Cliff's Edge

A Lament

Clifford Goldstein
A Lament

It’s my fortieth year at the General Conference, and though I was not brought there to be an apologist, that’s what I’ve been doing since, even longer if you count my four years in the church before the Big House. Though having no idea how effective I’ve been in convincing others of our message, I have certainly convinced myself.

Logically, rationally, intellectually—I’m so in. Fascinated with epistemology, the study of how we come to “knowledge,” I’m painfully aware of the limits of what we can know. And yet, even with that caveat, and acknowledging our era’s aversion to any metanarrative, I can’t help it—this must be the Truth, as in a capital T. 

Years ago, when asked if I ever doubted the Adventist message, I answered, “Well, not really, but when I do, I always dismiss it as irrational!”

“Irrational?” the person responded incredulously—his science background gave him the illusion of objectivity.

“Yes,” I answered, “because of the experiences I have had, and the things that I believe, doubt is the most irrational thing that I can have.”

And it’s true: whatever vast gaps of knowledge I stare into on every topic, especially God, it’s just so clear to me that, of all the organized religious bodies in the world, Seventh-day Adventists are the closest to having the truth. (And I don’t apologize for saying that, either.)

Yet, saying that, I despair that this truth, and my conviction of it, has not changed me as much as it should have by now, 44 years into it. Forty-four. My faults, character flaws, and basic sinfulness seem as embedded into me as ever, right down to the subquantum level. If, as Ellen White says, the closer we get to Jesus, the more faulty we will appear in our own eyes, I must be in His face.

I know the Bible promises of victory; I preach them; I claim them. Please, the God who created and sustains the cosmos doesn’t have the power to perfect my character and give me victory over my faults? Yet my character isn’t perfected (just ask those who know me—for example, my wife). And, far from having all the victories I would have thought that I would have by now, at times I see myself as worse than I was in the past.

I have, it seems, two options—give up; or accept the perfect righteousness of Jesus, a “robe of righteousness, woven in the loom of heaven, and not one thread of humanity in it,”* as my own. If not saved by that robe and that robe alone, I’m destined, and deservedly so, for the second death. And though I take on faith that the Lord Jesus is sanctifying me (Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:10; Jude 1, etc.), however little I feel (see, sense) it—my only hope of salvation rests on what Christ has done at the cross for me, outside of me, and in place of me.

Of all the truths of our message, Jesus’ righteousness credited to me, by faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-4), remains the one that I’m most convinced of, and the one without which all the others become meaningless.

* Ellen G. White manuscript 17, 1893, in Letters and Manuscripts, vol. 8, p. 200.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Clifford Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. His most recent book is Risen: Finding Hope in the Empty Tomb.