Have you ever thrown stones into water?
As a child in Minnesota, I loved chucking rocks into its lakes.
When a stone hits the water, there is a very rewarding sound that is equal parts bellow and crash. Afterwards, the eternal ripples mesmerize until the next stone calls your attention.
This act—chucking a stone into water and its ensuing ripples—provides the perfect illustration for the greatest challenge to the Seventh-day Adventist meta-narrative.
In our theology, we answer the question of evil in this world with an amplified free-will defense. We say God created a good world in which love was possible. Love can only exist in a world of freedom, and this freedom can lead to love just as it can lead to not love. We then say a creature, Lucifer, became the enemy or satan of God, when it used its freedom to question the goodness of God’s government and being. The Satan accused God of being controlling and manipulative and self-seeking so that when he came to humanity and enticed them to sin, God allowed evil to play its course so all created beings could see for themselves whether God’s way was good or if the Satan’s accusations were legitimate. Thus, we are in a world of good and evil, but the resurrection of Jesus ensures that evil has been defeated and will eventually be done away with because love wins.
It is a good argument and an even better story that seeks to harmonize all of the biblical data into the world we experience.
However, there lies one major problem.
The problem is posed as a question at the beginning of this entire story: who is ultimately responsible for the “sin stuff” in this world?
If God is the Sole Creator, which He is, then isn’t sin also part of His creative work?
In the natural world, we know that stuff comes from other stuff like itself. We would be shocked to find an elephant baby roosting with its chicken mother or to go to strawberry patches and discover Mother Nature gave these bushes only Brussel sprouts.
Likewise, we know that everything in this world exists because of the power of God. And if everything doesn’t include sin, if the sin stuff in this world did not come from God, then from where did it come? Sure, helping me understand that love requires freedom helps me understand the principles of God’s government, but that doesn’t help me understand where murder, lies, adultery, pride, and hatred came from if not from God.
Could it be that it was there all along as a “shadow reality” to God’s world?
And if so, then once again, doesn’t that place God as the originator of it since He alone is Creator?
After all, even if God didn’t Himself make it, God cast the first stone into the lake. Without His first creative act, the pool of nothingness would have never whooshed and crashed into something, and the ripples—the ongoing creation steps and subsequent history of the universe—wouldn’t reverberate today.
“Now,” you might say, “remember the parable of the wheat and tares!” It is true that Jesus has the Master shed responsibility for the planting of tares in the field, but the parable is limited. Because God doesn’t merely have fields, but rather creates them. The Old Testament constantly exalts Him as the Creator, and in that parable, even if God said, “I didn’t plant tares,” the clever servant might well ask, “Well, Lord why did you create seeds the produce tares in the first place?”
Thus, God is indicted as the Being who by creating not only caused us to be in this corrupt and sinful world, but also as the One from whom the bad stuff came from.
So what do we say?
I think we can say nothing, but Jesus does have something to say in the Gospel of John. In John 8, Jesus has an extended debate with the Pharisees. The author frames the debate as a response to the mercy Jesus shows the woman caught in adultery because the Pharisees are essentially questioning Jesus’ judgment and authority. To discredit Jesus, the Pharisees resort to personal attacks as noted by the sarcasm in verse 22 and defamation in verse 44. Because the Pharisees try to pit Jesus against Abraham, the whole conversation climaxes with that astounding statement by Jesus in verse 59—“Before Abraham was, I am.”
But before that climax, Jesus makes one of His most world-altering statements. In verse 37, Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ desire to kill Him; because Jesus’ word has no place with them, they will seek to do what they have seen their father do. When they try to claim God as their father, Jesus God cannot be their father because rather than love the word of Jesus, they seek to kill it.
He then says this, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, ESV)
In saying this, Jesus not only indicts the Pharisees of their murderous motives, but He also convicts the satan as a murderer from the beginning. However, the devil is not only the first of liars and murderers, but according to the text, he is also the source and supplier of murders and lies.
This challenges our notions of reality in ways conventional philosophy and theology are not able to handle, and it firmly removes any responsibility from God’s hands for the existence of sin stuff in this world.
And this is good because the Great Controversy narrative helps make sense of the world only if we can believe that when Ezekiel says, “You were perfect until iniquity was found in you,” he means that some aberration having nothing to do with God’s created order occurred.
This goes against what we are used to; our stories and movies are often filled with inside jobs—masters or rulers who knew all along and were just duping the anti-hero. Families may have “bad sheep,” but often these bad sheep are just the result of personality traits found in the family or to environmental factors shaped by parents. But what Jesus asks us to do if we are to take His words seriously is to believe that the satan somehow introduced murders and lies “from his own.” Without believing this, the Great Controversy model fails because it cannot account from where the “sin stuff” came if not from God.
John 8:44 not only implies that the murders and liars in us and around us come from the devil, it also says that the murderous and lying stuff itself come from the devil.
So if evil in you and around you makes you ask how could this come from a good and loving God, then you do well to ask because the truth is simply that it couldn’t and it doesn’t.
In John 8, Jesus helps answer our question about the origins of evil stuff. And although it may not resolve all of our questions, it does help resolve the question of the lake and stone. We can be certain that the God who chucked the first creative act into the pool of nothingness, did so in love.
We can be certain that the ripples that came from His act were composed of the same stuff He is composed of—joy, goodness, truth, beauty, love, and justice.
Evil emerged, but it did not emerge from God’s ripples.
This is the mystery of iniquity: that something completely un-Godlike, a complete demarcation from God’s creation, came into this world through the fallen angel and now it resides in us and in our world.
The philosopher in me wonders how can this be, and yet the disciple in me proclaims the Truth has set me free.
Note: I have been journeying through a series of posts I am entitling Recalibrating Doctrines. The doctrines will recalibrate not in content, but in expression. After a doing a series of posts on the locus of Adventist theology, I am now beginning a discussion on sin.