Martin Luther, the iconic German priest who upended the religious establishment of his time, placed truth at the center of his seismic protest. Rooted in biblical moorings, Luther stood firmly against church authorities who dared to mix truth with error—a toxic brew that leads, inevitably, to spiritual delusion.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have traditionally identified with the righteous indignation of Luther and other Protestant Reformers, considering ourselves the remnant among truth preservationists.
Truth at all costs, we preach loudly from our pulpits, even if “the heavens fall’ and it means sacrificing life, limb, or treasure.
As someone who grew up in the church and attended Adventist schools from elementary to the collegiate level, I held tightly to those ideals as I transitioned to mainstream media, working as a newspaper reporter in various metropolitan areas. Searching for “the best obtainable version of the truth,” as the legendary Watergate investigative reporter Carl Bernstein defines it, I went to great lengths to confirm information before disseminating it to the public.
In journalism, an old adage admonishes us, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
And in the newsrooms where I worked, we lived by that mantra. Verify. Verify. Verify.
Granted, we did not always get it right, but truth was our main objective. When we fell short, we made every effort—as most journalists do—to correct the error as quickly as possible.
Our editors would tolerate no less.
The Post-Truth Era
But now we live in a post-truth era, in which misinformation, fake news, alternative facts, and conspiracy theories spread on social media like a California wildfire. In today’s polarized political arena, truth has become an inconvenient and unwelcome intruder in the lives of many people—including church members who prefer to dwell in echo chambers that reinforce their biases.
Facts no longer matter if they get in the way of personal comforts and political agendas, even among Christians. The press is “the enemy of the people,” while QAnon conspiracy theorists are trusted sources.
The pervasive distrust of government officials, church leaders, media, scientists, academics, judges—even Adventist health-care professionals—has left many people disillusioned and cynical. We have seen this play out in:
While it might be tempting to associate such falsehoods with a particular party, there is plenty of blame to go around. Many Democrats, for example, supported President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when he claimed he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” They seemed unfazed by Clinton’s redefinition of “sexual relations” as long as he advanced their political agenda.
Republicans, on the other hand, could not contain their vitriol. They demonized the Clintons for not only the Monica Lewinsky scandal but everything from Travelgate to Whitewater.
And yet, in the era of President Donald Trump, where lying seemed to become a national pastime, most Republicans stood firmly behind the president, defending his fabricating ways. In 2021, fact checkers at the Washington Post concluded that the former president made a total of 30,573 false or misleading claims while in office.
On January 8, 2022, Wesley Knight, pastor of Revision Church, an Adventist congregation in Atlanta, Georgia, preached a sermon titled “Let’s Try This Again.” In the introduction he compared the difference in media coverage of the January 6, 2021, one-year anniversary by various cable TV news outlets.
“It was the same January 6. It was the same attack on the Capitol. Yet the reports from CNN and MSNBC and Fox News were terribly and horribly different,” Knight said. “One side says the attack was an attack on democracy. The other side says it was not an attack but an attempt to protect democracy.
“And here’s why I raised this today,” he continued. “If we cannot agree on the reality of the state of this democracy, then we can never agree on the solutions to the problems that we face. Our destiny—hear me today—is wrapped up in our ability to agree on reality.”
Orlan Johnson, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) for the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, described in a recent interview the impact politics and misinformation are having on the Adventist community.
“I think many of us have always seen a certain amount of what I would call ‘politics and community connections’ and things of that nature,” Johnson said. “But it seems as though the church, which has obviously always been a microcosm of society, has gotten even more connected, and we’re at a point now where sometimes it’s unclear whether our faith is shaping our politics or whether our politics is shaping our faith.”
Johnson, a longtime Washington, D.C., lawyer who served as chair of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation under President Obama, said the problem is on both sides of the political divide.
“I would not say that this is something exclusive to one party,” he said. “I think for most political parties, the main thing they are generally working toward is getting reelected.… When that’s the primary focus, then sometimes I think you can have a lot of messaging that goes askew, and I think you can have a lot of people who are confused; and folk take advantage of that.”
Though politics drives much of the spread of misinformation, the dramatic shift in the media landscape over the past 15 years is also a significant factor. As humans, we now generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, according to experts at IREX, an organization that promotes media literacy around the globe. That’s equivalent to 250,000 times the content of the Library of Congress every day.
Add to the mix the democratization of information, made possible by Facebook and other social media platforms, and you have a recipe for disaster. The floodgate is now open for anyone with an electronic device to disseminate information across the globe instantly.
While new technology offers countless opportunities to benefit society—virtual church services, for example—most of us, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit and an adequate level of media literacy, are no match for the onslaught of information we encounter daily. The downsizing of reputable news outlets such as newspapers over the past decade has only made matters worse.
One issue that has divided Adventists in recent months is whether the North American Division should officially issue religious exemption letters for church members who do not want to get vaccinated. According to Johnson, a significant amount of misinformation has been circulating within the church community regarding laws that cover religious exemptions from government mandates. He said PARL has been trying to provide church members with accurate information about the law, which is based on personal rather than denominational beliefs. PARL leaders throughout the NAD have helped members write personal religious exemption letters, Johnson said, and that has upset some members who want the letters to be official church statements written on church letterhead.
“The world church put out a statement in 2015 regarding vaccines, basically saying that we, as a church, are not against reasonable vaccinations, and this is something that, if people choose to do so or choose not to do so, that is up to them,” Johnson said. “However, it’s not something that violates our beliefs.”
He further explained, “The North American Division has also reiterated that we believe in reasonable vaccinations, as well.… We also believe in health care. We believe in science. And so we have no reason to disbelieve what we have been hearing.
“But if you personally have an issue with it, I understand.… We will assist you in trying to protect your rights. That’s really how we’ve been handling it.”
Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director for infection prevention at the AdventHealth health system, is a 1995 graduate of Loma Linda School of Medicine. Prior to joining the Orlando-based health network 17 years ago, Hsu trained for three years at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, learning to detect infectious diseases and protect public health.
Because of misinformation about COVID-19 now circulating in churches and the larger community, Hsu said, many patients reject the medical advice that he and other medical professionals provide. As a result, there has been an uptick in heightened security incidents at various hospitals within the network, according to Hsu, mostly a result of patients and visitors refusing to follow COVID-19 safety protocols.
“We’ve talked to people—patients, visitors, as well as employees—who have expressed their beliefs that they don’t believe that, for example, masks work, or [they believe] vaccinations are not effective or could be harming people,” Hsu said. “I, personally, have had conversations with patients who espouse either a conspiracy theory or misinformation that I have had to try to correct.
“I think this is a huge issue, and I think one of the things that we have had to relearn over this pandemic is an approach to communication that may be different than what we’re used to,” he added. “We recognize that the relationship between the doctor and the patient is built on trust, and it’s built on mutual respect.… It is built on the patients trusting that their doctor understands the science and wants to apply that for the best outcome of the patient. We have seen now where that trust and that relationship has been threatened.”
“A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and a number of other famous people. In today’s society, however, it seems the truth doesn’t even have boots and is sitting somewhere in the corner.
It is our job, as Adventist Christians, to be the truth seekers and truth tellers of our generation—even when it is politically, socially, or personally inconvenient. The Bible tells us in John 16:13 that the Holy Spirit will guide us “into all truth.” Moreover, it admonishes us in Ephesians 6:14 to stand firm, with the belt of truth buckled around our waists.
Truth, after all, is not a political sport, but a matter of life and death.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, stay vigilant!
Alva James-Johnson is a professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.
The couple behind me seemed to read my thoughts as we entered the store. “Can you believe it? January 2 and Valentine’s cards are on display already!” Their mildly indignant conversation trailed off as they went one way and I headed towards the very large, somewhat gaudy, red, pink, and white display of hearts and cards in every imaginable size. I know from experience: finding the “right” Valentine’s Day card takes time. Halfway there I stopped and turned down another aisle. Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year when all the world loves a lover or wants to be in love, yet the reality is often very different.
The $150 Valentine’s Day Card
As I turned from the Valentine’s display, images and memories came tumbling into my mind. I remembered sending my then boyfriend, later husband, a Valentine’s Day card. He lived in rural Sweden, I in cosmopolitan London. Puzzled, he phoned to ask what it was? Yes, he had heard of Valentine’s Day, but wasn’t that just an American greeting card holiday? My gesture was not going to be reciprocated. A couple of years later when I discovered Alla Hjartans Dag (literally, All Hearts Day) was celebrated in Sweden on February 14, I was somewhat less understanding!
Like all wise husbands, he got the message—I appreciated getting a Valentine’s Day card. Sometimes it even came early. Late one February 13 he arrived home and presented me with a huge bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day. The next morning, he gave me a card. Inside was a speeding fine, for the equivalent of US$150. He then reminded me of our conversation the previous night. I had arrived home from a meeting about half an hour before him. He explained, he would have been home earlier and avoided the speed trap if he had not stopped at three different stores to find flowers and a card. This was not the time to point out he shouldn’t have been speeding. That day he future-proofed all Valentine’s Days with what became known as the $150 card.
A billion-dollar Industry
The origins of Valentine’s Day are unclear. Some connect it to stories of early Christian saints and martyrs, ancient Roman festivals, and country rituals. In the 1700s, people in England started sending cards and poems. As many are not natural poets, there was always a market for those who could write romantic poetry and prose.
The tradition was exported to America, and with the birth of the greeting card industry, this was an obvious opening to sell cards with pre-packaged poems and verses: the commercialization of Valentine’s Day had begun. Today, it’s a billion-dollar business. In 2022 it is anticipated that Americans will spend an estimated $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day.
Googling “roses” and “Valentine’s Day” throws up all kinds of trivia. Estimates of the global number of roses given on February 14 range from 50 million upwards. This is combined with advice on how many roses (and the color) you should give to your spouse, the one you secretly admire, your work colleague—the list is endless.
With that kind of investment, it’s tempting to think that everyone sees the world through rose-tinted spectacles for at least one day a year. Yet research shows that although it is the second most popular holiday in terms of dollars spent, only half of all Americans send Valentines, a figure which varies significantly around the world.
I carried out a very unscientific and subjective survey of family, friends, and colleagues in Australia, England, Scandinavia, the United States, and beyond to see what Valentine’s Day meant for them. As I anticipated, about half dismissed it as a non-event. The others fulfilled and shattered some of my preconceived ideas. Here are a few snapshots.
Snapshot 1: A bit of harmless fun; a greeting card holiday; nothing to take too seriously.
Snapshot 2: As I child I dreaded Valentine’s Day. In school we were supposed to bring a Valentines’ card for all the children in the class, so no one would feel left out. It never worked like that. I only seemed to get one or two, and the popular girls seemed to get ten to my one.
Snapshot 3: The year after my divorce I stood in front of the Valentine’s display and cried. I cried not because I was divorced, but I had so much love to give, and no one to give it to.
Snapshot 4: I love it. It’s a day when I can tell those I love how much they mean to me.
Snapshot 5: When my spouse was alive, I enjoyed it, but now they are gone: it belongs to the past. It’s irrelevant as far as I am concerned.
Snapshot 6: I’m single, and it is the one day of the year when I feel incredibly lonely and inadequate.
Snapshot 7: I feel Valentine’s Day is setting us up for failure. It presents us with a picture of what perfect love should look like, and life isn’t like that.
There may be moments when the Hollywood version of the perfect romance may intersect with reality, but more often than not, reality does not reflect the rose-tinted fantasy of the grand gestures portrayed in romantic films, Valentine adverts, and glossy magazines. The commercial packaging of “love” creates expectations, which when met, may create a sparkling moment. Real love, however, is so much more than hearts, roses, and candy on one day of the year.
God’s love story is a never-ending other-centered love story. God is love, and that love was written on every flower, tree, and blade of grass. The fullest expression of God’s love is found in our relationship with Him and with each other. It is foundational to who we are. These relationships were designed to be, using Paul’s language, “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17), God’s love. Without His love, our relationships are fractured and imperfect.
How Do You Say, “I Love You?”
We all want to be loved, appreciated, and affirmed, but that will look very different depending on who we are, our cultural background, and how we experience and process things. Deep relationships are the result of spending time together and getting to know each other. Like a plant, relationships need nurture and care. Good communication is a key component, and it has been suggested that there are five primary ways we express and receive love.
For those whose love language is giving and receiving gifts, then roses, candy or some other gift is the way to say, “I love you.” Even then a gift does not have to be expensive. Something handmade or homegrown may be far more meaningful than a store-bought gift.
With a little thought, planning, and creativity, it is possible to communicate love in a person’s love language, whether it is words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, or physical touch. What is worth reflecting on is that God provides His love to each of us in the same ways.
When the whole world seems to be focusing on love, making a special effort on Valentine’s Day can have extra significance. If that is not reinforced throughout the year, however, the gesture, words, or gift are meaningless.
Life changes our perspectives. When we feel loved, accepted, and cherished, Valentine’s Day is just a day. For someone in a difficult relationship, alone or suffering significant loss, Valentine’s Day can be a lonely nightmare, reinforce negative feelings of inadequacy or failure, a reminder of their loss and challenging. However, Valentine’s Day also offers an opportunity for a new narrative.
Five years ago, my husband was killed in an accident. As the first Valentine’s Day approached, I felt my loss more acutely. We didn’t take the day very seriously, yet it provided an occasion to do something special together. Now that Lars was not there, I recognized that I could spend the day feeling sorry for myself and focus on my loss. Alternately, I could focus on the many happy memories, and find different ways to express my gratitude for the love we shared. I could give flowers to someone who might not otherwise get them, write words of appreciation, or spend time with someone who might be alone.
Pressing pause and looking away from our situation offers the opportunity to sprinkle love and compassion on someone else’s day who is in difficult and demanding circumstances. Valentine’s Day is also a day to reflect on God’s love for us. He writes His love in the beautiful sunrises, serenades us with the complex and beautiful song of birds, and a myriad of different ways. His love surrounds us.
The Perfect Love Story
Before the creation of this world, God knew that Adam and Eve would choose to believe a lie, resulting in the introduction of sin. This distorted humanity’s understanding of love, and introduced death and separation from Him, as well as from those we love. God provided the antidote by sending His son, Jesus, to die and give us the possibility of, once again, fully experiencing His perfect love and restoring our human relationships.
Jesus knew what it was like to be alone, not to have the comfort of a loving spouse, the warm embrace of a family, and to lose a parent. For that reason, He promises to be the spouse to the widowed (Isa. 54:5) and parent to the orphan (Ps. 68:5). There is no loss or pain, no level of aloneness that is beyond God’s ability to heal. His compassion and grace are sufficient, no matter what the situation.
Whether it is Valentine’s Day, an unwanted anniversary, a fractured relationship at home or work, or any situation where we feel alone, unloved, or unlovable, we can turn to our wonderful, beautiful Savior. His arms are always open wide. The nail scars in His hands express the completeness of His love. He will carry us, wrap His arms of love around us, fulfill our needs now, and one day restore us to the perfect reflection of His love.
Audrey Andersson serves as executive secretary of the Trans-European Division with headquarters in St. Albans, United Kingdom.
 30 Valentine's Day Fun Facts and Trivia | Interesting Facts About Valentine's day 2021 (theholidayspot.com), accessed February 4, 2022
 Valentine's Day Roses - How Much is Too Much? (serenataflowers.com), accessed February 4, 2022
 See Gary Chapman, Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, reprint ed. (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2015).
We hear a lot of phrases with the word “justice” in them. Climate justice, social justice, occupational justice—the list goes on much further. As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I believe God is the Creator of justice, but in the back of my mind I’ve wondered: What is “biblical justice”?
Unfortunately, there is no single chapter in the Bible in which God spells out biblical justice. Most biblical uses of the word “justice” are built around the phrase “to do justice and judgment,” but there is no corresponding description of what that means.
Recently I was listening to a podcast that an Adventist pastor recommended to me because it was about ancient patterns of history—and I teach history at Pacific Union College. As I was listening, I thought to myself, This is it—this is biblical justice.
Zeroing in on biblical justice begins with Solomon in 1 Kings 3, when God responds to Solomon’s request for wisdom. During this exchange, God offered an important qualification on what He meant by wisdom. God stated, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, . . . but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked” (1 Kings 3:11).
Administration of justice is a suitable definition for the purpose of government. Because King Solomon famously possessed great wealth, it’s tempting to conclude that Solomon must have excelled at the administration of justice and that the wealth was the confirmation of God’s blessing. Indeed, just after the Lord appeared to Solomon, the next story in the biblical sequence is about Solomon’s wise judgment between two prostitutes and a disputed baby—a decision that clearly demonstrated excelling at the administration of justice. Yet a comparative reading of the story of Solomon in 1 Kings with the recommendations from God regarding future government found in Deuteronomy places Solomon in a very unflattering light. It also provides us with important descriptions of biblical justice in the process.
God’s Master Class on Justice
The narrative in Deuteronomy 10, retelling the Exodus story, encompasses a series of directives that God gives the Israelites just after providing them with a replacement set of the Ten Commandments. As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites were more Egyptian in culture, religion, and government philosophy than anything else. At this pivotal moment in the biblical narrative God needs to instruct them in His ways. In Deuteronomy 10:17 God describes His approach to government by stating, “[God] shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” Showing no partiality is the ancient version of a blind Lady Justice. Not accepting bribes highlights that government is not about self-enrichment, but about doing what is right.
Verse 18 further elaborates on God’s judicial priorities: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Driving the point home, God concluded, “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (verse 19). Thus far we have God saying that biblical justice is fair; it doesn’t show partiality; it’s honest; it accepts no bribes; and God prioritizes taking care of the most vulnerable in society as part of discernment in administering justice.
What does this have to do with Solomon? For that we need to look specifically at Deuteronomy 17. After describing His own governing philosophy, God addresses future Israelite government, prophesying that someday the people will say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us” (verse 14). Anticipating that coming day, God offers a collection of very specific warnings. “The king,” declares God, “must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’” God further states, “He [a future king] must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” The final warning about a future king reads: “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold” (verses 16, 17).
The Way of Egypt
Contrast these stipulations with the description of Solomon in 1 Kings. Solomon violates God’s directions for biblical justice at every turn. Compared to where God warned Israel “not to go back that way [Egypt] again,” we see that “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter” (1 Kings 3:1). Instead of not acquiring “great numbers of horses” as weapons of war, we see that “Solomon accumulated . . . fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses” (1 Kings 10:26) and that they were “imported from Egypt” (verse 29). Contrary to the stipulation not to “make the people return to Egypt to get more of them,” Solomon dispatched “the royal merchants” (verse 28) to buy them for him.
It gets even worse. The royal merchants “also exported them [chariots and horses] to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans” (verse 29). Solomon is not only consuming the Egyptian way, but also exporting the Egyptian way, literally to the point of becoming an arms dealer. Similarly, in 1 Kings 11:1-3 we read that Solomon “loved many foreign women besides Pharoah’s daughter. . . . He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines.” The word “excess” hardly does this situation justice. If a man has 700 wives, why would he need 300 sex slaves? Solomon helps illustrate biblical justice by demonstrating point by point everything God instructed a government and a king not to do.
The final prohibition from Deuteronomy for a future Israelite king, that of not amassing great wealth, deserves special consideration. On the one hand, God promised to give Solomon great wealth. Throughout centuries Christians have admired Solomon and celebrated his wealth as confirmation of God’s blessing, even to the point of applying the same interpretive tool to their own lives. The important point is not whether the wealth came from God, but what Solomon did with it. There’s no dispute that Solomon had great riches. Solomon had so much gold that he had the excess metal fashioned into 200 large shields and 300 smaller shields just to hang as decorations in his own personal palace, a palace he spent nearly twice as long building as he spent on God’s temple.
In order to protect this colossal wealth, Solomon built a formidable and expensive military. According to 1 Kings 10:29 he “imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.” One thousand four hundred chariots at 600 shekels per chariot is 840,000 shekels of silver. The 12,000 horses at 150 shekels per horse is a staggering 1.8 million silver shekels.
Next Solomon built “chariot cities” (verse 26) just to house the weapons he purchased for 2.6 million silver shekels. The sums described in the Bible clearly illustrate that Solomon amassed “large amounts of silver and gold” in violation of God’s specific instructions.
The final elements of Solomon’s violation of biblical justice have to do with forced labor and store cities. First Kings 9:15-19 describes how “all his store cities and the towns for his chariots and for his horses” were built with “the forced labor King Solomon conscripted.” Solomon required the Israelites to work for him for free for one month out of three in a yearly rotation, even though he clearly had the means to pay for the labor he wanted. Instead, he hoarded his wealth and required his people to donate a third of their lives to his service, as well as taxing them heavily. The store cities they built for Solomon were not granaries. These were treasure cities in which to store excess stuff.
The land of Israel offered abundance. It was a time of plenty. Yet many people suffered slavery, while others suffered forced labor, so that a few could stockpile and protect their colossal wealth. The term “store cities” is not unique to 1 Kings. Exodus 1:11 reads, “So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.” The clearest antithesis to biblical justice would have to be the enslavement of the people of Israel by the Egyptian government and people. It was systematic and structural injustice. To further recognize that that enslavement and forced labor was for the purpose of stockpiling excessive wealth and stuff stands in stark contrast to the judicial and administrative priorities that the God of heaven articulated in the Old Testament. If we connect this to Solomon—and see him as a new pharaoh--we see plainly the outcome when believers ignore biblical justice.
For these reasons, as soon as Solomon died, the tribes of Israel sent representatives to his son and heir Rehoboam and said, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4). This set up the fulfillment of what the prophet Ahijah had predicted in 1 Kings 11:31: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand. . . . [He has] not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.”
Despite his faults, David clearly had a heart for biblical justice that Solomon lacked. When Rehoboam rejected ruling with more biblical justice than his father had, the people rebelled, and the kingdom permanently splintered. Solomon’s legacy as Israel’s greatest king barely outlasted his life. Solomon’s failures to uphold biblical justice resulted in centuries of civil war and the destruction of most of the tribes of Israel.
Viewed from the perspective of biblical justice, Solomon’s wisdom literature reads differently. Solomon appears to describe himself in Ecclesiastes 5:13 where toward the end of his life he writes, “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners.” Is it further self-reflection when he writes in Ecclesiastes 7:7, “Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart”? Or in Ecclesiastes 8:9: “There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt.” Or in Ecclesiastes 5:8, where he states, “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things. . . . The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.” Solomon was wise enough to know that he did not prioritize biblical justice during much of his lengthy reign, and he left clues about this in his wisdom literature.
The Way of Christ
A suitable conclusion for almost any biblical discussion is to ask the question “What did Jesus say or do regarding this topic?” Many Jews expected the Messiah to be a powerful king. Who was the most powerful king in Hebrew history? Solomon. So the Messiah would be a second Solomon and would usher in a second golden age. Instead, Jesus was a poor, humble teacher. Fulfilling the precepts of biblical justice, Jesus consistently looked after the needs of the most vulnerable in society, taking care of widows, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick. In Matthew 6:19 Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” In Luke 14:13 He instructed, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Teaching about the final judgment, Jesus stated, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [the vulnerable], you did for me’” (Matt. 25:40).
The failure to popularly connect King Solomon to his violations of biblical justice was visible throughout Jesus’ lifetime and helps explain why most Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus. Most wanted another King Solomon (or King David), rather than a Jesus Christ. Jesus called them out on this repeatedly. In Matthew 23:23, amid extensive and specific condemnation of Jewish religious leadership, Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! . . . You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”
For Christians ever since, the temptation has been the same. If we ignore what God taught about justice and what Jesus demonstrated about justice, and instead focus on prosperity and power, presenting them as evidence of God’s blessing, we set ourselves up to follow the way of Solomon and the way of Egypt, rather than the way of Christ. Christianity today is under threat from the way of Solomon, and the non-Christian world is watching on the sidelines. We need to make biblical justice a major animating force among Christians, instead of pursuing a quest for individual salvation, or being hoodwinked by the popular whisperings of the prosperity gospel.
Howard A. Munson IV,Ph.D., is chair and professor of history at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, where he has taught for the past 10 years. He is married to Brenda and is the father of two boys, Lincoln and Ronan.
 Rob Bell, “Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer,” Robcast, June 25, 2015, https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/hazor-megiddo-and-gezer/id956742638?i=1000479143959.
 All Scripture quotations have been taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
 See 1 Kings 6:38, 7:1, and 10:16, 17. Shields made of a soft metal such as gold would serve no practical military purpose.
I live in the American West, and we are on fire. Lest we Californians and Oregonians and Washingtonians forget, wooden signs (appropriately) are planted prominently from the border of Mexico to my country’s Canadian approach: TODAY’S FIRE DANGER. The message is urgent and immediate: danger and today. There are degrees of concern on offer, a spectrum of alert, from green’s LOW to blue’s MODERATE to yellow’s HIGH to orange’s VERY HIGH to red’s EXTREME. An adjustable arrow points to the forecast’s present truth.
Lately the arrow has been stuck. We see only red.
Heat, wind, but mainly dry conditions render regional combustibility. Years of drought, long seasons of absent rain, and winters unadorned by adequate snowfall have made us arid. The globe’s greatest ocean has failed to share its stormy potential: the Pacific has been stingy in meteorological generosity. As a result, our parched forests house groves of oversized matches, trillions of evergreen and deciduous sticks susceptible to spark any second. Our trees, our land, lacking the retardant of rainfall and aquatic abatement, are primed for inferno. Combustion is imminent. Always.
TODAY’S FIRE DANGER: EXTREME.
The signs of our times.
But I’m not filling the space of this page, and your kind attention, to talk about Earth’s weather in my part of the world. The geological reality I’ve just reported is a mild prelude to a wildfire of far greater concern. The alarm that worries is the clear and present danger of human combustibility, of especially American flammability, and of an Adventist vulnerability to be incendiary. We, like the forests, are on edge. The wrong word read in print, a dissonant phrase heard in the pulpit, the general presence of someone we disagree with, the wrong election result, a social media post we find unpalatable—strike, spark, burn: our souls are on fire.
Angst. Anger. Outrage. Protest. It doesn’t take much. The torch is lit, and our present condition provides ready fuel. The blaze inside is hardly quarantined, however. We text, tweet, share, post, or pick up the phone and spread our hot contagion. Gossip is gas that turns containment into an uncontrollable explosion. The hillsides of our social network, the acres of our fellowship, the landscape of our available reach, are now threatened. They too are spoiling for a fight, are eager to go up in smoke.
Why is this the case? How is it that the sign’s arrow points to such EXTREME danger? What is it about the sociological, and perhaps theological, conditions that have us at such a low burning point? What’s happening that we are so readily kindled? And, in response and remedy, how might we enact positive climate change in our lives, our church, and our community, to change our predisposed vulnerability?
Our first critical condition is chronic: we exist as sinners, and sin dehydrates. Adam and Eve were on edge with one another moments after their fall. Cain burned at Abel’s advantage. The whole earth, Genesis reports, was soon teeming with violence. Angst went global in a hurry. Anger proved a highly hereditary and communicable disease. Irritability emerged, quickly manifest as the default human temperament. The smallest slight exposed nerves, reflexes, reactions. Disagreement, disadvantage, disappointment—taking offense became the natural way on a brittle planet. Sin’s way then, and now, lowers resistance to affective fire: we are emotionally threadbare and generally prone to rage. Sin has taken the natural moisture out of our skin.
A second condition follows the first: we have migrated from communal identity to individualism. Selfishness is our way. Self-centeredness is our prejudice. Libertarianism is our anthropological philosophy. The move our parents made—eating from an ill-advised tree in hopes of ingesting, and becoming, God—set our taste buds toward tasting life with self as deity in mind. Morning’s mirror welcomes us each new day as we stand face to face with the object of our worship, or at least our paramount concern. The project of protection, advance, and celebration of the self bakes into us a belief that the world is out to get us, to ruin us, to get in our way. Anger is threat’s response. Inflammation results when a foreign body takes up residence near or inside our own. Enemies with invasive intent lurk from all points on the compass. Hostility is our primary reality. The masses threaten me: politicians, preachers, and, well, pretty much people in general.
Condition number three, particularly in my country, the United States of America, is politics. Democratic participation in government has, I think it is fair to claim, never been so fraught. Each presidential election is “the most important contest of our lifetime.” Every four years this superlative is espoused by all candidates. Each issue is not a hill to die on, but a knoll to kill on. The other side rides with the devil. My side communes with the angels. Opponents are enemies. Alternatives are the end of civilization. “We’ve got to take our country back”—stop and think about the total toxicity and existential explosiveness of that phrase—motivates the vote. American political theater has always been bloody, but now it demands a liter or two more than a generation ago. Each new Inauguration Day is either the darkest possible apocalypse or the arrival of Jesus Christ Himself to residency in the White House. A hellish hyperbole scorches the landscape. The delta grows, divisions intensify, and anger swells as the sure sign of patriotism.
The fourth condition in our prolonged and acute fire season is our exposure to an unholy canon of “breaking news.” Mass communication, social media, and ready access to all that is wrong and awful and outrageous is overwhelming any fire barriers we might erect around our souls. The appropriately named iPhone (“me, myself, I”) and the even more appropriately named Samsung Galaxy (“I’ve got the whole world in my hands”) are a breach causing omnipresent danger. Irritants now have perpetual access. Burning issues, the hottest opinions, sizzling messages from church and state, from across the ocean, and across the street, arrive on screen and screens. Anger enjoys unlimited digital access. Corrosive opinions occupy the airwaves we breathe. 3G, 4G, 5G—faster and faster and faster the malignant messages come in. We are a baited generation in perpetual acceleration.
Condition five is ripe for religious people, and especially for Adventists. Adding to sin, self, politics, and infectious information: remnant indignation. Practitioners of the Adventist faith cannot, must not, forget that we are protesters of the protesters. Our founding mothers and fathers came along in mid-nineteenth-century America with an impulse: the Protestants themselves hadn’t protested enough. There was more protesting to be done. And the critique our forebears offered was not mild. We appropriated the language of whores and beasts. We warned of persecution, deception, counterfeits, conspiracies, and a horrific time of trouble to come. Catholics and apostate Protestants, Islam and Eastern religions, popes and kings, a new world order: the globe itself was about to be against us. The binary was stark: God’s side and Satan’s side, salvation and damnation. And yet it might be hard, in the moment, to tell the difference. At least that’s what I detected from many of the evangelists and preachers of my childhood. There were signs, but divining them would require attentiveness, and maybe special knowledge. Prophecy was not simply about cultural critique, but sophisticated prognostication. Our survival depended on prayer, study, and, it seemed to my young ears, a bit of luck.
A Different Reality
I have not told the whole truth, of course, in the preceding paragraph. There was, and is, loads of grace and goodness, of wholeness and health, in Adventist doctrine and practice. I love this church, my church. I was born into this faith tradition, and I intend to die a member of it. On the day of resurrection I expect I will rise happy to have been an Adventist anticipating the Great Advent.
The description above, however, accurately describes an incendiary ingredient in our fellowship’s thinking and being that poses a great risk. We are frequently prone to worry. We hold in our hands an unstable explosive material, which often causes us to tremble. We are hypersensitive, from time to time, about the times. And this leads to worship fights, doctrinal brawls, cultural wars, chronic insecurity, and acute susceptibility to be put to the flames by our own hand. We are, too often, afraid and angry. TODAY’S FIRE DANGER is, candidly, as often rated HIGH, VERY HIGH, and EXTREME as it is signaled LOW. Adventists live with frequency in the red zone. There are too many of our contemporary pulpiteers and parishioners who moonlight as arsonists. Perhaps we need to hold in the pew a fire extinguisher for the soul.
Beyond Chronic Inflammation
The challenge then for humans, for Americans, for Adventists—for all of us—is how we combat the torrid conditions of our times. Can we change the climate around us? Is modulating the weather even possible? Do we have the power to move the needle on the sign from red to green, from EXTREME to LOW, or at least somewhere in between? Can we, like Elijah, pray for rain? Is there a way we can find a less-flammable existence for the sake of our well-being and the shalom of those around us?
The answer is “yes.” It requires a direct confrontation with the sweltering norms.
First, we must cool the hot coals of our sinful state by watering our souls with confession and forgiveness. Confession before God and before others that we are sinners who still sin lowers the temperature. Admission eases. Forgiveness, as well, 70 times seven, lances the boil within. Forgiveness for friends, for enemies, for institutions, for any and all who wound us, is a potent anti-inflammatory. Confession and forgiveness, forgiveness and confession. A blended balm.
Second, we must break the fever of our selfishness with active service to others. Service cultivates humility. Humility shifts our focus. Diverting our eyes from the mirror relieves the fiery burden of personal protectionism and an unregulated self-defensiveness. Active engagement in care of others, and particularly of those who do not look, speak, and vote like us, thickens our skin and softens our heart.
Third, overheating on building kingdoms of this world is checked only by worship of the King of kings and Lord of lords. The kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God. Jesus offers a compelling new alignment that demands a higher allegiance, a stronger ethic, and a platform built on kindness. Messiah and messianic musings are squarely political. Following Jesus as Christ is a theological reordering of our priorities: we now worship a Leader who gathers a constituency drawn from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Beyond nonpartisanship or bipartisanship, the masses are partial to an elevated partisanship called monotheism: one God who is Creator and Parent of all.
Fourth, the tyranny of incessant white-hot messages of doom is doused only through targeted fasting. There’s no stopping the bombing raid of rants and ravings, Twitter storms, acidic social media posts, and the constant barrage of outrage stories intended to outrage readers and hearers. We can only seek cover. Cooling passions that threaten to send us to the burn unit must be dealt with head-on. Turn off the noise, limit the information apt to ignite a fire. Leave at-risk, high-target areas. Navigate away from the barrage of words as weapons. Log off.
Fifth, the destructive fires embedded in our Adventist story are fought through healing theology, humble ecclesiology, and healthy eschatology. Sabbath exists as a perpetual ideology and practice for the purpose of rest, peace, cooling down, and deep shalom. A Sabbathkeeping people should be well-watered, soaking in the rains of grace, drenched in a spirit of emotional temperance. We follow Sabbath’s Lord, the One who was not enflamed by Jerusalem, by Rome, by Satan himself. Jesus is a study in steadiness. Our Savior slept in a storm. He healed an ear while under personal threat. He avoided arguments, paced His life with play, and found His Father a faithful ballast.
The Adventist vocation is Advent—First and Second. God was with us then. God will be with us again. And in between these Advents, the promised Spirit comforts, and, if we will allow, He cools. His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control indicates a life resistant to perpetual outrage, habitual angst, and debilitating stress. His present and latter rain offer water for our combustible land. His baptism alone is our ultimate, hydrating hope.
Alex Bryan, D.Min., is chief mission officer at Adventist Health, headquartered in Roseville, California.
As the Olympic medal count ticked up in the charts—what nations were tallying the most golds, silvers, and bronzes—stirring images of victorious athletes graced the media, both digital and print. In a competition of its own unique kind, writers and editors were vying for the attention of readers and viewers. They sought every opportunity to focus on the drama and background for the Games.
Even the publications whose focus are on science sought to offer reporting and comment on sport. In one such example, Smithsonian magazine presented “Five Ways Humans Evolved to Be Athletes.”[i]
“Much of what makes our bodies capable of athletic prowess,” this article asserted, “comes from well before we were Homo sapiens.”[ii] And science writer Anna Goldfield then outlined five of today’s fairly basic human qualities that we may often take for granted, but connected them in a meaningful way to the abilities of gifted athletes.
1. We run. The connection, of course, to many sports would surely be obvious. And, for example, the evolvement of a bipedal animal from its primate predecessor could be considered advantageous.
2. We sweat. Though this may not at first seem to be any kind of advantage for the hominid, we “are unique in our capacity to sweat all over our bodies, creating evaporative cooling.”[iii] In what is considered the earliest human evolutionary stage in Africa, moving from forested to hotter plains made the cooling of the body through perspiration an obvious improvement.
3. We throw. As our prehistoric ancestors gave up our arboreal lifestyle and learned better how to get around on the ground, the article added, we still retained in our upper body—shoulders and arms—abilities to swing in the trees. And this enabled us to throw objects, at first interpreted to mean such things as weapons for hunting and defense. Olympic contestants in the discus and shot put, it was observed, may trace their refined skills back to these physical capabilities, originating millions of years ago.
4. We are handy. Here the Smithsonian article comes to the development of that opposable thumb for which humankind thinks it has distinguished itself. The evolutionist asserted the development of this unique grip about 2 million years ago to today’s athletes’ ability in competition to hold a baseball bat, a golf club, a tennis racket, a javelin, or a variety of firearms.
And here is an interesting note offered by recent research that may bring a smug smile to left-handers. “A study of how many elite athletes are left-handed across different sports showed that the more competitive the sport, the greater the proportion of lefties.”[iv] Could this suggest that left-handers may have some advantage if evolution goes on another million years or so?
5. We play with balls. Here, it seems, the author of this article drifted maybe a bit from prehistoric evolution to actual historic archaeology. “The generally accepted theory for the evolutionary origins of play,” they say, “is that it allows children to learn actions and tasks that they will need to master as adults.”[v] And there is actual physical evidence of ball games in ancient Egypt as early as 2500 B.C. But the most famous evidence, of course, would probably be observed in the ceramic figurines, murals, and actual ball courts of the Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan peoples of the Americas of as early as 1700 B.C.
This article, “Five Ways Humans Evolved to Be Athletes,” was only one of several others headlined the same day across one Internet home page. In addition to the reporting of the worldwide news and sports appeared such other headlined titles as “Tyrannosaurs Dominated Their Cretaceous Ecosystems” and “This Sponge Fossil May Be the Earliest Record of Animal Life.” Information regarding the publication of scientific research that interprets data from an evolutionary worldview is reported as fact.
Throughout the media—newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and the Internet—there now appears to be an almost natural impulse in the presentation of news and information to explain it in evolutionary terms. So during the couple weeks’ world focus on the Olympics, the media reporting was often related in some way through the occasional lens of evolution.
The title of another recent article in Smithsonian reads like this: “Woolly Mammoths Roamed Far and Wide Just Like Living Elephants.”[vi]
As is sometimes the case in journalism and the media, a close reader may observe that this one could maybe have needed the copy editor’s closer scrutiny. A wag may wonder whether, indeed, mammoths, whenever they roamed, could have done so like dead elephants. But to be fair, it’s obvious, after some charitable thought, to conclude that the writer meant that the behaviors of prehistoric mammoths was similar to that of today’s elephants. The connection between the two species, after all, has long seemed obvious, even to the nonscientific mind.
But this article is like so many others in today’s daily media—the reporting of ostensible news that may or may not have actually happened. It wasn’t an event that could be reported as a narrative. Instead, it is an interpretation, an inference based on observation of a body of information.
Included in the online version of this “woolly mammoths” article are two vivid visual illustrations. The first is a beautifully executed piece of art by a James Havens captioned, “An adult male woolly mammoth navigates a mountain pass 17,100 years ago.”[vii] The second is a cross-section photograph of striations of a tusk: “Researchers analyzed variations in strontium isotopes in parts of the mammoth’s tusk to piece together where it traveled over the course of its life.”[viii]
All of this makes for interesting reading to a significant enough portion of the public that it was deemed worthy of its own headlined publication. There truly is a fascination in origins on this planet. It is related to one of life’s deepest existential questions.
But it is also too often overlooked that such reporting is not a result of the actual empirical observation of occurrence. It is interpretation—based on unobserved assumptions.
One could wonder—not too many, maybe—but at least one may wonder in where the five human capabilities to run, to sweat, to throw, to handle, and to play with a ball may have first exhibited themselves in human life. Is evolution the inevitable answer to this question? Could they not possibly be the result of gifts received from a loving Creator who set out to bring into existence creatures like Himself with such qualities?
The current recording of scientific studies, however, is presented instead from a faith that has been placed, rather than on a transcendent God, on the divinity of the human self. And the results of this kind of thinking—this kind of science/scholarship—seems to appear everywhere today in a kind of cultural brute force.
Gary B. Swanson is a retired associate director the Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference, and an occasional columnist for Adventist Review.
[i] Anna Goldfield, “Five Ways Humans Evolved to Be Athletes,” Smithsonian, Aug. 3, 2021, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-ways-humans-evolved-be-athletes-180978333/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+smithsonianmag%2Fscience-nature+%28Science+%26+Nature+%7C+Smithsonian.com%29, accessed Oct. 6, 2021.
[vi] Riley Black, “Woolly Mammoths Roamed Far and Wide Just Like Living Elephants,” Smithsonian, Aug. 12, 2021, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/woolly-mammoths-roamed-far-and-wide-just-living-elephants-180978418/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+smithsonianmag%2Fscience-nature+%28Science+%26+Nature+%7C+Smithsonian.com%29, accessed Oct. 6, 2021.
At every meal, especially breakfast, the absurdity, the outrageous absurdity of evolution becomes frighteningly obvious. Take the humble pomegranate. It evolved? How? Did a single pomegranate seed evolve first? If so, starting as some early life form, how could a seed—containing the concept of a pomegranate tree, along with the contents to grow one—have been formed, step by step, with no direction imposed on it?
Or instead of the seed, did the pomegranate itself—a single pomegranate—evolve first? But how could a pomegranate with skin, seeds, and fruit on the seeds, come into existence through a long, slow process of evolution? How many endless proto pomegranates sitting on the ground (where else?) over millions of years came and went until one, finally, became a functioning and edible pomegranate (seeds, skin, and fruit together)?
Or maybe the pomegranate tree began it all? But what evolved first: the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaf, or the pomegranate itself with seeds within it? Or did they all start evolving at once: a partial root, a partial trunk, a partial branch, a partial leaf, and a partial pomegranate with partial seeds until, finally—after millions of inchoate and evolving proto-pomegranate trunks and roots and leaves and seeds arising, dying, rotting—one, the fittest, survived into the first full-fledged pomegranate tree, the progenitor of all other pomegranates? (How, though, does the nutritive value of the pomegranate, along with its appealing taste, smell, and texture, fit in with this “survival of the fittest” story, anyway? Would not an uglier, unhealthier, and more tasteless pomegranate add to its survivability?)
Also, where did the idea of a pomegranate, or a pomegranate seed, or pomegranate tree come from to begin with? In evolutionary theory, there was never an idea of anything pomegranatey at all. Just wait long enough and, sooner or later, thanks to random mutation and natural selection, a pomegranate tree—seeds, trunk, leaves, root and fruit—will just happen. That’s, at least, the narrative.
Evolutionists who want a Christian spin on creation would answer, of course, that Jesus, the Creator (see John 1:13), did it.
OK. But how?
Did Jesus first put the idea of a pomegranate seed in some very early life form, and then let that life form over millions of years (with a divine tweak every now and then) evolve into a pomegranate seed, which spawned the first pomegranate tree?
Or did He put into this early life the idea of a pomegranate and then said, “And let it evolve into a pomegranate, from whose seeds the tree, bearing its own seed, will come. And (millions of years later) it was so”?
Or did Jesus put the idea of a pomegranate tree into that early life form first? And, then simply let nature take its course until, eons later, the first pomegranate tree emerged?
However Jesus supposedly did it, evolution still demands millions of years of pre-pomegranate seeds, pre-pomegranates trees, and pre-pomegranates themselves fading in and out, step by step, until (again, maybe with fine-tuning) the first pomegranate tree—seeds, leaves, trunk, branches and pomegranates—finally arrived as a functioning and reproducing whole.
What other options are there? Evolutionary biologists tell us that Genesis 1:11— “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth;’ and it was so” (Genesis 1:11)— cannot be true. But the pomegranate is still here, and because it had to come from somewhere, I humbly ask, From where?
If any of the above scenarios are off, could someone—too “enlightened” to believe in Genesis 1:11—explain how the pomegranate evolved? And if they don’t know how the pomegranate did, how about the blueberry, the avocado, the apple, the melon, the radish, the peach, the almond, the cherry, the tomato—or even the potato? How did any of these, or their first progenitor, step by step, slowly evolve into existence?
In stunning contrast, there is the six-day creation (Genesis 1-2), in which the love and power of God, tasted in every plant-based bite, reveals the “wisdom of the world” (1 Corinthians 3:19) as obviously, even outrageously, wrong.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of Adult Bible Study Guides at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and a longtime columnist for Adventist Review.
Joshua Barbeau, a 33-year-old freelance writer living close to Toronto, Canada, struggled for eight years to cope with the death of his fiancée, Jessica Pereira, from a rare liver disease. Joshua grappled with anxiety and depression and had lived even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in quasi-isolation. On September 23, 2020, he logged on to a new website, called Project December, that used artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots to conduct chat-like conversations with humans. Created by Jason Rohrer, a San Francisco Bay Area programmer, Project December used GPT-3, one of the most powerful A.I. language engines built, yet unavailable to the public, to program chatbots capable of engaging conversations with humans. The GPT-3’s map is assembled from the analysis of a half trillion words, including the complete text of Wikipedia, billions of web pages, and thousands of books representing much of the Western literary canon.
That night in September Barbeau created a new bot, naming it Jessica Pereira. The software asked him to include a quick sample of something that “person” may say and an intro paragraph describing the roles the human and the chatbot were expected to play. The first conversation lasted for the next 10 hours and continued in shorter bursts during the following months.
Barbeau couldn’t believe how real the conversations with “Jessica” felt. It just sounded like her. “It’s unprecedented,” he later said of Project December. “There’s nothing else that exists like it right now, short of psychics and mediums that are trying to take advantage of people. But that’s not the same thing at all.”
Since each chatbot has only a limited life, measured in units invested in it when creating them, Barbeau knew that this would be a transitory experience. He knew intellectually that it was an AI-powered chatbot responding to his questions and conversation, but it felt more real by the minute. He often cried as he shared with “Jessica.” On March 3, 2021, Barbeau had his final “conversation” with Jessica—just before her battery moved into the red zone. There were no final goodbyes.
The Power of Death—Overcome?
Death, especially the death of a loved one, has a way of turning our lives upside down. We hurt, we feel pain, we grieve the person, and often wish we could be given another chance—to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry”—to connect once again with that person.
People have dealt with death differently throughout history. Many cultures and religions around the world include spiritual specialists who seek to connect the living with the dead. The idea of the “immortality of the soul” is language familiar to many Christians, but the concept is ever-present, using distinct terminology, in most religious traditions. All these traditions and cultures have bought into the first lie that the serpent whispered to enthralled Eve in the Garden: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Ever since that moment humanity has struggled to understand the essence of life and the reality of death.
Neuroscientists and software programmers are working feverishly to find ways to upload our minds to a computer (or the cloud) in order to create “immortality.” In 2016, the BBC produced a TV documentary called The Immortalist: Uploading the Mind to a Computer, which included interviews with leading neuroscientists working in that budding field. Most scientists would, at least, suggest that this type of “immortality” is a theoretical possibility, even though we don’t yet really know how the 86 billion neurons in our brain really generate our mind.
Companies such as the Silicon Valley startup Nectome bet on the viability of preserving human memory as a business model that may be the next big thing venture capitalists will throw their money at. The idea of retrieving consciousness in the future by unfreezing the brain of someone who has died and mapping all the synaptic connections and uploading them to a type of supercomputer is considered a feasible possibility.
Faced with sadness and loss, we are often drawn to those who consider science and technology a possible avenue offering answers that respond to our most existential questions about life and death—and immortality.
Adventists and Death
We don’t have to spend too much time in front of a TV screen to recognize the enticing attraction of spiritualism offering answers to our questions regarding death. This type of spiritualism is not limited to witches, magicians, and demons. Spiritualism 2.0 is more palpable, feels familiar, and fits right into the twenty-first century. Many blockbuster movies and TV shows tell us again and again that we can connect to those we have lost, while we live in a world that is technologically extremely advanced. God’s archenemy seems to have accomplished the feat of connecting a modern Western worldview with ideas often associated with a prescientific worldview. How else can we explain the attraction of spiritualistic ideas clothed in modern garbs to people who have been raised in a paradigm elevating reason and science to quasi-religious status?
What do Adventists really believe about immortality or life after death? The 2017-2018 Global Church Member Survey, commissioned by the General Conference, offers a bag of curiously mixed data regarding this question. Of the more than 55,000 global member responses, 89 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “When people die, their bodily remains decay, and they have no consciousness or activity until they are resurrected” (Q42.11). That question seems to correctly reflect the biblical concept that there is nothing beyond death and that the dead “know nothing” (Eccl. 9:5). Similarly, only 13 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “The dead have powers with and influence the living” (Q42.23), while 82 percent disagreed with that concept. However, when confronted with the statement “The soul is a separate, spiritual part of a person and lives on after death” (Q42.03), more than 40 percent agreed, strongly agreed, or were not sure about this statement. Forty percent represents a significant part of the church that seems to have bought in (or, at least, isn’t sure about) the concept of the immortality of the soul, an idea not found in Scripture and a broad avenue leading to spiritualism.
This in turn opens doors to being deceived by those claiming—either experientially or scientifically—that there is life after death before resurrection morning when Scripture tells us that Jesus will raise those who have fallen asleep in Him to life eternal (1 Thess. 4:14-17).
Ellen White’s famous statement describing a time before the return of Jesus makes more sense when we look at the data: “Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions. While the former lays the foundation of spiritualism, the latter creates a bond of sympathy with Rome.” Adventists have always recognized the importance of the seventh-day Sabbath within the context of last-day events. But what about the more subtle challenges involved in the idea of the immortality of the soul as we consider a biblical anthropology and worldview?
Is Science the Real Problem?
If you’re alive in 2022, chances are high that you were raised in a cultural context dominated by a secular scientific worldview based on the foundational work of Greek philosophers such as Plato or Aristotle. A scientific worldview postulates the primacy of science and attempts to understand reality via scientific methods. We measure, we count, we observe, we look for cause and effect, and we deduct. Evolution offers the metanarrative of this worldview and is presupposed as scientists seek to make sense of the world. Problems are resolved by careful research using the scientific methods at our disposal. Ultimately, this scientific worldview is a closed system, for there doesn’t seem to be space for God in it—at least that seems to be the common perception in main-stream science.
Does that mean that Christians (including Adventists) who hold a biblical worldview are science deniers or don’t use scientific methods? Not at all! They believe in natural laws, scientific research, and evidence-based argumentation. Adventists earn PhDs, work for NASA, participate in major research initiatives, and engage in scientific discussion. A biblical worldview, however, goes beyond the closed system idea of a scientific worldview and includes God as Creator and the one who established the laws governing our universe. It’s not a system closed to God.
So if science is not the problem, why are we posing the question of a link between science and spiritualism (or paranormal realities)? The issue at stake is not science but worldview. A secular scientific worldview devoid of a reference to God is setting us up for spiritualism. We are first trained to recognize that there is no evidence for the supernatural, that life on this earth came into being by chance over billions of years where the strong survived the weak. Seeing is believing. The only evidence that is reliable can be seen, measured, counted, or whatever other scientific method seems appropriate.
But then we experience something that can be described only as “supernatural.” A near-death experience with a bright light and a voice talking to us, an apparent encounter with a deceased loved one who talks to us, or anything that contradicts our scientific worldview suddenly knocks us down. We are stunned; we are vulnerable; we have no filter system that helps us to appropriately recognize the reality of God, as well as the spiritual battles between good and evil that rage all around us. That’s the back door to spiritualism in a scientific worldview.
Changing worldviews is complex. A biblical worldview in the twenty-first century is countercultural and goes beyond rational acceptance and intellectual agreement. Day by day we are hammered by media that subscribe to distinct worldviews.
Ultimately, like the birth of a newborn baby, the Christian has to be born again (see John 3). We need God’s Spirit to effect this transformation daily. It’s the work of a lifetime—and it requires our daily surrender.
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review Ministries. He holds a doctoral degree in ancient Near Eastern studies and has published widely in his field. Daniel Bruneau has a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction and serves as creative director for Adventist Review Ministries.
 The introductory story is based on Jason Fagone, “The Jessica Simulation: Love and Loss in the Age of AI,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 23, 2021, online at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2021/jessica-simulation-artificial-intelligence/.
 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 588.
 I have noted more fully the characteristics of a biblical worldview in Gerald A. Klingbeil, “Through a Glass Darkly. . . : Rediscovering the Biblical Worldview,” Adventist Review, September 2020), pp. 28-31. I would suggest seven key elements of a biblical worldview, including (1) the recognition of God’s existence, (2) God as Creator, (3) the power and importance of community, (4) the recognition of God’s acts in history, (5) the reality of sin, (6) the human need for a Savior, and (7) the perspective of a cosmic conflict.
Anecdotes can touch us deeply, but it’s data that ought to inform the decisions that lead to transformation. This article by the Adventist Church’s leading statistician reviews significant data about member losses, and urges us to think creatively about helping youth and young adults engage with their church.—Editors.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is losing its young people. This is true virtually everywhere, though it’s particularly true in the “Global North” of economically advanced, secular countries with postmodern or post-religious cultures. But it’s a fact everywhere: our children are leaving our faith..
First, the data. Everywhere, the Seventh-day Adventist Church experiences high loss rates. We have more than 50 years of detailed data on those who join the church (by baptism and profession of faith); on deaths; and on those who leave the church, whether by being dropped from membership or who, when membership records are reviewed, are “missing.” During that half-century and more, our loss rate is 41 percent, not including deaths. It’s living members who leave our church family—which is always to some extent volitional, even where departure is involuntary (through disfellowshipping), for the member chose to act in ways that brought about separation. In other cases (where members ask to be dropped from membership or we don’t know what happened to them), the literal disconnect is quite obviously voluntary.
Looking at the Data
We know that two out of five church members choose to leave the Adventist Church. But when do they leave—at what point in their lifetime?
Here we don’t have such good data, because until the very recent adoption of digitized membership record systems, we didn’t track the age of church members, only whether they were members or simply attendees. By the end of this decade, as membership systems are widely adopted, we will have a clearer picture about ages of members who staying and leaving. However, we have some indications of what proportion of the 41 percent who depart do so as young people.
First, we have information from careful research done among former church members. This kind of research is difficult to do because there is no database of addresses for ex-Adventists. Caution must be exercised, therefore, in assessing the results. Nevertheless, it’s striking that 62.5 percent stated that they were young adults when they ceased being a church member. It’s worth noting, too, that this study reported global data.
Second, if we look at those parts of the world church that have already moved to keeping membership records digitally, we have some data on ages. While much of the Church still keeps records on paper or older systems, and only counts membership, not tracking other information, enough of the Church’s organizational units have adopted membership systems that can be used as a representative global sample. We know that young people (those aged 35 or under) make up 51 percent of Church members; and those aged 18 and under make up 14 percent. But these are those who are already members, so the percentage of youth and young adults in Adventist local churches will be higher (in some places, much higher) because the statistics don’t include children and teenagers who haven’t been baptized. What we don’t know is how many children and teenagers choose not to become baptized. Where membership audits haven’t occurred, we don’t know how many in their teens and 20s, counted in the system, have already, in their own minds, departed the Church and not yet been registered so in our systems.
Still, we know that the median age of the several million members in the various databases around the world is 38 years and 2 months. In contrast, in a survey, commissioned by the North American Division (NAD), of Church members in North America in 2008, their median age was 51! That study concluded that, compared to the US and Canadian populations, “Adventists are overrepresented among those 55 years of age and older,” generally “underrepresented among those under 45 years of age,” and particularly underrepresented among so-called Millennials (people born from 1977 to 1994—today in their late 20s to early 40s). Recent evidence strongly suggests that the situation hasn’t improved since 2008: in the 2018 global Church Member Survey, 58 percent of respondents in the NAD were aged over 55, and the average age of respondents was 57 years.
Between Records and Reality
Now, it’s true that the eAdventist membership system, which is used by the NAD, shows larger numbers of teenagers and twenty-somethings than surveys do. However, while baptisms are regularly added to eAdventist, in many cases the data hasn’t been audited since. Many of the young people who were baptized and are recorded as being members no longer attend and, in their own minds, are no longer Seventh-day Adventists. Our official records haven’t caught up with the reality. The database records the theory; the surveys the actuality. In other words, it’s evident that the Church in North America has a major problem keeping young people in the Church.
We know that this phenomenon is far from unique. Because the North American Division has long commissioned research and was an early adopter of digital membership systems, we can give more granular detail.
And third, we turn to the Church’s existing and longstanding membership statistics. We know from statistics collected by the Church starting in 1965 that the mortality rate (i.e., the number of deaths per thousand in a population) of the Church in the Euro-Asia Division, Inter-European Division, and Trans-European Division, for each division as a whole, exceeds the mortality rate for the population at large in that division. What does this apparently abstruse fact indicate? It means that the Church is elderly. In theory, the Adventist health advantage means that Adventist mortality rates should be lower than the general population—indeed, perhaps 75 percent of the general population. If it’s greater, it must be because the Church is elderly. Thus, even though membership software is still being adopted for membership records in these three divisions, the statistics we have are telling us that the Church in Europe is an aging church—a graying Church. Our baptized youth are leaving, or our Adventist children are not being baptized—or both.
If we look at one union in the Northern-Asia Pacific Division, the Japan Union Conference, we find the same situation: the Adventist mortality rate is higher than the national mortality rate. Yet Japan stands out as having the oldest population in the world, with 28 percent of Japanese aged 65 or above. While we don’t yet have detailed age statistics for Japan, we know that the membership is older than this, the world’s most elderly country.
North America, Europe, and Japan—three regions where an aging Church faces an uncertain future, and needs the injection of youth vitality if the future is to be bright.
The Search for the Reasons
All the evidence we have, then, from older, general membership statistics, from new and detailed membership statistics, and from surveys of Church members and former members, is telling us that we as Seventh-day Adventists have a problem keeping our youth. We are losing our children. And that’s true everywhere.
To be sure, in some regions the Church is very youthful—particularly in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia. But that’s mostly because of evangelistic success. There’s probably no region of the world church that doesn’t suffer significant loss of young church members.
What are the reasons? If the data are telling us we have a problem, what’s the cause? Here we don’t have a surefire answer, but evidence from the global surveys of Church members in 2013 and 2018 is helpful.
In the 2018 survey, 7 out of 10 respondents (n = 55,554) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “I was able to talk to one or both of my parents about religious issues.” This suggests that there is reasonably good intergenerational communication about beliefs, though, of course, those who are no longer Church members and who might have been unable to talk to their parents if they had doubts wouldn’t have taken the survey. But still, this result suggests we need to look elsewhere for a cause.
One of the more striking findings of both the 2013 and the 2018 global Church Member Surveys was the very low incidence of family worship.
In 2013 only 36 percent of respondents had family worship daily, and even those who experienced it more than once a week were below 60 percent of the total. Moreover, one in six respondents reported that they had never had family worship. In two divisions, those who had never had family worship exceeded 20 percent.
Recognizing the essential nature of family worship on a regular basis, the world Church’s Reach the World strategic plan set as its second key performance indicator a “significant increase in the numbers of church members regularly engaging in Bible study in family worship.” But while the five years between 2013 and 2018 saw an increase in the number of church members engaging in regular, frequent, personal Bible study, what was the result for family worship?
Figure 2. Frequency of Family Worship, 2018 Global Church Member Survey (n = 56,850)
The proportion who reported daily worship did increase, but only by one percentage point. But the proportion that answered “never” rose to 21 percent. The 2013 survey was half the size of the 2018 survey and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent, whereas the 2018 survey’s margin was +/- 1 percent. Thus, statistically, the 2013 result could have been 19 percent and the 2018 result 20 percent, an increase of 1 percentage point rather than 5. Regardless of the statistical nuances, the figure undeniably increased. Meanwhile, the proportion who reported family worship several times a week decreased. In sum, setting an increase in regular family worship as a strategic goal of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church failed to have any effect. In fact, it feels as if we moved backwards.
The answer to a new question in the 2018 church member survey (not asked in 2013) was also notable. This asked whether, during childhood, “having morning or evening worship with one or more parents was a habitual practice in my family” (n = 55,687). The percentage who disagreed or strongly disagreed was 21 percent, slightly more than the proportion who strongly agreed, which was only 20 percent. “Agreed” and “strongly agreed” together made up less than half the total. Another 20 percent chose “not applicable,” almost certainly because they had been raised outside the church. But the other responses to this question suggest not only that regular family worship isn’t a common spiritual life practice today, but that it hasn’t been for some considerable time.
Coming back to our earlier question, these findings about family worship prompt the question: Has research found the smoking gun? Have we identified the reason we fail to retain many young people? A degree of caution is warranted. We see evidence of a declining trend in family worship, and another trend of membership attrition, especially among young people. But we can’t say definitively that one causes the other: more evidence would be needed to reach that conclusion. It’s notable that those surveyed in 2013 and 2018 were overwhelmingly members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (97.25 percent, with a few non-members surveyed because they were attending Sabbath School or divine service when questionnaires were distributed). What might the equivalent figures for family worship be among former Adventists? If they were even worse, then we would have firmer evidence of a causal relationship. This would be a good research project for future Adventist researchers.
But there’s one final point I’d like to make: our systemic failure to worship together as families can’t be helping with the problem of youth attrition. If more families start having devotionals together, regularly, it would surely do great good. Ellen White testified to the power of family worship as something separate to one’s individual, personal Bible study. She wrote: “Family associations should have an uplifting, sanctifying power; then will the religion of Christ acquire its proper character in the home; then will the privileges of family worship exert its upbuilding, divine influence, instead of standing solitary, as one act performed at certain times.” How often do parents or even children think of family worship as a duty? Ellen White tells us it is a privilege—and as we think about the appalling hemorrhage of young Adventists from this church, we surely need more of “its upbuilding, divine influence”?
We can’t be complacent as we consider the eternal implications of conducting family worship. We must do everything we can to help Adventist young people remain with the Adventist Church family—to be blessed by being a part of it, even as they are a blessing to it with their vigor and their passion. There must be--no doubt—an administrative response to youth attrition, but the best place to start, I believe, is with each of us caring for children or grandchildren by spending time worshipping with them.
When we pray together, study God’s Word together, and sing together, and when we do it enthusiastically, we will become role models who offer an inspiring alternative to a hurting and hurtful world that has lost sight of hope. The family that worships together might well stay together—for eternity.
David Trim, Ph.D., is director of the Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Numbers can have a numbing effect on us. Putting faces to numbers, however, transforms important research data into relatable stories that affect us personally. We all remember a teenager or young adult who has stopped coming to church. Have you found creative ways to reach out to those leaving the church and minister to their needs? Please share your stories with us at [email protected]—Editors.
 David Trim, “Foundational Research”, presentation at the Trans-European Division Nurture and Retention Summit (2018), https://www.adventistresearch.info/wp-content/uploads/NR2017TED_2.pdf, slide 13.
 Monte Sahlin and Paul Richardson, Seventh-day Adventists in North America: A Demographic Profile (North American Division, 2008), http://circle.adventist.org/files/icm/nadresearch/NADDemographic.pdf, pp. 5, 6 (quotation at p. 5).
 Petr Činčala et al., North American Division Report: Global Church Member Survey 2017-2018 (2018) www.adventistresearch.info/wp-content/uploads/2017-2018-GCMS-NAD-final-public-report-pages.pdf, p. 19, cf. Karl G. D. Bailey et al., 2017-2018 Global Church Member Survey: Meta-Analysis Final Report (2019), http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Resources/Global%20Church%20Membership%20Survey%20Meta-Analysis%20Report/GCMSMetaAnalysis%20Report_2019-08-19.pdf, p. 19.
 Bailey et al., p. 25.
 David Trim, “Seventh-day Adventist Global Data Picture: Report on Global Research 2011-2013,” presentation to 2013 Annual Council, https://www.adventistresearch.info/wp-content/uploads/AC-2013-Statistical-Report-revised-1.pdf, slide 27.
 Ibid., slide 28.
 Bailey et al. pp. 36, 37.
 Letter 145, 1893 (March 8, 1893). (Italics supplied.)
What do you think about an NFT as a birthday gift?
Kids and young adults might say, “Cool.”
Just about everyone over 50 years of age is saying, “A what?”
You know, a Non-Fungible Token.
An NFT is a unique and noninterchangeable unit of data stored on a blockchain (digital ledger). Still not clear?
You may remember Napster back in the 1990s, an Internet site that shared music by allowing anyone to download music files onto their MP3 player. (All readers under 20 years of age just said, “A what?” It’s like an iPod but, like, really bad.) Once music went digital, it was easy to share to the world with a mouse click. The downside—and the illegal part—was that most files were pirated, which means stolen.
Today we send millions of files of every kind all over the world. But what if there were a system that protected digital assets from being pirated, kept track of who owned what digital file, and showed where it’s been transferred to? Sounds impossible, right? Well, not so much anymore.
Enter blockchain, a distributed ledger system that allows everyone to keep track of digital assets, who owns what, and what transactions have been made with it. Most have heard of Bitcoin, a digital currency built on a blockchain platform. Now that I’ve mentioned Bitcoin, you’ll find yourself in one of three groups: (1) the Bitcoin Maximalists, who are ardent Bitcoin believers and evangelists; (2) the No-coiners, those who can’t understand why anyone would put their hard-earned dollar into such a crazy idea; and (3) everyone else—those who are still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. Full disclosure: I’m in group 3.
Whether it’s Bitcoin, Ethereum, or one of hundreds of other “coins” (the preferred name for cryptocurrencies by their proponents), the new technology is attractive because it levels the playing field in finance and offers potentially large gains for participants. Of course, that’s assuming you are part of group 1 above. It’s like banking without the bank fees, transactions without the tracking, and savings without the intervention of central banks. Each of these coins represents a community of users and believers. The coins work and gain value as more people join their network.
A small example of the power of this network effect is Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that was set up as a joke. People wanted to be in on the joke and started to join the network. In fact, so many joined in on the Dogecoin joke that it caught the attention of a major sports team, the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association. The Mavericks made their merchandise purchasable with Dogecoin. Boom? The joke become a real medium of transaction and has gained more than 5,200 percent in price over the past year. Just to be clear, I’m not recommending Dogecoin or giving investment advice here.
The No-coiners scoff at the idea of crypto as something hatched in the dark minds of a computer hacker to be used by groups of renegades and criminals. It’s not for reputable, experienced investors, they have decided. Yet it’s becoming hard to ignore the fact that $2 trillion in various coins are now in “existence,” and these networks are growing at an exponential rate. The rate of growth of these platforms now surpasses the speed at which the Internet and the World Wide Web were adopted.
Younger generations are more open to not only embrace this new technology but to eagerly participate in the digital economy, where the old ways are replaced by new ideas and technology that facilitates them. Young adults seem to understand that the systems that allowed their parents to prosper as middle-class, affluent asset owners won’t be so generous to them. They recognize the current world as a place where brokers and bankers, the functional and financial intermediaries, have siphoned much of the wealth out of the system for decades into the future, leaving bleak prospects for those without hard assets.
Many people are thus looking to cryptocurrency, decentralized finance, and tokenized assets as a more viable option. They see their future in Bitcoin, Ether, smart contracts, NFTs, and Web 3.0, which will radically change how we transact—and how we decide what’s considered valuable. The new technology and ideology will bypass the old financial systems and allow coming generations to circumvent the mountains of debt incurred by previous generations.
In this new digital world, the old borders are removed. The structures of national borders and national currencies are replaced by communities of participants. This provides access to financial services that were difficult for some segments of the population to acquire. There’s a belief in a network effect of these new digital assets as users grow exponentially (see Metcalfe’s Law). The value of these networks will be realized only in the years to come, but there’s a growing belief in their accumulating power. As viewed by advocates of cryptocurriences, the “old guard” is still desperately holding on to its “hard assets” and doesn’t understand the value of a currency that seems to be created out of nothing but computer code. Ironically, this is notwithstanding the reality that investments in the stock markets and housing are skyrocketing because central banks are printing money “out of thin air.”
We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Perhaps younger generations understand this and see the insanity of the current economic systems. Perhaps, they intrinsically have more faith in their own energy, ingenuity, creativity, and community. Perhaps this is the true core of any economy anyway: the energy and dedication of the people who work in the economy, not those who hold “ownership rights” to the profits. Maybe they’ve come to understand that something is valuable only when enough people believe it’s valuable.
We’re headed for a collision between old and the new systems of money, finance, and transaction. How things will play out is yet to be seen, but it would be shortsighted to dismiss the new ideas and technologies when a very large cohort of generations is embracing it. They favor a more egalitarian world over an opportunistic, winners-and-losers approach. Maybe it signals a shift from the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, which has created enormous wealth for many historically-Protestant nations but left entire continents behind, with little chance of ever catching up. Perhaps now that the children of that work ethic also face a bleak future, the handwriting is on the wall.
Transitions of Eras
As these enormous tectonic shifts take place in the bedrock of modern economies, it’s grounding—and reassuring—to remember the incarnation of Jesus. More powerful than even the most media-hyped NFT, a societal revolution began with the birth of Jesus. Jesus came to the world to tear down the old foundations and build a new kingdom. Believers ought to study how such profound transitions of eras unfold.
Bitcoin is certainly not equitable to the gospel, but both realities hold out the promise of something better to people who have little, a community of believers for the disenfranchised, and opportunities for those without hope.
Jesus couldn’t have sent a stronger message to our world today than by His choice to become a poor peasant from an undesirable town, born under a cloud of impropriety, living in a nation under siege. He didn’t choose to come as part of the wealthy old guard, but was fully embedded as a member of the new kingdom He was revealing. The old ways of doing things had yielded in casteism, elitism, and division. The poor were downtrodden in this world, with little hope for salvation into the next. Jesus completely rejected that “higher” class, condemning their materialism, hypocrisy, and lack of compassion.
When Jesus walked this earth, He didn’t go about to “change the world,” at least in the customary ways. He walked with a small group of men and women to help them see this new kingdom. He shared His joy, energy, and enthusiasm to build a new community of faith. He offered a new way of valuing people, their actions and intentions. This small community of believers was to become the evangelists for His kingdom. And when these 120 people caught the vision and received the power of the Spirit, they set the world on fire with a power never before seen.
The gospel proclaimed by Christ to people without hope had enormous power, and the message went viral. That same message proclaimed today may also have tremendous impact. Not because the language employed is different, but because, once again, there are actions that match the words. In the twilight of our economic era, actions of generosity, compassion, and care for our community are a stark differentiator. In Jesus, people saw a Son of David. Jesus acted with the authority, dignity, and benevolence of a king, in contrast to earthly rulers.
What if the world saw in us a son, a daughter, of the King, a joint heir with Christ, who breathes the air of royalty? As one who has a seat at the table, and not as those fighting for the scraps that fall from it? What if we actually believed we have already received the inheritance as a son or daughter? Would we continue our strivings for material wealth? Would it change the way we treat each other? In spite of the chaos, strife, corruption, and injustice in the world, would we find peace and joy? Would we become a beacon in a dark world that attracts those groping in the shadows?
Jesus came to this earth near the point of failure of the old Hebrew social and economic systems. He used the failure of those systems as leverage to usher in His new kingdom. The dichotomy revealed to many the real virtues of God’s principles. It’s fitting that His return seems near as we approach the point of failure of our current capitalist system. While the old guard desperately tries to maintain this system, new generations are looking eagerly for change.
Young adults are turning to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, where they see the promise of something better. They are building communities and systems that seek to break down barriers and provide fresh approaches. They eagerly embrace change because they see the current system as broken. Inspired by a new world of potential and optimism, they evangelize. (Those who see a system that’s a zero-sum game tend to hoard and protect.) It’s not yet clear whether this new currency will work or whether this blockchain revolution succeeds; but the energy coursing through the idea is palpable. The objectives and goals of this movement, of creating a fairer world with more opportunities for everyone, is one many are embracing.
People of all ages, cultures, status, and religions flocked to Jesus as they heard the promise of something better. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of heaven that broke down the barriers in His era—and every era. He revealed the transformational power of catching a glimpse of that new world. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. That glimpse changes you when you encounter it.
The power of this kingdom is real. It transcends all the power, position, and money our culture believes is crucial. Kindness knows no status. Real joy has no price tag. Peace in our hearts is more powerful than an army. According to the Word of God, citizens of the kingdom of heaven will inaugurate the new era in a final glorious display of the principles of His kingdom.
Tim Aka is an associate treasurer and director of investments for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. This article was last updated on Jan. 28, 2022.
“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy perceptively said to her little dog in The Wizard of Oz. Everything was familiar, yet somehow different. Dorothy found herself in the same world and a new world all at once.
The world we currently live in is fundamentally different from any other time in human history. In fact, it’s fundamentally different from the world we lived in just 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.
You Are the Product
The short answer is that humanity has perfected the art of sinning with the proficiencies afforded by unprecedented technological advancements. By both order of magnitude and sheer engineering exactitude, evil is now a precise science. Literally everything imaginable is at our fingertips and can be accessed by the senses through technology. Ours is a time of hyper stimulation, simulation, and assimilation. We are experiencing a state of sensory overload and sensual intake so pervasive and powerful that it has the potential to reduce humanity to a race of addicts.
“You are the product.”
Those are the chilling words that operate as the central thesis of the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.
Each online act you perform is captured and commodified. As you scroll and click, a “map” of your personality is composed, called an algorithm, which then informs paying corporations how best to target you with their products and services. Companies pay social media platforms for your attention. Every time you click, you are monetized. Everything is for sale, including you. We’re all prostitutes being pimped to the highest bidder, unless we’re intentionally not.
One of the interviewees for the Social Dilemma documentary is Jaron Lanier, the famed virtual reality pioneer who is currently an interdisciplinary scientist at Microsoft. Getting at the diabolical bottom line, Lanier says:
“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context in which the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.”
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an explosive article titled, “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show,” and the still more bracing subtitle, “Its own in-depth research shows a significant teen mental-health issue that Facebook plays down in public.”[i]
The article draws upon leaked internal research from Facebook to highlight the fact that Facebook, the owner of Instagram, is fully aware of the destructive impact the app is having on users, especially young girls. But it is also fully aware that to alter the app in ways that would mitigate the harmful effects would result in less clicking and therefore less revenue to the company. Thus far, Facebook has chosen to act in its own financial interest over human well-being, knowing that its platform is significantly contributing to an increase in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts, especially among teenagers.
While Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives are well aware of the harmful effects its platforms are having, they have chosen to evade and downplay the issue in congressional hearings and public comments. When asked by U.S. senators to provide their internal research regarding the harmful effects of their platforms on youth, Facebook executives essentially refused by stating that its research is “kept confidential to promote frank and open dialogue and brainstorming internally.” Senator Richard Blumenthal said in an email, “Facebook seems to be taking a page from the textbook of Big Tobacco—targeting teens with potentially dangerous products while masking the science in public.” Not only are Facebook executives fully aware of the harm their platforms are causing in their current configuration—they initially indicated they planned on plowing forward to produce an Instagram app for children 13 years of age and younger, even in the face of objections by state attorneys general. Facing withering criticism from the U.S. Congress and other media platforms, Facebook announced in late September a plan to “pause” development of an Instagram version intended for kids.
With the Instagram app, Facebook is in a race against other apps, such as Snapchat and TikTok, to capture and hold the attention of teenagers and quickly expand to “onboard” even more children. And the only way to do that is to make Instagram more and more addicting and therefore more and more harmful. The goal is to make money, not to do the right thing for the well-being of our children. The Wall Street Journal article characterizes Facebook as the new Philip Morris, the massive tobacco company that concealed its own scientific research revealing the harmful effects of smoking and kept pushing its products for its own financial gain regardless of the obvious destruction to human lives.
Just as Victor Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, created a creature more powerful than himself and thus beyond his control, it would seem that humanity, in creating the Internet, has created a technological monster quite literally beyond our control. And why can’t we control it? Well, that question points us to the underlying problem:
Our moral maturity is no match for the technology we’ve created.
As the Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson has observed: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”[ii]
Said another way, the Internet is a powerful tool the human race shouldn’t possess at its current level of emotional development. It’s like giving a 5-year-old a bottle of whiskey and a pistol and expecting things to go well. And yet here we are in just such a predicament, and with no way back to simpler and less dangerous times.
For my fellow Seventh-day Adventists, I’d like to offer a biblical perspective—first an eschatological analysis, and then a practical theological prescription.
According to Jesus, the final phase of human history will be characterized by an increase of evil and a corresponding decline in love:
“Because lawlessness will abound (plēthynō), the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).
The New Century Bible renders plēthynō “more and more.” Exponential escalation is the idea conveyed.
The apostle Paul issued the same ominous warning:
“In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
That is to say, the last days will be perilous precisely because of hyper-selfishness, most notably manifested as the love of money and of pleasure. When companies prioritize financial profits over people, the result will be exploitation to the point of inflicting harm. Because there is so much money to be made by capitalizing on the insecure and addictive tendencies of the human mind, we are experiencing a full-on sensory assault via technology, and there is likely no way to stop it. The apostle John informs us that evil will, indeed, exponentially escalate until supernatural demonic forces have complete control of large swaths of the human population:
“Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury” (Rev. 18:2, 3).
Under the compulsive lust for financial gain, the corporate titans of Babylon, greedy for “abundance” and “luxury,” are harnessing data and algorithms for a full-on sensory assault of the human mind. We are being mentally ravaged, raped, and razed by technological forces that are acting as the unwitting vehicle through which supernatural forces are playing out their endgame against humanity. The world is becoming “a dwelling place of demons,” and the demons are finding access to our senses through sophisticated technologies.
Once we’ve gotten our bearings on the eschatological landscape, the pressing and practical question becomes What are we supposed to do about it? The question can be asked another way: How can we successfully wage war against the powers of darkness and resist the overwhelming allure of evil?
Ellen White offers this answer:
“The way to dispel darkness is to admit light. The best way to deal with error is to present truth. It is the revelation of God’s love that makes manifest the deformity and sin of the heart centered in self.”[iii]
Those who spend too much time cursing the darkness will be swallowed up by it. To simply point out wrong and tell people to stop doing it is an approach that is bankrupt of moral power. It merely serves to leave people in a heightened state of guilt, but impotent to do anything about it. And it is inevitable—perhaps even a law of human nature—that a person who feels simultaneously guilty and powerless will take refuge from their guilt by plunging deeper into the forbidden behavior. The only way to break the allure of sin is to present a more alluring attraction.
While I am all for having serious restrictions on the access children have to our world’s media platforms, before you know it those children are going to be teenagers. At that point, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to maintain your restrictions. For this reason, I think Christian parents should take a far more proactive approach that aims at instilling in our children the principle of self-regulation so that they end up making good choices once they find themselves free to do whatever they want. And the best way to do that is to consistently hold before them the superior attraction of God’s love.
Saying no, no matter how authoritative and insistent we are, is a weak strategy for keeping our kids, and even ourselves, free from evil influences. Externally imposed authority can produce temporary compliance and pretense, but not authentic and deep-seated victory.
In Romans 7 the apostle Paul delves into the self-defeating psychology of negative imperative:
“When we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (verse 5).
“For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me” (verse 11).
“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (verse 19).
No need to quibble over whether Paul is here describing a converted or an unconverted person. He’s not endeavoring to answer that question. He is simply describing the psychological reality of sin in relation to the law in relation to human nature in its fallen condition. He is explaining that the law, while it is good, says “no” to certain behaviors to which human nature is inclined to say “yes.” And the “no” that the law imposes, Paul explains, actually has the effect of increasing the desire for the thing that is forbidden. The law stimulates more sin, not less, according to Paul. The most effective way to cause an action is to forbid it.
In a parallel passage to Romans 7 Paul writes, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Religion is made lethal to one’s experience with God when it is imposed from the outside in and used as a behavior-control mechanism that bypasses the formation of love in the heart. Ellen White states the point this way:
“The plan of beginning outside and trying to work inward has always failed, and always will fail.”[iv]
This single insight explains to a great extent why the church loses so many people, especially our young people. The outside-in approach “kills” personal, voluntary attraction to God. By contrast, the inside-out approach is what Paul calls “the new covenant,” which “gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). People run from control, but run to love. The problem with the old covenant approach is that it specializes in merely identifying and forbidding wrong behaviors and thereby, inadvertently, perpetuates the wrong behaviors.
Adventism has spent more than 100 years operating on the premise of the negative imperative approach to sin. We tend to identify things that are bad and then tell people—especially our young people—not to do those things. The result of this approach is obvious. We leave people feeling guilty and impotent by essentially insisting that they make promises to God that inevitably end up being like “ropes of sand.” This, then, drives them to either hypocrisy or despair. One way or another—either by generating pretentious pharisaism or by driving people to give up and leave the church—“the letter kills.” The “old covenant,” by virtue of the fact that it imposes moral requirements while keeping God’s love hidden from view, does not work.
Parents often ask, “How can I stop my kids from playing video games, watching movies, and spending hours on social media?” We are eager for help in telling our children “no” to bad things. And that certainly is understandable. The situation is staggeringly difficult to deal with, and super-scary, too. We love our children, and we want what's best for them, and yet harmful influences are so pervasive that it seems impossible to protect them. So we are strongly tempted to resort to the negative imperative approach, which will work as long as our children are young and under our authority. But we need to ask ourselves, What is our goal? Is it merely to keep our children from doing bad as long as we can? Of course not! Our goal is to grow our children into responsible, self-governing adults who are personally in love with Jesus. And that means we must prioritize teaching our children, and our church members in general, the glorious and powerful and transformative gospel of Christ.
“I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).
“Love is power. Intellectual and moral strength are involved in this principle, and cannot be separated from it. . . . Love cannot live without action, and every act increases, strengthens and extends it. Love will gain the victory.”[v]
“The contemplation of the love of God manifested in His Son will stir the heart and arouse the powers of the soul as nothing else can.”[vi]
“Nothing reaches so fully down to the deepest motives of conduct as a sense of the pardoning love of Christ.”[vii]
“The theme that attracts the heart of the sinner is Christ, and Him crucified. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus stands revealed to the world in unparalleled love. Present Him thus to the hungering multitudes, and the light of His love will win men from darkness to light, from transgression to obedience and true holiness.”[viii]
As a church, we need to prioritize developing discipleship curriculums that cultivate God's love in the hearts and minds of our children, as well as our members in general. As a matter of emergency, old covenant orientations need to give way to new covenant orientations. Adventism desperately needs the gospel—the good news of God’s unmerited favor, by which the powers of the soul are aroused to live for God, not because we have to, but because we want to.
Sin attracts. There is no doubt about that fact. But in Christ we encounter a far superior attraction. The beauty of His love is the only power powerful enough to break the power of sin over our souls.
[iii]Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940] p. 498.
[iv]Ellen G. White, Temperance [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1949], p. 102.
[v]Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948], vol. 2, p. 135.
[vi]E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 478.
[vii]E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 493.
[viii]Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Nov. 22, 1892.
BIO: Ty Gibson is an author, speaker and director of Light Bearers, a literature ministry based in Collegedale, Tennessee