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  • Writer's pictureEconomia e Evangelismo

The Great Controversy and Evangelism: Part 1 - Fundamental Elements of the Great Controversy

Longtime Adventists, whether enthusiastic or not about the writings of Ellen G. White, often carry in mind a foggy ideia about what the Great Controversy is and what it consists of. Not that longtime Adventists are all to blame: in fact, even to this day we don't have a clear and widespread model of the Great Controversy. Compared with lay members, Adventist theologians are much more responsible for this state of affairs, as to date they have not presented the topic in a clear, fully intelligible way. Relating the Great Controversy to Evangelism is an even worse task, as it is now two confusing concepts rather than one. If an idea isn't quite clear, comparing it to another doesn't help at all. In a brief manner (which is certainly not enough), here we will try to conceptualize the Great Controversy and Evangelism, to see if we reach a meeting point. I believe that in order to present a brief outline of this link, no more than three posts will be needed. In this first one, the idea is to present the fundamental elements and the origins of the Great Controversy, according to the writings of Ellen G. White and the Bible. In the second post, the purpose will be to present the current stage of the Great Controversy. Then, in the third, the biblical concept of evangelism and its relationship to the Great Controversy and its resolution will be presented, or at least that will be the attempt. If, in the end, only one person can see more clearly the connection between the two issues, I will consider the task accomplished.

The Great Controversy is an idea that arises from Ellen G. White's series of books titled The Conflict of the Ages, which was written throughout her ministry. The last book in the series is called The Great Controversy, but the idea is not limited to this book. While the book is indeed very important, the series as a whole needs to be considered. It is a though task summarizing the essentials of a series of books that add up to a few thousand pages. Additionally, it is also necessary to add to these texts the Bible itself, which is the primordial basis for the understanding of the Great Controversy. However, the whole work is surely necessary. First, the Great Controversy is a battle between God and Satan and their respective diametrically opposed government proposals for the whole universe. The battle does not involve any kind of physical violence, for, if it did, it could not last more than a few seconds, since the omnipotence of God can never be compared to the attributes of power that Satan possesses. Therefore, it is a battle that takes place essentially in the field of ideas. Here, right off the bat, that question we ask ourselves as a child arises: why did God not destroy Satan when he manifested opposition? The answer can't be simpler than "because God doesn't act that way." In fact, if God acted otherwise, the universe would be completely different. However, the Great Controversy reveals a special reason why God did not act with instant violence at the birth of sin: His creation.

Even before sin, God had realized that the creation of beings endowed with free will could at some point lead to apostasy. The plan of redemption, formulated before all which is known, is the greatest proof of this. After all, there is no genuine freedom in a universe of created beings who have no choice in life but to love God. He endowed the universe with intrinsic value by populating it with intelligent and free beings. The Bible portrays a God who simply loves freedom. Throughout human history, He seeks to PERSUADE and CONVINCE His creatures to take His side, which is the keynote of the entire Old Testament and the Gospel itself. The Spirit of Prophecy is no different. When Ellen White claims that Jesus could have come back as early as the 19th century if God's people had not turned back, there is an additional claim that not going back was A REAL CHOICE. Many have said that, although Sister White actually made such a claim, GOD KNEW HER PEOPLE AND KNEW THEY WOULD TURN BACK then. In short, from this perspective, Sister White's words were merely, at the time, a rhetorical instrument to convince the Adventist people that they should move forward, which in any case would not happen at that time, as God is all-knowing and thus knows the whole future in advance, even individual choices. However, the fact remains that if God knew that the Adventist people would back down, there really was nothing to be done, FOR THE FUTURE CANNOT BE DIFFERENT FROM WHAT GOD KNOWS IT WILL BE. To this observation, it is common to hear the following reply: “but God also knew that his people could have advanced”. In this case, we go back to the beginning of the paragraph: going back or forward are REAL OPTIONS. And God is still all-knowing: He knows all branches of possibilities for future, depending on the unfolding of individual choices.

Therefore, in a universe populated by beings endowed with significant intelligence and real moral choices, Satan's immediate destruction at the time of his first and most intimate sin in the heart would have one or more of these consequences: (1) Creation as a whole would know that the most important of the heavenly angels had suddenly been destroyed by God, not knowing the circumstances of the existence of an inward sin. (2) Intelligent beings, endowed with real options, ask themselves questions. God gave these beings the capacity for reflection. Obviously, Satan's destruction would be a sudden change in the entire universe. God's creation would instinctively perceive Lucifer's absence. On God's part, pretending that everything continued as it always was would be cynical, which God simply is not, as the Bible easily demonstrates. (3) In God not being cynical, some message would need to be given to His creation. In that case, since God does not lie, He would tell her about Lucifer's apostasy. (4) It would be a strange message to say the least, since no one could really understand, at that point, what this apostasy was and where it had come from, for it was a whole new event. (5) Furthermore, even so, Satan's destruction could simply sound arbitrary: Lucifer was a well-liked being in the universe. Its destruction, utterly sudden and seemingly inexplicable, might sound beyond cruel. The message to the universe would be of a God who simply does not know forgiveness. At that moment, the relationship between God and His creation could become one based on fear.

Throughout the Bible, God's relationship to his creatures is a completely transparent and true one. He invites his creatures to inquiry into the truth. He doesn't hide anything and doesn't settle for half-answers. In light of the Bible, this SIMPLY IS the character of God. Realize that, being God who He is, Lucifer's immediate destruction, while avoiding the Great Controversy, would result in some other form of totally undesirable situation. God does not want fearful creatures, does not want to take away their intelligence or freedom, nor does He want to destroy them (this would be another possible way to avoid the Great Controversy). This is how the conflict takes shape. However, this is all just the beginning. Once Satan has sinned and been spared by God, what happens next? On the one hand, there is a God of love, who invites His creatures to know Him and draws them to Himself, but gives them freedom to choose another path. On the other side, there is a proud creature, who in his heart no longer wants to live with God. Turning away from God and His wonderful attributes leads to greater and greater evils: it develops self-righteousness, self-love and narcissism. Satan's agenda takes a clear form: he doesn't see repentance as an option and wants God's own place. In short, he wants the government of the entire universe and all creation, both life and inanimate matter. He believes he is superior to God in intelligence and ability. His selfishness and need for self-promotion takes him directly to the stunned audience: creation. Here it becomes crucial the detail that, in the midst of all this, there is an intelligent and truly free creation, which understands what is happening. Satan appeals to God's creation and exposes his thoughts to them, including: (1) That he is superior to God; (2) That his own sin was inevitable, because the moral law which God imposes on his creatures is utterly arbitrary and impossible to keep; (3) That the notion of freedom that God upholds is not true, since it implies strict obedience to His laws; (4) That God's creation, if endowed with true freedom of choice, will prefer his government over that of the Creator. (5) That, at last, once elevated to ruler of the universe, he would deliver more freedom and happiness to all creatures.

Had God destroyed Satan at this point, justice would have been done, but considering an anguished and perplexed creation, the damage would have been even greater than before when Satan's sin was not public. If Satan had not had the opportunity to make himself a complete liar, God's message to the universe would have been that He would rather not pay to see if one or more of Satan's claims might turn out to be true. Again, God longs for His creatures to love Him and desire His presence day and night by trusting Him fully. Doubt is Satan's instrument and not God's. He always knew that the best for His creation is a government based on love, selflessness and self-emptying. God trusted his creatures to recognize this and make a conscious choice. To this end, He voluntarily placed himself in the defendant's place, allowing created beings to hear the accusations made against Him and to evaluate the evidence presented by the accuser. A government centered on self-gratification such as Satan's could only, He already knew, bring His creation to complete ruin. This has been consistently demonstrated over the centuries. The Great Controversy, very briefly, consists basically of this. Most of the clearest and most emphatic statements and ideas arise directly from texts published throughout Ellen G. White's ministry, while a few others are an immediate consequence of the content of these texts. While there are no direct biblical statements with the exact language commonly applied to the theme, the most important notions emanate from Scripture: creation, free will, sin, and redemption. In the next post, we'll remember what stage the Great Controversy is currently at. See you all soon! Lucas

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