Spectrum asked Chris Lewis, co-author of The Character of God Controversy, to explain how he became inspired to write a book exploring the character of God and His sense of justice.
Question: I note that the book cites scriptural references and carefully selected statements from the writings of Ellen White. In preparing for the writing of this book, did you and Steve Wohlberg consult sources outside of Scripture / Ellen White? What other sources (Adventist or non-Adventist) did you draw upon?
Answer: Other than consulting Greek and Hebrew/Chaldee lexicons, the only sources of authority on these topics for me are the Bible and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit of Prophecy in the modern era, i.e., Sister White’s writings.
Question: Did Pacific Press or the Biblical Research Institute pitch the idea for the book, or was it an idea that the authors pitched to the Press? Where did the impetus for this book come from?
Answer: After studying and discussing the concepts the book covers, I myself became confused on these topics and was drawn in by the possibility that this could be new light.
However, after thoroughly investigating the topic and studying for hundreds of hours, I came to the conclusions found in the book and became convicted that a book needed to written that would simplify and reveal the core issues involved.
There was no discussion between myself and the Biblical Research Institute or the publishing presses prior to researching and writing the book.
Question: The book refers to many Adventist proponents of the "God-doesn't-kill theory," though declining to mention any of them by name. Did you converse with any of those proponents or ascertain their views through reading their writings? In other words, how did it become evident that there was, as the book puts it "a controversy" over the character of God in Adventism?
Answer: I have a number of friends who subscribe to the “God-doesn’t-kill theory” and have spent many hours dialoguing with them. As I mentioned above, in the course of this dialogue, I began to wonder if this was new light.
The proponents of this theory genuinely want God to look good. They believe that their theory paints God in an accurate light. Their analogies sound logical. However, when I compared the ideas involved in this system of belief with the Bible, I found that it did not stand close scrutiny. It contradicts Scripture.
As an example, the way that God’s wrath is defined in this belief system is said to come from the first chapter of Romans. However, what Romans 1 really teaches - if one reads it honestly - is something very different, as we show in the book
Much in this belief system is also based on the well-known verse in Romans 6 which states that “the wages of sin is death.” Once again, as we discuss in the book, a careful study of this verse teaches something very different from the end-conclusions of this theory.
These are a couple of examples. The bottom line is that while this theory - which is being taught widely in Adventism by many people who I like very much and care deeply for - is, nonetheless, erroneous, and leads to conclusions altogether different from what the Bible teaches.
Question: Were there ideas/themes/directions that you or Steve Wohlberg would have liked to have pursued but did not, or would liked to have pursued in more detail? Anything else you would have addressed if time and space were immaterial?
Answer: We tried to be succinct with the book. Of course much more could be said on a number of the topics addressed.
I found that the more I studied the issues surrounding why Lucifer was not destroyed after he first rebelled, the more light was shed on how God deals with sinners in the very end. Studying Lucifer’s rebellion in Ezekiel, Isaiah and Job in the Old Testament also sheds much light on the nature of sin and just how terrible it is.
The Bible just keeps bringing home the point that the misunderstandings of how God will deal with sin and sinners comes back to a misunderstanding of how bad sin is and what its true nature really is.
Additionally, my study of the Bible shed new light on my understanding of why the wicked are resurrected after the millennium when they are “just going to die again” as well as the apparent mechanism used in the final destruction of the wicked. For brevity’s sake, these issues were not addressed in the book but are nonetheless interesting and show deeper sides of God’s love.
Question: It is evident from reading that both you and Steve Wohlberg care about how God is depicted. What misperceptions about God do you hope the book will help in clearing up?
Answer: It appears to me that many people do not understand how a loving God could still be loving and yet punish or destroy. How can a life-giving God take life?
Unfortunately, these issues are too often handled by “reasoning” from our sometimes inaccurate understanding of things like sin and wrath - using analogies to understand these issues instead of simply taking God at His Word and then trying to study more deeply to understand the “why” behind what He says. If an author or speaker uses an analogy that “makes sense” to us, should we base our definition or understanding of sin or wrath on that analogy instead of basing it on how God defines these ideas in His Word?
One truth that is taught throughout the Bible but that is denied in the theory in question is the truth of the atonement of Christ. It gets at the reason of why Jesus came to earth and died.
My children have a series of musical CDs with Scripture set to music, and my daughter’s favorite is Isaiah 53. She has the chapter memorized. Whenever she has the CD playing or when I hear her singing the chapter while she plays, I am struck by how simple and plain God is in His Word on the subject of the atonement.
Central to this topic is the concept that God’s law simply cannot be set aside. A part of that law is the decree “The wages of sin is death.” Paul was quoting God when he wrote Romans 6:23. Notice this clear statement from Review & Herald, May 7, 1901:
The fiat has gone forth, "The wages of sin is death." The sinner must feel his guiltiness, else he will never repent. He has broken the law, and in so doing has placed himself under its condemnation. The law has no power to pardon the transgressor, but it points him to Christ Jesus, who says to him, I will take your sin and bear it myself, if you will accept me as your substitute and surety. Return to your allegiance, and I will impute to you my righteousness. You will be made complete in me.
It is so very simple. None of God’s law can be set aside if the universe is to be kept safe. It is the way it has to be, whether we understand why or not.
Now read Isaiah 53 through again from start to finish. Don’t skip any verses. Why did it please the Lord to bruise Him? Because He knew that by God in human flesh dying, He could justly forgive sinners.
Why was Jesus “satisfied?” Because by faith He saw the millions who would be in heaven because He was put to death for their sins. God showed that the law cannot be set aside in order to pardon sinners. The penalty must be carried out. That is justice. No one, including Satan, the accuser of the brethren, can accuse God of not being just, because God took the full justice of the law upon Himself in the form of the Son.
But God is also merciful. Where the mercy comes in is where God says, in essence, “For the safety of the universe, I cannot set aside My law, but what I will do is take the penalty Myself so that I can extend pardon to the guilty.” The plan formed by the Godhead was for the Son to die the death required by the law, for us. If we will accept that death in our place, by faith, it is ours. It is as though we had received that death sentence, yet lived to tell about it.
The bottom line is that only One equal with the law, i.e., the Lawgiver, could pay the penalty and satisfy the justice of the law for us. Some say this shows God to be barbaric. I believe that it instead reveals a God that is just, and [yet] and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
The reason we don’t understand that this truth shows us how loving God is, rather than describing a barbaric God, is that we also misunderstand the law. To the degree that we misperceive how bad sin is, we also misperceive how good the law is. Sin and the law are opposites, for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
Question: Do you feel as though all depictions of God in Scripture (even stories about God sending lying spirits to deceive) have reasonable explanations that do not misrepresent God, or are there any depictions of God in Scripture that you feel might misrepresent who God is?
Answer: I believe that when we fully understand Scripture, we will see that God’s love and His mercy - as well as His fairness or justice - can be seen throughout Scripture.
That does not mean that I can explain every single verse in Scripture. That being said, it is the rare verse that cannot be understood in the context of the surrounding verses, chapters and other books by the same author as well as other authors that address similar topics - given proper study.
I am reminded of 2 Timothy 3:16, which reads, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” I believe that if God appears unloving in a verse, either I don’t know what loving is, or else I don’t understand the verse. Question: How would you define success for The Character of God Controversy?
Answer: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
Read Jared Wright's review of The Character of God Controversy here. Dr. Chris Lewis, MD, is a surgeon at Loma Linda University. He and his wife Lela Lewis co-founded Right Arm of Love Ministries and co-host a program on the Loma Linda Broadcasting Network entitled Practical Living.
He is a co-author of "The Character of God Controversy" with Steve Wohlberg.
[Wohlberg did not respond to requests for an interview.]
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1090