Knowing God’s Will: The Danger of Adventist Superstition (Part 2)

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Knowing God’s Will: The Danger of Adventist Superstition (Part 2)

In Part 1, we saw that not only is human nature vulnerable to self-deception, but also that the area of communication with God is just as susceptible to delusion as anything else. The difficulty is at least twofold: often we have an unclear understanding of why God wants to communicate with us to begin with, and since the channels of communication with Him are also used by others or can convey “noise,” our ignorance of how to detect or sift out God’s voice can get the better of us.

 

It would be possible to go through the various ways in which we communicate with God, such as Scripture, prayer, and providence, and explain their right and wrong usage. Since the same erroneous thinking underlies the wrong usage in each case, let’s rather focus on that directly. This erroneous thinking is irrational, inconsistent, superstitious, and often difficult to detect. It consists in overlooking actual communication in favor of another communication that we, so to speak, make up. At its heart it consists of seeing patterns, meaning, and purpose where there are none (or not the one we believe we’re noticing).

 

Seeing Patterns Where There Are None

Let me illustrate this way of thinking with a fanciful example. During my morning devotions, with the Bible open to Acts 20, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church symbol in sight, I could believe God is communicating this special message to me: there are six years until the latter rain, and thus I need to get ready and warn the Church. This is how I could reach this conclusion.

The surface meaning of the church symbol is clear enough. It shows the Gospel, the message of the Bible, encircling the globe in a threefold stream of fire. This represents not only the mission of the Adventist Church but also its fulfillment when the Holy Spirit empowers the Church to preach the three angels’ message to all the world shortly before the return of Christ.[1] But if you look deeper into the symbol, it tells you when that will happen.

As you may know, the Adventist faith was formerly expressed in 27 fundamental beliefs (there are now 28). So, 27 could be taken as a symbol of the Adventist message, and the logo is a symbol of the fulfillment of that message. Now, if you count the angles of the colored shapes in the symbol, they are 27 in total. That is hardly a coincidence. The symbol came into use in 1997.[2] If you add 27 to 1997 you get 2024. Could it be that the Church will fulfill its destiny in that year?

The Book of Acts, which interestingly enough is an unfinished story (it ends with Paul in a Roman jail), contains the following verse: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24, ESV). Amazing! Paul, who was a participant in the early rain experience of the Church, tells us here that the Gospel is of paramount importance in his life, and that what matters more than life to him is to finish his mission. Could it be that this verse (notice its numeration!) is a clue that once the Church is willing to die (Sunday law) rather than to fail to finish its mission (latter rain), it will finally succeed in “finishing the work” in 2024?

If I had a darker view of the Church, I might reach a different conclusion. I might notice that the cross and the globe are not colored and thus make up one whole in the shape of ♀. This is the astrological symbol for Venus. In the Bible, this planet—the “day star” of Isaiah 14:12, translated in the Vulgate as Lucifer—is used as a symbol for the devil. The Venus symbol is the very opposite of the earth symbol, ♁, which interestingly is in the shape of the cross being enthroned on the globe.

So while it seems that the gospel fire is spreading from the cross around the earth, what is actually happening is the dethronement of the cross: the world is being turned upside down into Venus, which engulfs the globe with its Luciferian light. This means that the Church will apostatize, turning its message upside down, and deceive the whole world. 

The Building Blocks of Patterns

This “message” would not be from God, since unfulfilled prophetic periods and the apostasy of the Adventist Church go against the Adventist faith.[3] Apart from being obviously false, let’s now look at wherein the error lies precisely. To do so, let’s break this thinking down into its parts to see where it’s pieced together incorrectly.

Commonality

All things in the known universe are subject to the same universal laws of nature.[4] This means that all things have something in common with every other thing. This commonality might be very general, such as having mass, or color, or a shape, etc. Giraffes and humans, for instance, have many anatomical and physiological features in common. But most of these features they share with other living beings as well. This brings us to the first point: general commonality cannot be construed as a specific connection. This sounds very dry, but let’s move unto our next concept to make this clearer.

Connection

Connection is a very general term. Basically, it means that two things share something, such as a common feature (commonality) or causality (parts of the same process). The nature of the connection depends on the extent of the commonality or causality. Giraffes and humans both have two eyes, but this is a general feature shared by many living beings. It would therefore be incorrect to say that we have a special connection to giraffes due to the fact that we both have two eyes. Water and plants are connected by the fact that plants need water to grow. But that doesn’t mean that a particular thunderstorm and my houseplant are specifically connected.

 

The reason why this is so important to understand is that people often fail to distinguish between the various types of connections. They will take a connection to be stronger than it actually is, and attach meaning to it that isn’t there. “I was just thinking about whether I should move to Africa as a missionary, and then the next day we sang Kumbaya in Sabbath School.” Such remarks about perceived connections are usually followed by this question: “Is that a coincidence?” What they mean by this question is: “It is intentional that these connections are appearing around me. They form a pattern with a special message to me.”

The thing is, if you look for things that are connected only generally, you will find them everywhere. You see things connected to Africa every day. You just don’t pay them attention if you’re not thinking about Africa. So if you start noticing things about Africa, you’re just noticing a general connection that doesn’t hold any particular message for you.

 

Pattern

Discussing connections has already raised other concepts, such as ‘coincidence’ and ‘message’. These words both assume another concept: pattern. If we see things that seem to be connected but aren’t really, we call them coincidences. If they do belong together, we call them a meaningful pattern. But what is a pattern?

 

The Oxford Dictionary online defines ‘pattern’ as “a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in the way in which something happens or is done”.[5] “A regular sequence” would be, for instance, the ticking of a clock (a regular sound pattern). Another example would be the regular up and down zig-zag lines of a chevron pattern. And “regular sequence” or “regular form” is of course just another way of saying repeated commonalities.

 

This means that almost everything in nature makes its own pattern. If you look closely at the distance between trees in a forest, or the size and sequence of ocean waves, or the shape of sand dunes, regular sequences or patterns emerge everywhere. But this is not usually what people mean when they say they see a pattern.

They mean patterns that seem to convey a message specifically for them. This ups the complexity factor a lot, because these patterns are not derived from one realm—such as the pattern in a sand—but from many things taken together: I see a line in the sand that looks like a number, that number is also found in the date of today, and so on. But do such patterns even exist?

 

This throws us back to commonality. We can, as it were, connect any points together across fields. In my church symbol example, I detected the number 27, and made a connection between that and the 27 fundamental beliefs. The big question is of course whether that number was intentional (so that there is a pattern) and whether that holds any more meaning than being clever design.

 

A good example is the stars in the sky. As far as we know, God never told mankind which ones “belong” together. We grouped them into constellations on our own. The constellations could have been divided differently. In fact, you can connect them in any manner you like. You can connect many dots together in endless fashions. But that doesn’t mean that the One who made the dots intended all your connections.

When people perceive patterns, most often they are only tracing commonalities that they already have in mind, ignoring irregularities and sifting irrelevant data away. This is the difference between viewing a painting and painting your own picture. In both cases there is a picture, but in the former instance you noticed it, and in the second one you made it, and in the way you wanted it to be.

 

This does not mean that there aren’t highly complicated patterns that cut across many fields of life. Books have been written about coincidences that are almost unbelievable.[6] But even when we notice a pattern that truly is a pattern, how do we know that it has a message for us?

 

Let’s make up another example. Let’s say that you come across the number 2024 over and over during the same day. That number doesn’t have any inherent message—you need to associate it with some meaning to be able to extract any meaning from it. Or let’s say that you hear the song “All You Need Is Love” over and over during the same week, meet two brothers called Paul and John in the grocery store, and even have a stranger in the subway leans to you, whispering, “All you need is love.” What would that mean? Would that mean that this pattern appeared with you in mind? Would it mean that all you need is love?

 

Meaning and Message

The thing is that the most extraordinary patterns don’t have any inherent message, let alone a message personally crafted for me. The distribution of trees, the frequency of ocean waves—none of this can be construed into one massive message crafted for Jón Stefánsson. Even a pattern that seems to grow around only me in my daily experience doesn’t have any inherent meaning (like 2024), and even if it does (the Beatles’ tune does have a message), I still need to know how it relates to me. That is, once I believe that certain connections constitute a pattern, I still need to interpret the meaning of the pattern, to associate it with meaning.

 

And here is where the beautiful shortcut comes in: if the patterns can only be interpreted by associating them with some meaning that lies outside of them—why not start with that message in the first place?

 

On any given day, Balaam would have been excused if he had not noticed travel difficulties. I’m sure that sometime in his life he must have experienced delay, or tripped, or gotten lost, or received false directions, without attributing any particular significance to such inconveniences. But on that day in Numbers 22, Balaam was rebuked for not noticing how his donkey had annoyed him during his travel. Why? Because God had already expressed His will clearly to Balaam. And when God has clearly told you he doesn’t like your plans, and you proceed with them anyway, and you meet with surprising obstacles in your way, you may feel free to notice the harmony between God’s already expressed disapproval and the difficulties in your experience.

 

Conclusion

This brings us full circle. God has already expressed His will. Through the chaos of human passions and disobedience, He has managed to offer us a collection of communications that were given specifically to us. And not only does God give us Scripture, he appeals to our reasoning faculties: “Come now, says the Lord, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV).

God speaks to us as the rational, intelligent beings that He has made us. It is true that we are disobedient. It is true that our understanding and reason have been marred by sin. But God gave us a mind and He wants us to use it. This is how we separate noise and other voices from God’s communication. Otherwise, we avoid the responsibility of thinking, and refuse to think—all under the guise of obeying God!

It is better to think and sin than to not think. God gave us the freedom to choose so that we could truly love. This means that thinking is integral to love. God can work with us when we’re thinking incorrectly; it is much harder for Him to reason with us when we are not reasoning at all.

I have no reason to think that there is a hidden message in the church logo beyond the one that is clearly expressed by its designers on our official site. Even if there were one, how would I know that I had found it? How would I know that the number that I chose (27) was put there by the designers any more than the other numbers[7] I ignored? What reason did I have to endow the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible with inspiration? And what told me that the number 27 signified years, and how did I decide when to begin them? And why did I ignore other verses of Scripture that are also enumerated 20:24? And what have alchemical and astrological signs to do with Adventism? These were all decision jumps that I made blindly without any discrimination or justification. It is creative and freestyling, with a certain incoherent reasoning to it, but it is neither logical nor reasonable.

It is vital to abandon such superstitious thinking practices. The way to do it is to think. If you believe you see a pattern, question it: “Even if this is truly a pattern, does it have any inherent meaning? And even if it had any inherent meaning, how would I know it is intended for me?” Instead of waiting passively for signs in your environment, choose another starting point for your communication with God.

God has not only given you the Bible, but He has also given you the capacity to think. Think of communication with God in the same way you would think of communication with other people: you expect other people to be able to express clearly what they want and think. Don’t set a lower standard for God. Expect him to make Himself clear in a meaningful way. This begins with the application of what He has already said in the Bible to your personal life.

God may emphasize His expressed will through providence, impressions, and other means. But He will not scatter his important truths as half-spoken enigmas through your daily life and command you to figure out His riddles. He has spoken clearly, and he wants you, needs you, to think. Without your thinking mind, there is no communication with God, and no salvation, for speaking to God as a friend—clearly and intelligently—is not only the means to salvation; it is the goal of salvation.

Click here to read the rest of Jon’s series on knowing God’s will

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Notes.

[1] https://identity.adventist.org/global-elements/the-church-symbol/

[2] Ibid.

[3] See Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, 32–62; ibid., Early Writings, 75.

[4] I am not a theoretical mathematician or physicist. But even if we find out that there are parts of reality that are completely “other” in every sense, I don’t think that would undo the points made in this article.

[5] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pattern

[6] See, for instance, Martin Plimmer and Brian King, Beyond Coincidence: Amazing Stories of Coincidence and the Mystery Behind Them (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007).

[7] If you connect the logo into one shape, it is a decagon. The colors are two, and the colored parts are nine.  The flames are three, six, or seven, depending on how you count. The items (Bible, cross, globe, fire) are four. And so on.

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About the author

Jon Stefansson

Jón Hjörleifur Stefánsson is from Reykjavik, Iceland. After studying at Andrews University, he went to Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where he is currently writing his doctoral thesis in Dogmatics. His topic is Daniel 8 in the theology of Martin Luther, Isaac Newton, William Miller, and Ellen White.

  • I really appreciate this article.
    In 2010, I was volunteering for a “ministry” in America. The leader had spectacularly predicted the collapse of the stock market in 2008, and was telling everybody that we should expect the money to fail 2 years later (2010). So all 20 or so of us went to a discount supermarket and stocked up on stuff. I didn’t believe it even then, but figured it would be a good chance to save by buying in bulk, plus, it smoothed relations with those around me in the “ministry”.
    .
    What probably bothered me the most about that incident, is that the leader never apologized or anything for that, just kept running to the next “crisis” he made up.