My childhood home in Surfside, Florida (yeah, that Surfside), was not militantly atheist, but a more Laodicean strain. Our rare talks about God focused on His rumored existence (or lack thereof). The latter outcome—that He did not exist—was the usual denouement of the few Goldstein family forays into metaphysical theology.
My passionate atheism, however, would at times conceal spasms of cold, hard doubt when I would think that maybe God did exist, a thought that I would immediately push away. I knew that if God existed I was in trouble. Why would a teenage biblical illiterate (I once asked someone, “Was King David Jewish?”) think that? Though not all that “bad,” how fascinating that I would nevertheless feel guilty before a God whom I thought as nothing but a neurological epiphenomenon that hovered over and about the chemicals sparking and pulsating through and between my brain cells. It wasn’t logic that pushed me away from God, but morality—the motive that I’m convinced subconsciously fuels the atheist agenda.
Sure, tsunamis, Nazis, and kids with cancer provide convenient and not utterly unreasonable excuses for atheism. Human evil—buttressed by pseudo-scientific theories that the universe arose out of nothing and that evolution turns lifeless chemicals into conscious beings who create pseudo-scientific theories that the universe arose out of nothing and that evolution turned lifeless chemical into conscious beings—gives people plenty of excuses and justifications to reject what we all fear. We fear having to answer to God for the sleazy things that we might, were it not for God, otherwise get away with.
That thought—of having to answer to God in judgment—scared me as a 19-year-old, and it would scare me today were it not for my only hope in judgment, the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness is “woven in the loom of heaven” and “has in it not one thread of human devising.”1 That righteousness is now mine by faith.
The 1844 sanctuary message, an end-time manifestation of “the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6)2—the foundation upon which the three angels’ messages rest—reveals why there is “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1) now, or especially in the judgment, when we will need the “everlasting gospel” most. The cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14, the same event as the heavenly judgment in Daniel 7 made “in favor of the saints” (Dan. 7:22), is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement ritual (Lev. 16), which itself reveals how we make it through judgment.
Twice in Leviticus 16 God’s people are told to “afflict your souls” (verses 29, 31), which, besides fasting, includes humility, repentance, surrender to God, and love for others (see Ps. 35:13; Ezra 8:21; Isa. 58:3-10). It appears to be a special time of faithfulness and obedience, of soul searching before God because, yes, it is the judgment day.
Despite the afflicting of their souls, the sinfulness of the people is nonetheless assumed. That’s why the sanctuary and the people needed to be cleansed. “So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness” (Lev. 16:16). Because of their uncleanliness, their transgressions, and their sins, the sanctuary was cleansed. However faithful and obedient they were, even on the Day of Atonement they were still sinners in need of blood, Christ’s blood. “For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD” (verse 30).
That’s why, except for the scapegoat (verses 10, 19), the motif of blood appears again and again in the Day of Atonement ritual: blood (verse 3), blood (verse 14), blood (verse 15), blood (verse 18), blood (verse 19), blood (verse 27). Every drop of that blood symbolized the only blood that can atone for and cleanse us from sin, the blood of Jesus. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
As Ellen White writes, though Satan accuses them before God, bringing their sins to God’s attention with exulting, “in their defective characters,”3 Christ defends them, presenting “an effectual plea in behalf of all who by repentance and faith have committed the keeping of their souls to Him. He pleads their cause and vanquishes their accuser by the mighty arguments of Calvary. His perfect obedience to God's law, even unto the death of the cross, has given Him all power in heaven and in earth, and He claims of His Father mercy and reconciliation for guilty man.”4
However faithful, obedient, and victorious God’s people are amid the afflicting of their souls, their faithfulness, obedience, and victories do not get them through judgment. Instead, “we are to rely upon Christ as our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. We cannot answer the charges of Satan against us. Christ alone can make an effectual plea in our behalf. He is able to silence the accuser with arguments founded not upon our merits, but on His own.”5
Judgment is certain. “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:14). Every secret thing? I’d be in trouble for what I’ve done in public! No wonder that for me, at 19 and not even sure that God existed, the thought of being judged by Him scared me anyway.
And it would scare me now, too, were it not for the 1844 Day of Atonement, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. This life-giving truth shows that Christ’s blood, and His blood alone, gets me through the judgment that everyone—even an atheist—fears.
1 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 311.
2 All Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif., Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 470.
4 Ibid., p. 471.
5 Ibid., p. 472.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Adult Bible Study Guides and a longtime columnist for Adventist Review. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including 1844 Made Simple.