubt a number of relevant contributing factors.

But I do put forward two thoughts for consideration:

  1. If the founding fathers were alive today, and they were creating the constitution in today’s world of weapons of mass destruction, they may well have written the second amendment differently, if at all. If you find yourself recoiling at that idea, then consider the following.
  2. Even if those particular individuals would have written it, in light of today’s weaponry, exactly as they wrote it over 200 years ago… so what? The fact that something is in a nation’s constitution does not make it sacred. It does not mean that it shouldn’t be questioned, reinterpreted or even changed. Although it does make it more legally complicated to change course.

It saddens me that Christians, usually of the conservative camp, appeal to the constitution or the founding fathers as though the second amendment were sacred. It’s almost as if it were on the level of the Bible or a fundamental and inalienable human right.

One of the pilgrim fathers, Pr John Robinson, said something of enduring significance:

“I Charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ. If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.

“The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. Whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they (Lutherans) will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.”

Could it be that there is more light and truth available today than what was originally captured in the second amendment?

Problem Framing

Solutions invariably reflect the way a problem is framed. The issue of gun violence can be framed in a number of different ways:

  1. Big government versus small government. Going along with the conservative ideology that big government is bad, it is easy to conclude that more regulation of firearms is therefore bad. More regulations require more regulatory bodies and law enforcement resources. Further, an armed citizenry is a potential check against tyrannical government. So under this framing, minimal governmental gun control is the logical solution.
  2. Rights and freedoms. Assuming that individual freedoms are more sacred than anything else, gun control can be readily viewed as undesirable. However, a rights perspective introduces some tension. The right to life complicates matters, as that presents a direct conflict with the second amendment’s right to bear arms. Rights are only as protected as the legal frameworks that protect them. There is an obvious tension, as to ensure individual freedoms as well as protection of human life (in today’s world) requires some sort of government, laws, regulations and the enforcement of those. It may also arguably require some sort of weaponry, whether defence forces, militia or armed individual citizens.
  3. Protection of human life. If preservation of human life is the most sacred objective, and government control to achieve that is welcome and assumed to be benevolent, then suddenly gun control is the logical solution. Of course this assumption of benevolent and necessary government intervention is not widely shared in the US, preventing any likely solution any time soon. Interestingly, however, it was a similar assumption that led many supporters of gun ownership to paradoxically support US government intervention to limit supposed WMD ownership in Iraq, leading to what now is seen as a largely unnecessary war. Talk about tyrannical government!

The solution all depends on how the problem is framed. How it is framed depends on the values and ideology of the person doing the framing. And sometimes also on the information at hand, but that seems secondary in this debate.

When someone says that others are framing the problem incorrectly, or are forgetting how it was originally framed by the founding fathers, they are often just arguing that their values and ideology are more important or more correct than someone else who chooses to frame the problem differently.

Is that fair?

Sharing your views on how you think a problem should best be framed can help enlighten someone who may not have considered the problem from your point of view before – especially if there is a knowledge gap. I have to admit I have changed my perspective on filling some of my own information gaps, and still have many more gaps.

But to expect someone to adopt your problem framing after becoming aware of the same information is hardly a selfless thing to do. After everyone has absorbed all the relevant information, perspectives will still differ because we all place slightly different priorities and hierarchies on our respective values.

Isn’t this clash of values at the root of most marriage conflict? Rarely is the solution found in both parties simply adopting one set of values over the other.

Christians can look to the Bible for some helpful guidance to help resolve value conflicts. Of course the Bible does not give definitive answers on every issue, though.

The ideology and values of relevance to gun control that I believe resonate most with those of the Bible centre around the protection of human life. One of the Ten Commandments says: “Thou shalt not kill.”

The Bible has very little to say about big versus small government. It does, however, uphold respect for the role of government (e.g., Rom 13).

Regulation of Other Killers

A common catchcry of conservatives is that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” While this has truth, it is overly simplistic. The implication is that regulations should not focus on the objects but on the behaviours of people.

Yet there are so many regulations about everyday objects that present safety hazards. We now almost take these for granted. For example, it could be similarly argued that electric wiring doesn’t kill people. Yet regulations require shielding to prevent people from accidentally being electrocuted. The regulation makes sense; it has saved countless lives.

Electricity supplies aren’t designed to kill people. But guns are. Their purpose is to kill, maim, or at least threaten to do so. Electricity has utility outside violent conflict. Guns do not. (Unless you turn off the light in the same way as Mr Bean.)

Does it make sense to only regulate behaviours relating to objects which may pose a safety hazard to human health or life, and forego any regulations about the design, location or availability of the hazard itself? I think the answer is, clearly, that doesn’t make sense.

The Right to Bear Nukes?

The Bible and 18th century America do have some affirmative things to say about bearing swords (in Bible times) or guns (around 200 years ago).

But the technology of violence has moved from hand-to-hand combat capable of killing one person at a time to weaponry capable of wiping out entire nations at the push of a button.

Would anyone in their right mind want to allow all their neighbours to carry nuclear bombs?

However, on the other hand, nobody would want to make it illegal for anyone to carry a kitchen knife.

Both the nuke and the knife can be used to kill if placed in the wrong hands. But some weapons are clearly a whole lot more dangerous than others.

So it makes sense to have regulations limiting the dispersion and availability of the most dangerous of modern-day weaponry. The key question should be where to draw the boundaries so as to maximise quality and quantity of life.

Countries without anything like the second amendment are not, so far as I am aware, suffering abuses because of that lack. Therefore, in my opinion, questions about the role or size of government in light of a 200-year-old constitution should surely be secondary.


There are many factors to consider. It is never so simple as comparing the statistics of one country against another. There are other differences beyond the level of gun control regulation.

However, the statistics must surely tell a significant part of the story, even if not the complete story. And the statistics from the Human Development Report do not look good for America. The US tops the pile for the gun violence, with daylight second:

  • #1: USA: 29.7 homicides by firearm per million people per year
  • #2: Switzerland: 7.7 homicides by firearm per million per year

Australia has just 1.4 homicides by firearm per million per year. And significantly, the rate here halved since tightening of gun laws in 1996.

So I continue to have a hard time understanding why some Christians (or anyone else, for that matter) argue against tightening gun control in the US.

More than just numbers

According to the CDC, 11,208 Americans needlessly lost their lives in 2013 due to homicide by firearm. If the rate of deaths by firearm could be reduced to the level in Australia, that would save 10,680 American lives per year.

These are people like you and me. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers. For each life needlessly lost, countless more are affected by the loss.

While gun control is not the only relevant factor it is by far the most obvious.

The conservative right was quick to take advantage of government power in response to the loss of 2,977 innocent lives lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many now view that government response as tyrannical. The United States excused their declaration of war on Iraq by alleging significant hidden stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction that still have yet to be found.

The tyranny of government over-reach isn’t just felt in the Middle East. There is widespread recognition of loss of rights and personal freedoms through heightened internal security measures. Some would say it is oppressive or abuse. The world is a different place since 911.

But in the face of ongoing loss of life numbering an order of magnitude higher due to domestic (US) gun violence, the conservative right tend to ignore the numbers, human suffering and loss. They appeal to the second amendment. It seems they place a higher value on individual freedom to own weapons as a check against a perceived threat of tyrannical government abuse.

I am not arguing for or against a particular political party or policy option. I am not at all partisan. It’s not hard to find both good and bad on both sides. They’re all as human as the founding fathers, you and me. I.e., prone to mistakes. I simply care about human life.

For me to be prepared to elevate the value I place on an armed citizenry being a check against tyrannical government, I would need someone to point me to an example of a nation or state where the lack of a ‘second amendment’ type of legal provision has led to tyrannical government abuse. Until then, I will place a higher value on avoiding the needless violent deaths of 11,208 Americans every year.

11,208 human beings with families, friends, emotions, hopes and plans. Like you and me.

Should God Make My Decisions?

Source: focusonleadership.com.au

Source: focusonleadership.com.au


How can we know God’s will? Does God desire to direct all our decisions, or let us make them for ourselves? Or something in between?

Is there one and only one specific and distinct path that God has mapped out uniquely for each of our individual lives?

I believe that God’s will for our lives is a lot broader than that, encompassing multiple alternatives within His moral boundaries. Expecting to perceive God’s will as a specific choice between good options in all our decisions is inconsistent, arbitrary and impractical. In fact, impossible.

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.

The Decision Dilemma

Christians often try to give God the responsibility for our own decisions as though they were His. Closely related is the thinking that “God’s will for me is one path and one path only. The exact career path, living locations, “the one” life partner. Any deviation from that one thread of decision-making is living out of His will.” So the thinking goes.

In contrast, I believe God delights in giving us freedom to choose our path within a broad range of options that are within His already-revealed will. His Word gives broad principles of how we should prioritise the kingdom of heaven in our lives.

God-Directed Decisions a Relative Rarity

Only rarely does God specifically tell us who to marry. Hosea and Gomer spring to mind as an example.

Or where to live. Enter Abraham.

Or what career to pursue: Jonah.

I believe these are special cases. Exceptions, not the rule. And even then, they do not provide a basis for the manner in which Christians today tend to approach finding God’s will to aid their decision-making much like fortune-telling.

In none of these cases do we find the human praying to God that He would reveal His choice in these specific matters. God simply came and unambiguously gave an unexpected life-changing plan.

Fortune-telling – Avoiding Risk

However, we want to avoid the hard work, risk and responsibility involved in constantly prioritising among good options for major life decisions. We want God to do more than simply tell us what is good and or bad. We want Him to tell us which specific option is best. Wouldn’t that make life much easier? I say this looking in the mirror.

To be consistent, though, we would probably need to take this ‘fortune-teller’ approach to all decisions, not just the major ones. For example, whether to drive in the left or right lane down the freeway. We usually make such small decisions thinking little of it. But the potential consequences of a lane-changing decision can be just as life-changing as any major life decision.

There’s some very practical and also some deep ideological problems with wanting to outsource responsibility for all the ‘major’ decisions of our lives to a ‘fortune-teller’ God.

Ideological Dissonance: Love versus Fortune-telling

God created us to be free persons, with the ability to creatively express ourselves. To be independent. To love. Love is only possible for one who has freedom to choose. Otherwise we are merely robots.

In a good marriage, both spouses try to please each other. But imagine if a wife tried to please her husband by asking him which job he wanted her to take, which clothes he wanted her to buy and wear, and made every decision according to his desires. One of them would soon become unhappy. The wife would tire of the husband’s overbearing control. Or the husband would tire of his wife’s inability to figure things out for herself. Or both.

Yet sometimes we treat our relationship with God like that. Do we want Him to make all our major decisions out of desire for a mutually satisfying loving relationship based on freedom? I suspect that’s hardly our motivation for effectively treating God like a fortune-teller. My motivations have been selfish when I’ve fallen into that trap.

The marriage analogy suggests that mutually loving relationships are optimised when there is freedom of choice – freedom of creative expression – within rather broad boundaries.

A parent-child analogy is also useful as we are also God’s children. If the parent makes every decision for the child, the relationship will soon become dysfunctional and the child will not learn or grow.

In reality, God gives us broad principles of right and wrong and gives us freedom to exercise our creativity and choice.

Isn’t that what we’d prefer for our kids?

Can you imagine wanting your kids to just ask you to direct all their career and life choices? Yet that’s effectively what we expect God to do for us. Wouldn’t you prefer your growing children to express their own unique identity and make decisions for themselves?

But, you say, asking God to direct all our ‘major’ choices has the added benefit of His omniscience and future vision informing what is optimal. (Like a fortune-teller.)

The problem with the fortune-teller approach is that God’s Word doesn’t work like that. It gives us principles on which to grow in making our own sound decisions rather than a recipe for discerning God’s choice as if we were reading tarot cards or astrology.

Pragmatic Conflicts and Dead-ends with Ad-hoc Fortune-telling

There are also many practical problems with the belief that God led you to a particular past decision that you made, or direction that you chose.

Let’s say you pray something like “God, if I get the job I’ve applied for in New York, then I’ll take it as Your leading that You want me to move my family there.”

At first everything seems to confirm that “God” wants you in New York. You get the job, your spouse also gets a transfer there. The kids find an excellent school. Everything is going swimmingly.

Then the company that employed you winds up. Your wife falls pregnant again so soon neither of you will be working. The kids’ school ends up becoming a negative influence on the kids due to bullying and other problems.

What do you do? “God” led you to New York, right?

If God really did enter into all our bargaining and direct our lives like that, would He put an expiry date on His leading in a particular decision? Might He say, for example, “OK, move to New York and stay there no matter what happens for the rest of your lives.” Or, “stay there for the next three years.” Or maybe, “until things go bad and you feel like going somewhere else.”

To take this approach consistently, you would really have to stay following a particular direction until you received a new or different direction.

How would you apply that approach to choosing which lane to drive in on a motorway? A lane change might be needed more quickly to avert disaster than you have time to even formulate a prayer to your fortune-telling “God”.

And if you felt that God chose a particular school for your children, would you be free to move them if they were bullied or abused at that school? Would you interpret any adversity as a new “direction” from God? Or maybe God is testing your faith? How do you know?

There are always going to be exceptional circumstances or permutations of events that your original “directed” decision doesn’t cover. So the only way for “God”-directed decision making (fortune-teller style) to work effectively is for God to direct literally every decision, no matter how big or small. Plus all revisiting and revision of every decision.

Difficulties Compounded when Others are Involved

A whole new set of problems would be introduced, however, when our outsourced decisions involved the lives of other people who may or may not share the same view of “God’s direction” in every particular life choice.

Andrew may think that God has directed him to marry Sarah and tells her so. But Sarah believes her prayers are leading her to a relationship with Harry.

Beth and Bill marry, believing God directed them to join their lives. They share their story with their friends Dave and Amy who didn’t perceive any particular divine direction for their marriage. Amy begins to question her choice to marry Dave. Their marriage begins to falter because she thinks there must have been someone else God had in mind for her other than Dave.

Back to Beth and Bill. Some years down the track, Bill abandons his faith in God and begins to have affairs, abuse Beth and threaten the kids. Is Beth obligated to stay in the marriage because “God” directed them to marry?

What a mess! Surely there’s a better way.

Urgent Decisions – Even More Complicated for Fortune-telling

Then there’s a whole different set of decisions that are required in an urgent timeframe. Like whether to put your hand out to stop your child from running out onto a busy road. Should such decisions also wait for a clearly visible direction from “God” that applied to that particular circumstance?

Another example of this type of decision is when someone asks us to do something. We feel as though we have to take the decision away and pray about it before we can accept the offer. That may well be appropriate. But why isn’t it also possible that you already know whether you will say yes or no to being asked to preach, pray, or be an elder? Your answer can be just as “spiritual” if it is given straight away, as you ideally have already communed daily with God about the gospel commission and its call on you to serve (2 Tim 4:2).

Why do we feel that we need a clear direction from God when asked to serve in any role or activity that will last for a year or more, or be in front of a hundred people or more, for at least half an hour. But we most likely never think like that before opening our mouth to make a comment in a small group Bible study.

Clearly, expecting to perceive “God’s direction” specifically for all “major” life decisions is inconsistent, arbitrary, impractical and even impossible.

How to Make Decisions that Please God

According to God’s Word, we have freedom to choose a variety of options within the broad range of His will (1 Cor 10:31). There are underlying principles that define the boundaries of options that are inside and outside of His will (e.g., see 1 Thes 4:3). These are clearly evident in His word, starting with the Ten Commandments (Ps 40:8).

Does God ever lead through providential circumstances or serendipitous answers to prayer? I believe He does. Often. I have experienced this. But in my experience He has done this more often for instantaneous opportunities to share His love that only make sense in retrospect.

Or to confirm decisions that we have already made ourselves using the principles and tools He has given us. It’s as if God says: “Good choice, Daniel. You understand My values and I will bless your decision so long as you keep trusting in Me.” It’s important to clarify, however, that had I made another decision within the broad boundaries of His kingdom’s principles, He could also have confirmed that alternative choice.

Who’s in Control – God or Me?

We should be always in submission to God’s indwelling Spirit – daily surrendered to His will. But we still take responsibility for our decisions. His ‘control’ does not make us robots. It is not a coercive control. It does not remove our independent freewill and creative choice. It protects us from the evil motives and selfish desires that would otherwise be in control.

The important thing is to live a life of continual communion with God – in prayer and study of His Word. Continually making the small decisions in harmony with the values of the kingdom of heaven. It is in this sense that we should be willing “slaves” to His will. And constantly seeking to know it. Though not as robots! Or fortune-teller clients.

Living like this will result in us also making optimal decisions in the big things.

How to Discern God’s Guidance

Think twice before praying: “God, I’ll marry the first person who speaks to me.” Such a prayer is foolish. It doesn’t make what happens next “God’s will” just because you put your fortune-telling “God” in a corner.

There are still multiple careers, living locations, and marriage choices that God can bless. Yes, still bring those decisions to God. But ask for wisdom (James 1:5). Ask daily for a deeper love for, and understanding of, His values and character, so that you can intelligently become more like Him (Ps 119:34, Jn 17:3). Not merely a robot or a fortune-teller’s client.

Does God ever direct particular choices for an individual’s specific life decisions? Very occasionally, yes. If He does, it’s, usually unexpected and unambiguous (e.g., Paul’s Damascus Road experience, see Acts 9:6,15). If this happens to you, follow God’s specific calling on your life with all your heart and soul.

If you do not discern a specific call on your particular life choices, it is not because you are any less spiritual. You can still live your life knowing you are within His will (Gal 1:4, Rom 12:2). Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and follow all the directions He’s given in His Word (Eccl 12:13, Matt 28:19,20, Rom 6:16,17).

Should we depend more on ourselves for making decisions and spend less energy seeking to know God’s will? Absolutely not. Seeking knowledge of God’s will is more about understanding His character (Eph 1:17,18) and growing in wisdom, faith and love (Eph 3:17-19) than about getting arbitrary signs that point to option A or B. Thus a greater investment of energy is required when we realise that we make our decisions with wisdom from God rather than treating God as a fortune-teller.

And yes, we should still give God the glory for His leading in our lives. For giving us wisdom, and growing our characters. But hesitate before you claim that God directed you to a particular choice as though He were a fortune-teller that could be commanded to give you an answer through a job interview or a flip of a coin. That will backfire on you and bring God’s name into disrepute.


I want to come back to the “New York” example I gave above. That is the most plausible-sounding of all the examples that I’ve given under the category of “fortune-telling”. It may have raised some questions in your mind.

I’ve done almost exactly the same in the past. Not about moving to New York, but about doing a PhD. I prayed that if I got accepted to do a PhD, I would take it as God’s will. When I got accepted, I told people that God led me to do the PhD. In hindsight, I don’t know whether doing the PhD really was God’s ideal for my life at that stage. But it’s done and it’s not a question worth answering as I can’t go back and change the past.

What if you prayed “God, if I get accepted to be a drug mule I’ll take that as Your will that I should go to Indonesia.” In the highly likely event that you are accepted, should you really take it as God’s will just because you prayed that prayer?

Should Usain Bolt assume it’s God’s will if He prays, “God, I’ll take it as Your will that I should be on the athletics team if I get accepted”? Of course he’ll get accepted. Whether joining the team would be God’s will for him or not is an entirely different question.

A better approach is to study God’s revealed will through His Word (Ps 119:105). Seek advice from people of integrity (Prov 11:14). And ask God in prayer: “Please give me wisdom for this decision. If there is anything important that I’m missing, please open or close doors accordingly.” Then move forward in faith (James 1:5,6).

Often doors will open or close suggesting an answer to your prayers. But there’s always the problem of not knowing whether an obstacle is God allowing your faith to be tested or God closing a door. Or whether an opportunity is God allowing you to be tempted or God opening a door.

I believe often God simply does not intervene at all, beyond natural cause and effect, to allow us to mature and grow in our decision-making. Slowly we begin to realise the confusion created by treating God like a fortune-teller.

Instead He is a loving Father who delights to give us wisdom and freedom to creatively express ourselves in living out our loving response to His goodness. This does not lead to decision-making independent from God, but to closer intimacy with our Heavenly Father as we realise the profound awesomeness of free will.

The Awesomeness of Free Will

The freedom to choose one’s own destiny is a profound element of human existence. It makes love possible.

Love is only worth something because there is another alternative. Love that was automatic or compelled would simply be robotic.

Philosophers have come up with concepts such as determinism, compatabilism and incompatabilism as different ways of dealing with the deep questions arising from the experience of free will. Some of these are attempts to account for reality through a materialistic lens – a naturalistic worldview.

It seems fairly self-evident to me that a materialistic worldview can only account for determinism, not for free will. This poses a philosophical problem. An existential riddle. For the naturalist, materialist and atheist, that is.

Everything we do as humans, everything we are taught, is on the assumption that our decisions matter. That we really do have freedom to choose.

I would suggest that compatabilism has simply been made up, though logically untenable, to deal with the cognitive dissonance created by trying to marry materialistic atheism with freedom of choice.

In the Great Controversy between good and evil, it suits the forces of evil to promote the belief that freedom doesn’t exist. Either that God doesn’t exist (naturalistic determinism) or that even if He does exist, He controls every decision and outcome and that there’s still not freedom of choice (Calvinistic predestination).

But human experience powerfully argues that you really can choose. A trivial example is that you can freely choose whether to alter your breathing pattern right now or not. And that no scientific theory could be devised to accurately predict your choice of breathing pattern, even if all your knowledge, emotions, surroundings, circumstances, and all other relevant factors could be taken into account by such a theory.

If such a theory were to be true, it would remove all motivation to make the world a better place or to pursue personal growth or ambition. Such aspirations only make sense if there truly is freedom.

The fact that this 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.

The fact that this freedom exists also 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.

What will you choose?