We grew up Adventist. To us, it was synonymous with ‘believers’, as in: ‘believers in the true God’. Our faith (we were referring to our denomination, the SDAs) had the ‘real truth’.
Although I had stepped away from the organised structure that was ‘Adventism’ since living here in Australia, and had actually been no longer active in the church for quite a while even before moving to Australia, there was always that tiny kernel of world-view that included God and Jesus and a second coming and that there was going to be an end to all this horror called “Life on Earth” as we know it. That view included the reality that sin existed, and that mankind was, without exception: sinful. And that all that was going to come to an end, thankfully.
From a personal perspective, it was a hollow conviction: there was no real hope of salvation. Belief? well, I’ve given lots of lip-service to “God is Love”, but there was no aspect of consequence, no sense that ‘God is Love’ was actually real in a way that I could truly drawn hope from. It was a truth outside of me, one that didn’t address hope at all I was already convinced I was more desperately sinful than I was aware of, not only in actions, but much more importantly in thoughts and motives and instincts… a sinfulness that wasn’t diminishing even when all effort went to it (which wasn’t all that frequent, to be honest). It was analogous to trying to lose weight but being weak and eating and drinking things that keep the weight on, so feeling like a failure, like a no-hoper, and then giving up on the whole concept: one throws in the towel with “doesn’t work for me.” All my failures reinforced the growing sense of no hope, all the more so because of my emphasis on my bad decisions: it was my fault because I didn’t practise what I believed.
So, I ended up in this state of self-delusion where I simply didn’t — couldn’t — fully acknowledge my true sinfulness. One can’t go around feeling exquisitely sinful and wretched and lost and hopeless for long. You have to carry on, people expect you to be positive.
The best way I can explain this conflict with self-awareness is: male privilege. Most males don’t even realise they’re exercising it, until one day for whatever reason, something happens that exposes a behaviour reflecting an underlying attitude, personal self-awareness pricks the conscience, and you (at a minimum) blush. Some even promise to “do better”. But instinct and emotional intelligence and self-confidence and conviction all play a role on how well you do managing that.
Finally, I had just enough self-awareness that I was deluding myself about who I really was to God, and this vague sense that I was worse than even I could perceive made my prayers sound –to me — like I was talking to myself, hollow, fairly meaningless. Here I was trying to address the Author of ultimate reality with words that lacked conviction, even to me. All this was affecting my faith and subsequently: hope.
There was no real hope in salvation, because I realised that the path I was on — what was governing my day-to-day — would preclude my ever being “ready”. I had this sense that as long as I was awake, I could have a hope for a last-minute decision, perhaps, something that could tip the scale. No, I didn’t consciously think this, but it was there, nevertheless. Still, even on the best days, the days I could say I was doing good things for people, where on my balance sheet I would see me in the black instead of the red morally, upon reflection I realised I was still constantly failing, because my motives were putrid. They were selfish. It was about MY salvation. Hope again withered as I realised how evil this was. That impure-motive-driven failure was due to not letting Christ “be in control” of my life. But what does that mean? How is that practised?
Finally, I knew instinctively that in that fateful day of the last judgment, I would come up wanting, because whatever little I was able to do right was completely eclipsed by the ‘real me’, the sinful me.
No Hope At All In That.
I was YouTubing one day, and found a video by H Roger Bothwell, a former minister at Pacific Union College. He’s such a nice chap, with whimsical little devotionals: good thoughts. Bothwell’s video led to thinking about PUC, and wondering about other people who were there at the time I was working on my nursing degree.
People like Dr Desmond Ford.
Like most Adventists, I understood little of the controversy surrounding his leaving PUC. Oh, I understood it had something to do with 1844 and 2600 days and Daniel 8:14 and ‘cleansing of the sanctuary’ and a bunch of other theological stuff, but it carried little significance to my day-to-day. Although I found the topics interesting, I didn’t attach much meaning to them, in terms of my view on Adventism specifically and Christianity generally.
Well, it was Saturday, so: the Sabbath. I thought: “why not watch some videos on religious topics? That should be in line with ‘keeping the Sabbath’.”
Watched a few contentious discussions about EG White and whether she plagiarized and then finally picked up the thread of videos by Des Ford on the Old and New Testament of the Bible.
Jesus Christ is known for saying this: “by their fruits you shall know them.” Matt 7:16. Now, there’s a lot of religious discourse on YouTube. Much of it is opinion and most of it is not spiritual.
By their fruits.
I found this video (set):
Over time — it has been months now — of finding these videos and listening to these words, a tiny kernel of hope was born. I attribute this happening to this principle: there is a undeniable difference between reading Scripture and studying Scripture.
Dr Ford has studied Scripture: it is his whole life. He offered a closer look at this very familiar passage in Scripture:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
We know this text by heart… most Adventists do. Most Christians do. But what about the meaning? Things are best hidden, if they remain in plain sight. People can see but not perceive, and so the thing is simply not there. We think we understand all Christ had to say here — it seems so plainly obvious — but fail to see key points, life-changing points.
The last part of that text: what exactly is meant by “have eternal life”? Why doesn’t it say “will have”, just “have”? As in: now… not at some point in the obscure future, all conditions being met. The realisation comes that this means we have eternal life now, the minute we believe.
Also, who “have” eternal life? There’s no ‘if’ here, just one condition, with no hidden clauses: “whoever believes in Him”. Whoever. Anyone. This includes me.
Then, there is also the point of “believe”.
The promise Christ made to the thief as they both hung on crosses addresses the same point:
“Jesus said to him, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'”
The original Greek has no punctuation. What that thief did have was Christ’s assurance of righteousness, imputed righteousness, right then and there. He was deemed righteous just because he believed.
How did he believe?
Here’s this person hanging on a cross next to him with a sign above him saying he’s the King of the Jews. The thief must have picked up the words “Father, forgive them” as His hands and feet were nailed to the wood. He must have heard of Jesus as well, since he remonstrated the other thief:
“Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
He would not have been able to say that unless he had heard something of Him, at the very least.
And realised who this was, that He was who He said He was, something so many religious people of that day failed to do.
And believed: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”