March 10, 2023

Raising Myriads

Clifford Goldstein

Those who grew up with Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories cannot grasp what a wrenching shift it was for me to go from atheism to Adventism. I had believed in only “atoms and the void” until the entire epistemic architecture of my existence, down to the zeros and ones, was overturned.

It was strange, those first few weeks, to realize that much of what I had believed for the first 24 years of my life was wrong—at most every level as well. It was like a science fiction script: a man goes to sleep and wakes up to a new world, with new laws, principles, morals—everything.  

To go from not believing in God, to believing that He not only exists but died on the cross for me? From believing the universe a meaningless accident, to that God purposely created and sustains every molecule in it—from those that compose the farthest galaxies to those that decompose food in an ant’s belly. From believing that prayers were useless syllables chucked into an atmosphere that instantly consumed them, to that they can summon angels to our side at speeds faster than light. From believing that all the evil and injustice in the world would go unpunished, to that one day “ God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 14:12). From belief that history was a meaningless march from nowhere to nowhere, to that a sovereign God will bring everything to a glorious climax with a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). From believing that we evolved, by chance, to seeing the creative power of God in every living thing? 

Quite the paradigm shift, was it not?

Over time, once the veil had been lifted from my eyes, these new beliefs, though taken on faith (nothing we believe comes without faith), began to make sense, logical rational sense. Contrast this to what I had believed before: that the universe just popped into existence, and out of nothing, too (which some scientists teach); that all the diverse beauty, function, and complexity of life were never designed, but only look that way. Though I didn’t get here overnight, the existence of God, a God of love, is the most obvious truth I know.

Also, early on, I learned about the dead being in an unconscious sleep until the resurrection (the first or second), as opposed to the pandemic belief among Christians about the dead going right away to heaven or hell. Which, of course, makes the resurrection of the dead essential. As Paul wrote, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19). 

In other words, my hope of eternal life “in a new heavens and a new earth,” as opposed to rotting in the ground until the ground itself rots (what atheists believe), rests on the promise that millions, even billions, everyone who has ever lived, will be brought back to life—in physical bodies even? Someone burned in the ovens at Auschwitz decades ago, or killed in the sea battle at Salamis (480 BC) and then digested by sharks and squid—these and billions of others will to be resurrected to life? All my other new beliefs,—i.e., God as Creator, the efficacy of prayer, final judgment—seemed easy by comparison. 

However hard for me—someone who two weeks before wasn’t sure that God existed—to accept this promise, early on something helped. I saw in an astronomy magazine a photo of a galaxy. The caption said that each galaxy had about 100 billion stars, and one trillion (the number now is two trillion) known galaxies careened through the cosmos. This was the first time in my life, as a believer, that I thought about the cosmos. Then it hit me: the God who created and sustains two trillion galaxies, 100 billion stars each, had the power to raise the dead. That God created the cosmos doesn’t prove that He will raise the dead, but only that He could. 

Our faith hinges upon a miracle of staggering proportions, on belief in what nothing—not science, not experience, not even imagination—prepares us for. Yes, Jesus was raised from the dead. Though miraculous, one man’s resurrection after three days isn’t the resurrection of billions—some reduced to scattered molecules millennia ago.  And yet, without this promise, our Christian hope is “futile,” and we are living a lie.

If you must—because your faith is meaningless without it—trust in something as unprecedented, immeasurable, and unimaginable at this—what can you not trust God with? The God who can raise the world’s dead can, easily, handle whatever comes your way. Right?