The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character
SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #12
"The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character"
December 21, 2013
For our Insights discussion this week we draw heavily from quotations by Elder George E. Fifield, an ordained SDA minister from Massachusetts who was associated with A.T. Jones in religious liberty work during the 1890’s.
Elder Fifield elucidated the issues involved in God’s character both in a book he wrote God Is Love (http://www.pineknoll.org/references/2005/q1/crossat1.pdf) and in a sermon he preached during the 1897 GC session (http://www.1888msc.org/site/1/docs/GE_Fifield_1897_No_1.pdf).
Sabbath afternoon – Character of God
The word “atonement” means at-one-ment. Sin had brought misery, and misery had brought a misunderstanding of God’s character. Thus men had come to hate God instead of loving him; and hating him, the one Father, men also hated man, their brother. Thus, instead of the one family and the one Father, men were separated from God and from each other, and held apart by hatred and selfishness. There must be an atonement. . . .
The atonement is not to appease God’s wrath, so that man dare come to him, but it is to reveal his love, so that they will come to him. It was not Christ reconciling God unto the world, but God in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is nowhere said that God needed to be reconciled to us; he says, “I have not forsaken you, but you have forsaken me.” And Paul says, “I beseech you in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God.” pp. 100-1, God Is Love.
Sunday – Lucifer’s twisted gospel
But the pagan idea of sacrifice is . . . that some god is always offended, always angry, and his wrath must be propitiated in some way.
If it is an ordinary case, the blood of bulls and goats will suffice; but if it is an extraordinary case, the blood of some innocent virgin or child must flow; and when the god smells the blood, his wrath is appeased. We talk of pagan immortality, pagan Sunday, pagan idolatry, etc.; but it seems to me that the lowest thought is that men have brought this pagan idea of sacrifice right into the Bible, and applied it to the sacrifice of the cross.
So the Methodist Discipline uses these words: “Christ died to reconcile the Father unto us;” that is, to propitiate God so that we could be forgiven—paganism straight out. Why, brethren and sisters, it is the application of the pagan conception of sacrifice to the sacrifice upon the cross, so that that wonderful manifestation of divine love, which God intended should cause all men, all beings in the universe, to wonder and adore, has been turned around and made a manifestation of wrath to be propitiated in order to save man. I am glad that we are losing sight of this manner of viewing the subject, where we do not say that Christ died to reconcile the Father unto us. Brethren, there is sometimes such a thing as to give up the expression of a thing, and think we have thus gotten rid of it, when a good deal of it still lingers and clouds our consciousness of the love of God, and the beauty of his truth, so that we cannot present a clear gospel to hungry souls that are waiting to know about God. (GCB 1897)
Monday – Satan’s accusations and God’s character
What shall we say of the false idea of the atonement, held even by many in the popular Protestant churches of today, and expressed in a late confession of faith in these words, “Christ died to reconcile the Father unto us”? This is not the place to enter into a discussion of that theme; suffice it to say that it is the pagan idea of sacrifice applied to Christianity. God, they think, was angry; he must pour forth his wrath upon some one. If upon man, it would eternally damn him, as he deserved; but this would interfere with God’s plan and purpose in creating the worlds, so this must not be. And yet God must not be cheated of his vengeance; for this reason he pours it forth upon Christ, that man may go free. So when Christ died, he was slain really by the wrath and anger of the Father.
This is paganism. The true idea of the atonement makes God and Christ equal in their love, and one in their purpose of saving humanity. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” The life of Christ was not the price paid to the Father for our pardon; but that life was the price which the Father paid to so manifest his loving power as to bring us to that repentant attitude of mind where he could pardon us freely. Thus Satan has transformed the truth of God’s love into a lie, and even infused this lie into the very doctrine of the atonement. pp. 33-34, God Is Love.
Tuesday – God’s demonstration of love and justice at the cross
What does the incarnation mean?—Simply this, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself; that Jesus was divine, and yet human, perfect God and perfect man, Son of God and Son of man; that with the divine arm he might grasp the throne of the Infinite, while with the human arm he encircles humanity, with all it woes and needs, with all its hungerings and heartaches, and encircles is to lift it up, to unite it with God, thus making the atonement. p.109.
Some conscientious but timid soul may ask, “Is not this denying the vicarious atonement?” I answer, No; a thousand times no. It is only lifting and broadening and enlarging our conception of the vicarious atonement, and bringing it into harmony with what we know of God’s character, as revealed in his work and his word. Jesus is still the world’s only Saviour. Both in life and in death he suffered vicariously, bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, — “suffering the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God,” that is, that he might make an atonement. Christ’s death was not the result of an outpouring of the Father’s wrath; it was the result of the world’s violation of the Father’s law of love. p.110
Wednesday – God’ character vindicated through the cross
Every passage of Scripture that refers to the reconciliation or atonement, or to the propitiation, always represents God as the one who makes this atonement, reconciliation, or propitiation, in Christ; we are always the ones atoned for, the ones to be reconciled. For us it was done, in order that, as Peter says, he might bring us to God. . . .
This is the at-one-ment; this is why he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, that he might do that for us by breaking down all those things which separate hearts from hearts, both human and divine. Notwithstanding this, we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. That was what we thought about it. We said, God is doing all this ; God is killing him, punishing him, to satisfy his wrath, in order to let us off. That is the pagan conception of sacrifice. The Christian idea of sacrifice is this, let us note the contrast. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is the Christian idea. Yes, sir. Indifference keeps, hatred keeps, selfishness keeps, or gives, if at all, but grudgingly, counting the cost, and figuring on some larger return at some future time. But love, and love only, sacrifices, gives freely, gives itself, gives without counting the cost, gives because it is love. (GCB 1897)
Thursday – God’s character revealed through His people
How could God love a sinner? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” That word “world” is cosmos; it means order, harmony, beauty, arrangement. You see the world was out of harmony, out of order; but God saw underneath the world of evil, the cosmos that was, the order that was to be, and he loved the cosmos that was, and gave his life to bring out the harmony.
The Spirit of God brooding over the chaos— that love of not merely what is, but what is to be, that love of the possible—0 brethren, he broods over the chaos of your life and mine. It is not simply the chaos in the great big world; but he brings out the possible in us, and restores us to his image. That is the kind of God we have. And he has committed to us that same thing, too, so that when we become like him, we can love all men, coarse though they be on the outside. And when we have the divine life of God, which sees beneath the surface, we will see loveliness in every character, that we long to live out, and long, as God does, to bring out. (GCB 1897)
Friday – Why was sin permitted?
He took our sorrows, our griefs, all the conflicts of our lives upon him, and was tempted in all points as we are. He took the injustices of our lives upon him too. It is a fact that you and I have to suffer for many things for which we are not at fault. All my suffering is not the result of my sin. Some of it is; but just as long as sin exists, injustice exists. As long as men sin, men will be sinned against. Just so you and I will have to suffer for the sins of others; and so God, to show that he knew and realized all that, let him that was perfectly innocent, take the injustice and sin of us all. O brethren and sisters, he did not bear some other grief or some other sorrow, but he bore our griefs and our sorrows. He was pierced through by them, and the Lord permitted it, because there was healing in it for us. (GCB 1897)