You believe in the investigative judgment? Good, because it’s true. And that your name will come up in it? Good, because it will.
How will you fare, though, when it does? Ellen White writes that every “work passes in review before God, and is registered for faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Opposite each name in the books of Heaven is entered, with terrible exactness, every wrong word, every selfish act, every unfulfilled duty, and every secret sin, with every artful dissembling. Heaven-sent warnings or reproofs neglected, wasted moments, unimproved opportunities, the influence exerted for good or for evil, with its far-reaching results, all are chronicled by the recording angel.”1
All of that is biblical. “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:14). “Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). God will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts” (1 Cor. 4:5). “Behold, it is written before Me, . . . your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together, says the Lord” (Isa. 65:6, 7).
So, how well will we fare when, with “terrible exactness,” every “secret thing” comes under scrutiny before God? Many would be ashamed to have their deeds exposed before other sinners—but before a holy God? If all human “righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), what chance do people have when their iniquities are “written before” Him?
Satan, meanwhile, is there, pointing “to the record of their lives, to the defects of character, the unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer, to all the sins that he has tempted them to commit, and because of these he claims them as his subjects.”2
What, then, is going to get you through this judgment? Your deeds? Your faithfulness? Your character?
Is this not when and where the gospel, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, becomes key? Absolutely—which is why Ellen White writes that “Jesus does not excuse their sins, but shows their penitence and faith, and, claiming for them forgiveness, he lifts his wounded hands before the Father and the holy angels, saying, ‘I know them by name. I have graven them on the palms of my hands.’”3
Those whose sins are blotted out “have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and their characters are found to be in harmony with the law of God.”4
Shouldn’t anyone who professes Christ live in “harmony with the law of God”? Yet harmony with God’s law reveals only the reality of their salvation; it can no more procure that salvation than manicures, baths, and perfumes can make a pig kosher.
That’s why believers need Jesus, now and especially in the judgment, when, as their “Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:1), Jesus “pleads their cause and vanquishes their accuser by the mighty arguments of Calvary.”5
1 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 1888 edition (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1888), p. 481.
2 Ibid., p. 484.
4 Ibid., p. 483.
5 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1882), p. 470.
One of the most poignant scenes in a rather gruesome book (Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II, by Joseph Wheelan) was about a sailor dying from a kamikaze attack. Badly burned, he uttered to the navy corpsman trying to help him, “Doc, I’m an orphan. Who is going to remember me?” The corpsman said that he would remember him every day of his own life. Perhaps that kindly corpsman did, but what about when the corpsman died? Who will remember him then?
However dramatic the background, the dying orphan’s fear reflects something embedded deep in our souls about wanting to be remembered. Yes, there are immortalized historical figures, but they are what among the billions of forgotten dead? You can walk through cemeteries with some so long gone that even their stone inscriptions have been flattened by time, and visited only by birds and squirrels. And these were those purposely interred; what about those numberless ones heaped in piles and burned, or buried in mass graves, with only a carved monument to commemorate individual moms, dads, siblings, children, and infants whose names have long been forgotten? For how many is there no monument at all?
Some, like the British royalty, have photos, paintings, and titles that reach back generations, the same generations that for the rest of us melt down memories and names until they vaporize into wherever lost memories and names go. How far back before your own family tree vanishes into oblivion? Mine, beyond my grandparents, did so by 1945.
“I stare at this ceaseless, rushing crowd,” wrote Japanese author Haruki Murakami, “and imagine a time a hundred years from now. In a hundred years everybody here— me included—will have disappeared from the face of the earth and turned into ashes or dust.”*
And how long before even those ashes are forgotten?
It is a dilemma. But only a secularistic dilemma, which is why many secularists are so pessimistic about the meaning of life, calling it absurd, pointless, and purposeless. After all, depending upon the numbers physicists plug into their formulas, the universe, we’re told, is either going to burn out, rip apart, or collapse in on itself, leaving only ruins for eternity. And who is going to be remembered then?
In contrast, the biblical worldview gives us a God who knows and loves us all, a God who—noting a sparrow’s fall to the ground (Matt. 10:29)—will never forget anyone, even that dying orphan. We are promised that, because we believe in Jesus, instead of being burned up, collapsed, or ripped apart and forgotten in eternity, we are going to be swept up and carried, loving and being loved in a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4), kamikazes and dying orphans included.
*Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (New York, Vintage International, Knopf Doubleday Pub. Group, Kindle Edition), p. 52.
Think about the thief on the cross. Deemed worthy of death by crucifixion (reserved for the worst offenders), he wasn’t pinned up there for stealing bread to feed his hungry family. Even he admitted that he deserved this punishment, saying, “for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). And at first, he was mocking Jesus, too. “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing” (Matt. 27:44). Not a model citizen, by any means.
And yet, what? The religious leaders, those who should have been worshipping Jesus as the Messiah, were mocking Him instead. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save,” they mocked. “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (Matt. 27:42). His disciples, who should have known by now what was going to happen, having been told by Jesus beforehand (Matt. 26:2; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 24:7), were clueless, which explains why most fled. Even the women, who followed Jesus to the cross, had no idea what His coming death meant. “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matt. 27:55, 56). And, of course, the Roman soldiers knew nothing as well.
But then, there was the thief, the thief on the cross. Despite the pain of crucifixion, despite the jeering, despite the mocking by the religious leaders and by the Romans, despite the weight of his own guilt, this wretched soul’s words to Jesus—”Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42)— reveal that he knew who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing on the cross for him.
Besides Jesus, this man, this guilty man worthy of death, he—among all the world’s sinners—he alone knew what was happening at the cross when everyone else, even those who should have known, didn’t.
“The Holy Spirit illuminates his mind, and little by little the chain of evidence is joined together. In Jesus, bruised, mocked, and hanging upon the cross, he sees the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. Hope is mingled with anguish in his voice as the helpless, dying soul casts himself upon a dying Saviour. ‘Lord, remember me,’ he cries, ‘when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.’ ”*
And how did Jesus respond to this profession of faith? Did He throw up the man’s past: his thievery; his reviling; his defective character; his less-than-stellar life record? No. Despite everything unworthy about this man who had nothing to offer Christ but his own sin and guilt, Jesus—in response to the helpless plea, ”Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom”— promised him, right then and there, “You will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
And what in the end can any of us do before Jesus but present, indeed, the same helpless plea?
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 750.
In the late 1970s I had lived at Kibbutz Gadot, in Israel. A young German, a Gentile, lived there as well. His anomalous presence created an unspoken tension. I remember one kibbutznik woman asking, “What is he doing here?” Surely some form of atonement for his nation’s Nazi crimes or, perhaps, even his own family’s? I never asked.
Some workers had nicknamed him “Baader-Meinhof,” after a radical Communist group, the Red Army, who, through bombing , bank robbery, and kidnapping , terrorized Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. The two leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, had committed suicide in jail, and the movement fell apart. Some theorize that, guilty about the past, and Germany ’s by-then “economic miracle,” these children of the Nazi generation responded in different ways: some committed terrorism; others worked on kibbutzim in Israel.
The German on the kibbutz also had tattoos all over his arms and hands. Back then tattoos were not like today, as common as COVID-19. They were deemed radical, and for that reason, along with his being a German and of the same age as the terrorists, he got the “Baader-Meinhof” appellation.
I didn’t like Baader-Meinhof. It had nothing to do with his being German (if anything, I could respect him for what he was doing). It was just a personality clash. I didn’t like him, and, from what I could sense, he didn’t like me. For the most part, we had nothing to do with each other.
Flash ahead a year. I had left Israel, hitchhiked through Europe, and then returned. Wanting another kibbutz to live on, I first had to get to a main office, in Tel Aviv, and get assigned.
On a bus in the city, and lost, whom do I see but, yes, Baader-Meinhof. He knew where I had to go, and he stayed with me, past his stop, in order to make sure I got off at the right place. Not only did he get off with me—he all but walked me to the office itself. We shook hands, and I never saw him again.
What blazes in my memory is just how unabashedly glad he was to have seen, and then to have helped, me. He oozed gladness at being able to have assisted. Even now, more than 40 years later, I remember it very endearingly.
But there’s more. Only because of his help did I end up meeting someone right away—and under bizarre circumstances that most people find hard to believe—who played a crucial role in my coming to Christ. Had Baader-Meinhof not stopped to help, you might not be reading these words, because I might not have written them.
I gave up long ago trying to figure out how God does what He does, or at times why. But how astonishing that, in His providence, He would use someone, perhaps the child of a Nazi, to help get me just where I needed to be in order to have an experience that helped lead me to Jesus.
Everyone knows the story of Noah’s ark, though not everyone believes it, especially because science denies it.
How, though, could science, which limits itself to natural phenomena only, determine that something supernatural never happened when it won’t address the supernatural? It’s like saying that because quantum physics, which never looks for angels, finds no angels, angels don’t exist.
Nevertheless, one of the world’s most well-known Christian apologists, William Lane Craig, writes: “It is even more fantastic that the earth suffered a worldwide deluge that wiped out all of humanity not aboard the ark as well as all terrestrial animals. Modern geology and anthropology have rendered such a catastrophe all but impossible.”1
Science, the final arbiter of truth, denies a worldwide flood; therefore, proclaims this defender of the faith, it never happened.
Or, instead of flat-out denying Noah’s flood ever happened, many will argue for a local flood instead, which does raise such questions as Why build the ark? Why not just get out of the flood zone?
However, this position leads to a deeper dilemma for the Christian. Scripture reads: “And God said: . . . ‘I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh’ ” (Gen. 9:12-15).
According to God Himself, in His own words (verbatim, like the Ten Commandments), the rainbow is His covenant sign that “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” However, because science claims no universal flood could have happened, “all flesh” must simply mean “all flesh” killed in local floods.
Yet how many local floods have washed the dirt, and swept away “all flesh,” since Noah’s? So far in 2022, local floods in Ecuador, Columbia, Alabama, Madagascar, Brazil, Australia, and elsewhere have wreaked devastation and death. “Intense rainfall caused by two different tropical weather systems which have impacted Madagascar over the last week has driven flooding , landslides, destruction of infrastructure and loss of life.”2 Or this: “From late February to early March 2022, Australia’s Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) were hit by extreme flooding following days of rain, including ‘rain bombs.’ ”3
If Noah’s flood were only local, not worldwide, every flood since then makes God a liar, and every rainbow a lie—a dramatic testimony, not to God’s faithfulness but to His broken promises. Either the science, which denies the universal flood, is wrong; or God is a liar, and, with every exquisite arc of color and light, He pushes that lie in our faces.
1 William Lane Craig, In Quest of the Historical Adam, Kindle edition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2021), p. 151.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide and a longtime columnist for Adventist Review.
Stuart Richie’s Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search For Truth1 is a fascinating read for anyone still brainwashed by scientism, the idea that the science is the purest, if not the only, way to truth.
In the preface Richie wrote: “Other books feature scientists taking the fight to a rogue’s gallery of pseudoscientists: creationists, homeopaths, flat-Earthers, astrologers, and their ilk, who misunderstand and abuse science—usually unwittingly, sometimes maliciously, and always irresponsibly. This book is different. It reveals a deep corruption within science itself: a corruption that affects the very culture in which research is practiced and published. Science, the discipline in which we should find the harshest skepticism, the most pin-sharp rationality, and the hardest-headed empiricism, has become home to a dizzying array of incompetence, delusion, lies, and self-deception. In the process, the central purpose of science—to find our way ever closer to the truth—is being undermined.”2
Deep corruption, incompetence, delusion, lies, and self-deception? A dizzying array, thereof?
All this in science—supposedly the unalloyed fount of rationality, objectivity, and certainty, especially because it employs the much-ballyhooed “scientific method”? Stuart Richie said it, not me. And obviously he’s not a biblical “fundy” like me, and yet what he wrote about science was astonishingly eye-opening, especially for a biblical “fundy” like me. I long ago learned to reject claims— such as evolution, such as no universal flood, such as no original Adam and Eve—that have been overwhelmingly “proved” by science.
His first chapter is titled “The Replication Crisis.” Replication is foundational to science, the idea that a scientific study can be replicated, repeated by others in order to see if they get the same results. What a powerful way to confirm scientific claims, especially after they have been published in reputable journals, which seems to be a big goal of many scientists: get your findings published, and in the best journals, too.
Only problem? As the title “The Replication Crisis” suggests, there has been, well, a replication crisis: that is, in many scientific studies, some famous, those who tried to replicate them couldn’t because some of those original (and famous) studies were, it turns out, either based on much weaker evidence than first proclaimed; or flat out false; or even fraudulent—even though in some cases they were published in reputable journals. Richie goes through example after example—from psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, medicine (including cancer studies), biomedicine—and shows where replication failed, at times at an astonishing rate, too.
Writes Ritchie: “Nearly 90 percent of chemists said that they’d had the experience of failing to replicate another researcher’s result; nearly 80 percent of biologists said the same, as did almost 70 percent of physicists, engineers, and medical scientists.”3
Many people, for instance, have read of the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo, who became one of the world’s most respected psychologists because of the experiment. Based on this experiment, Zimbardo testified as an expert witness at the trial of U.S. military guards accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The only trouble was that later studies showed just how poorly conceived the experiment was, and that despite the enormous attention the experiment had received, the results, as Ritchie writes, were “scientifically meaningless.”4
Ritchie continues: “There are countless other examples: almost every case I’ll describe in this book involves a scientific ‘finding’ that, upon closer scrutiny, turned out to be either less solid than it seemed, or to be completely untrue. But more worryingly still, these examples are drawn just from the studies that have received that all-important scrutiny. These are just the ones we know about. How many other results, we must ask ourselves, would prove unreplicable if anyone happened to make the attempt?”5
That’s just replication. His next chapter was titled “Fraud,” the next “Bias,” the next “Negligence,” and the next “Hype,” each one showing, well, that fraud, bias, negligence, and hype can lead to false claims, all coming with the power and prestige that the name “science” lends to anything it gets attached to.
Ritchie wrote, for example, about “candidate genes,” genes believed linked to very definitive character traits, such as depression, schizophrenia, and cognitive test scores. These “candidate genes” were apparently a big deal, though within a few years the whole idea became almost entirely discredited.
Listen to what Ritchie writes concerning these highly touted scientific studies, some published in prestigious journals, about candidate genes: “Reading through the candidate gene literature is, in hindsight, a surreal experience: they were building a massive edifice of detailed studies on foundations that we now know to be completely false. As Scott Alexander of the blog Slate Star Codex put it: ‘This isn’t just an explorer coming back from the Orient and claiming there are unicorns there. It’s the explorer describing the life cycle of unicorns, what unicorns eat, all the different subspecies of unicorn, which cuts of unicorn meat are tastiest, and a blow-by-blow account of a wrestling match between unicorns and Bigfoot.’ ”6
A “massive edifice of detailed studies on foundations we now know to be completely false?” God alone knows how many other massive edifices of scientific studies have been, and are now, being conducted on foundations that we don’t yet know are false, and maybe never will (at least before the millennium). But what about the ones that we know are? How many detailed studies are being conducted based on the false premise that life evolved billions of years ago and that life was never preplanned, never consciously designed, and never orientated toward specific goals? The fact that your eyes see, ears hear, mouths taste, noses smell, and brains think is, to these studies, just the luck of the draw, that which aided in your survival, and nothing else. After all, science stands behind these findings, and woe to the foolish ones who dare hint that these things, from the structure of mitochondria to the processes that create consciousness, have been designed.
And if studies about what exists now—about what can be seen, felt, touched, X-rayed, dissected, and analyzed down to their atomic composition— can be so flimsy, what about the “massive edifice of detailed studies” on events that have, supposedly, occurred billions of years out of our reach? How many millions of Christians, who claim the Bible as the foundation of their beliefs, will compromise those beliefs—accepting such unproven theories as theistic evolution, or progressive creation—in obeisance to whatever proclamations are uttered in the name of science?
But compromise among Christians is nothing new. From the acceptance of Sunday instead of the biblical seventh day, to the worship of saints, Christianity has never successfully protected itself against culture. So why should it be any different today?
And though, of course, there are many diligent, hardworking, and honest scientists out there, as Ritchie’s book shows, there are also many who aren’t. And we don’t always know the difference. It’s yet another reason we shouldn’t fall under the spell of scientism, especially when some of its claims contradict any reasonable reading of the Word of God.
1 Stuart Ritchie, Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search For Truth (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2020).
2 Ibid., pp. 6, 7, Kindle edition.
3 Ibid., p. 42.
4 Ibid., p. 30.
5 Ibid., p. 34.
6 Ibid., p. 141.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide and a longtime columnist for the Adventist Review.
Our planet,” wrote the late Carl Sagan, “is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”*
Sagan, an atheist, obviously didn’t pick up on all the “hints” that help has, indeed, come from somewhere else to save us.
First, the creation points to something beyond itself. Logic alone reveals that no things in the created existence—from the dirt under our feet to the 2 trillion (and counting) galaxies in the cosmos—made themselves, but had to come from some- thing beyond and transcendent to them (despite all the contemporary creation myths about the universe arising from nothing). And though the vastness, the beauty, and the complexity of the cre- ation do not, in and of themselves, point to anything specific that will save us, this vastness, beauty, and complexity together hint at something so much greater and more hopeful beyond our- selves. So much, in fact, Paul warns his readers that enough about the Lord has been revealed in the created world to cause the lost, in the end, to be “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 the Word of God documents so much of what the God who created this vastness, beauty, and complexity has done to save humanity. The Bible is all about help “from elsewhere” that will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). The virgin conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary— if not help from elsewhere, what is?
More than half the world’s population has heard about Jesus dying on the cross. Here was God Himself, the Creator, the Sustainer, facing in Himself the Father’s righteous wrath against evil so that we don’t have to. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). The cross is not just a “hint” about help from elsewhere; it was the cosmic event, which reveals to all creation what God has done to save us.
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (Rev. 1:7). The second coming of Jesus, which was guaranteed to us by the first coming, is the climactic manifestation of that help from elsewhere.
All these “hints” and more (such as fulfilled Bible prophecy), Sagan, unfortunately, missed. He was, however, right about one thing: without help “from else- where,” we have nothing to save us from ourselves or from anything else. And without that help, we are lost amid our obscurity in the vast and cold silence.
*Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), pp. 12, 13.
Clifford Goldstein is a longtime Adventist Review columnist and the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guides at the world headquarters of the Seventh-dayAdventist Church. He is also the author of numerous book and articles.
Though I don’t like to compare myself with the apostle Paul (other than that we were Jews who, having once hated Jesus, came to love Him instead), one powerful similarity exists between us. And it can be found in Augustine of Hippo, who wrote: “Before we can under- stand, we have to believe.”
Think about Saul of Tarsus. What did his intellectualism, his study, his presup- positions, culture, emotions, and training lead Saul to do? “Then Saul, still breath- ing threats and murder against the dis- ciples of the Lord, went to the high priest” (Acts 9:1).
Yes, it led him to kill Christians.
Then what happened? Paul is on the road to Damascus, and as he is thinking about logic, reason, nature, the Greek philosophers, and even Scripture, it sud- denly hits him after deep thought and study: Wait a minute: Jesus is the Messiah, after all.
Of course not. Instead, Jesus supernat- urally revealed Himself to Paul (verses 3-10), who, now believing in Jesus— became the world’s greatest expositor of Christian doctrine.
In short, Paul first believed, and then understood.
Almost 2,000 years later something similar happened to me. Though irreli- gious as a tuna, I had occasional doubts and was growing more open to spiritual realities. Then one night in 1979, in Gainesville, Florida, the Lord Jesus— maybe not as dramatically as Paul, but just as abruptly, and unmistakably— revealed Himself to me, and I became a believer, even though I knew nothing about Christian theology. (Had you told me that night I was a sinner, for example, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.)
This is the point. I did not study my way to faith; I began with it and could not have proceeded without it. I’m not saying that a person cannot study them- selves into a logical and rational decision for Christ, but only that it was faith that left me open to the workings of the Holy Spirit, who alone gave (and still gives) me an understanding of truth in a way that makes it more than just facts. Though I can’t prove a counter-factual, the Bible studies I had right after my new birth experience, studies that so impressed me and strengthened my faith in those first days, would have meant nothing had I not had faith to begin with.
Decades ago I had studied biblical Aramaic with one of the world’s greatest Old Testament scholars (now deceased). His knowledge of the texts and of the language was amazing, phenomenal even. And though not sure if he believed in God, I was sure that he didn’t believe the Bible was inspired, because he would, at times, mock it as such. Can you have so much knowledge of the Bible, of its history and of its languages—and yet still be steeped in darkness?
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
Or, as Augustine said: “Before we can understand, we have to believe.” And believe me, I understand what he meant.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. His latest book is Risen: Finding Hope in the Empty Tomb.
In 1 Corinthians 2, the apostle Paul, dealing with the troubled church at Corinth, wrote that he had come to them, not with fancy speech nor with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the power of the Spirit “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:5).
Look out your window. Look at the trees, the grass, the flowers, the birds, the sky, the stars. None of these came about by human wisdom, but only by the power of God. Human wisdom can’t understand fully what these things are, much less create them. Human wisdom cannot create a blade of grass, not even a cell of a blade of grass, nor even a cell wall of a cell of a blade of grass. A cell wall of a single cell of a blade of grass presents mysteries that all the accumulated human wisdom through the ages cannot touch; mysteries so deep that human wisdom can’t even formulate the right questions to ask about them. Yet the power of God has created untold billions of them right out of the dirt.
We can barely grasp the creation, how much less the Creator?
We sit here for a spasm of time on a speck of cosmic dust, itself suffused with things that we barely understand, and much of what we do understand is surely wrong. Perched in our little corner of the creation, like mice in a hole, we peer into the infinite cosmos and make bold declarations about where it came from and how it arose that are no closer to the truth than was the Babylonian myth in which Marduk, battling Tiamat, split her body, half to make the heavens and half the earth. To study reality from within that same reality is like characters in a book making pronouncements about the book itself. Whether creating idols of stone and worshipping them or arguing that our universe arose out of nothing by pure chance alone, human wisdom doesn’t always necessarily progress as much as it morphs, exchanging one form of foolishness for another.
In contrast, there’s the power of God. Where does it begin? Where does it end? We can barely grasp the creation—how much less the Creator? God not only created all that exists, but sustains it all as well. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3; see also Job 38:33-37; Col. 1:7; 1 Cor. 8:6). No human idea touches it; inspired ideas alone approach it, and then only in questions: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (Isa 40:12).
Human wisdom in contrast to the power of God? Humanity, in its wisdom, crucified God, who, despite His power, let them.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His book Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity is available from Pacific Press.
I’d long been a fan of the late Christopher Hitchens. I loved his booming articulate Brit timbre. If a breeze flowing through finely coiffed steel and glass chimes could talk, it would sound like Christopher Hitchens. Over decades I consumed his oeuvre, even what I disagreed with (his Trotskyite phase seemed rather puerile, even for the time); his prose was often precise, pungent, logical, hilarious, and at times irreverent.
After September 11, however, apparently unable to differentiate between Islamic fanatics who flew planes into buildings and, say, Quakers who run homeless shelters, Hitchens—along with fellow “new atheists”—began an intellectual jihad against all theism, regardless of who the theos was (because, according to them, it never existed, anyway). His most famous tirade, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), was so bad I couldn’t finish it. Not because I was threatened by the arguments, which were hardly threatening (things such as Catholic priests molested children; ergo, God does not exist), but because the book was, well, so poorly done.
Art is for the living, not the dying.
In another work, responding to the inevitable question about how one finds meaning in life apart from God, Hitchens wrote: “There are the beauties of science and the extraordinary marvels of nature. There is the consolation and irony of philosophy. There are the infinite splendors of literature and poetry. . . . There is the grand resource of art and music and architecture, again not excluding those elements that aspire to the sublime. In all of these pursuits, any one of them enough to absorb a lifetime, there may be found a sense of awe and magnificence that does not depend at all on any invocation of the supernatural.”
Of course, who’s going to argue about the “extraordinary marvels of nature”? (And though loving philosophy and appreciating its irony, I’ve not found much by way of consolation in any of it.) But please, Hitchens was so right about music, art, literature, poetry—100 lifetimes could only begin to extract all the “awe and magnificence” found in them.
Then in 2010, Christopher Hitchens was, unfortunately, diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He wrote about the experience, and his words were compiled posthumously (he died in 2011) in a work called, appropriately enough, Mortality, in which he talked about the pain, about how crummy the treatments made him feel, and about the needles in his arms. There was nothing, however, about drawing hope and comfort from the “awe and magnificence” of art, literature, poetry, or music. Nothing.
Of course not. Art is for the living, not the dying. The Eroica Symphony, The Faerie Queene, or The Scream might be great when you’re alive, but when dying, who needs Beethoven, Edmund Spenser, or Edvard Munch? You need Jesus and the promise of eternal life. Whether Hitchens ever understood that (there is some evidence that in private he was a bit softer on faith than he let on in public), I don’t know. The One who died for Him does, and He alone will make the call.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.