Reimagining Adventism, Part 8b: The Great Controversy and Absurdity

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Reimagining Adventism, Part 8b: The Great Controversy and Absurdity

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

 

The contemporary way of life is no longer sustainable. If something doesn’t happen—and fast—humanity will go extinct. Thankfully, a solution has emerged due to a remarkable technological and scientific discovery. The solution is collectively known as “downsizing” and involves undergoing a medical procedure that reduces a person’s size to 5 inches tall. The downsized person is then transferred to a community built for miniature humans—communities that are so small their ecological footprint is minuscule. If enough humans undergo the procedure, the impact of issues like overpopulation, dwindling resources, and global warming practically disappear. It’s a genius idea that can—quite literally—save the human species.

 

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Now of course, the idea is not real. The technological advancement that makes this ludicrous proposal possible only exists in the script for the 2017 sci-fi film “Downsizing,” starring Matt Damon. According to the plotline, “downsizing” is the most humane solution for the future of humanity. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, we discover that the solution doesn’t actually work; not because it’s a flawed proposition but because, in the end, only 3% of the population agrees to downsize. As a result, polar ice melting in the Arctic releases huge quantities of methane which makes the air unbreathable and marks the end of human civilization. To give humanity a fighting chance, a small company of downsized humans descends into a geothermal bunker designed to house them and their posterity for the next 8,000 years – the amount of time it will take for the earth’s surface environment to restabilize.

 

Apart from the fact that the film received a much deserved 48% review on Rotten Tomatoes (it was really bad) one scene in particular resonated with me. As the band of survivors prepares to descend into the vault, the “inventor” of downsizing says,

 

“Yes, we are sad to leave. And terribly sad for the reasons why. But man is too beautiful, too improbable a lifeform, to be allowed to disappear forever from the cosmos.”

 

Romantic as the scientist’s declaration may be, the beautiful man he speaks of is simultaneously the perpetrator of its own destruction. Only 3% of the earth’s population cared enough—or bothered to believe—that something needed to be done for future generations. The rest did not seem bothered and now, thanks to their indifference, the human race is marked for extinction. In light of this reality, another of the film’s characters justifies his refusal to enter the bunker by saying,

 

“You think they won’t behave like people always behave? They’re all going to go insane down there and kill each other. They’ll go extinct long before we do.”

 

So, which is it? Is man a beautiful lifeform that must be preserved, or an insanely self-centered entity whose extinction is merited? The film never really answers the question. The best one can walk away with is that some people are worth saving and others are probably not. But then, how do we decide who is and who isn’t? And if we saved all the right people, who is to say their offspring won’t grow to repeat the errors of the past? This possibility is hinted at when while discussing the bunker, the main character likens it to Noah’s Ark which we all know was a temporary solution at best. It did not redeem humanity but simply reset its self-destructive path back to step one. And since then, we have been steadily repeating all the steps until on June 16th, 1945 the first atomic bomb was detonated. Since then, this weapon of mass destruction has evolved into a weapon of mass extinction and stockpiled in what are commonly known as “Nuclear Weapon States.” The reality of nuclear war and complete human destruction now loom in our political subconsciousness—a reality kept at bay by diplomatic strategies that are as fragile as they are tenuous.

 

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In the end, it seems the human race has one issue it cannot redeem itself from. It’s what the late evangelist Billy Graham referred to when he said, “[The world is not] dangerous so much because we have atomic bombs. It’s dangerous because of the human heart in back of the bombs, filled with envy and strife and greed and lust and all the other things that can pull the trigger.”[1] That is, man’s greatest ill is not its weapons so much as its desire to create such weapons. There is a governing power in the human heart that brings with it a silent and underlying capacity that ironically makes our species the perpetrator of the very catastrophes we judge God for.

 

In the previous article, I explored how approaching the Great Controversy from the layer of the “impulse of self” is imperative in connecting this theme with the secular mind. Rather than looking at it as a means through which we explain suffering away, we look at it as the means through which we rage against the very governmental structure that gave birth to suffering. That is, Lucifer’s rebellion resulted in a system of governance which functions only through the impulse of self. And this impulse is at the epicenter of fallen-empire. It drives success, fuels triumph, and secures legacies. No human empire, corporation, or structure can ever advance if not driven by the impulse of self. This is the cornerstone of satanic politics and the key which separates Lucifer’s rebellious regime from the government of God.

 

Once we understand the impulse of self, however, we must then add another layer to it: the perpetuation of the pattern of self. We will explore this layer below and conclude with the final layer—the reversal of the way of self. These three perspectives, when combined, reframe the Great Controversy from a doctrine that is strictly religio-centric to a doctrine that speaks life into some of contemporary society’s biggest issues. It also lays the foundation for exploring the character of God and the gospel with the same level of relevance.

 

The Perpetuation of the Pattern of Self

When we introduce the impulse and pattern of self, we are entering, at last, the realm of human fallenness. Recall from our nature of man articles that this view has to be carefully approached, avoiding the melodramatic and cynical view of man often associated with Calvinist Protestantism, and instead affirming and celebrating the beauty of man. Nevertheless, no exploration of biblical narrative can ever be complete without confronting the uncomfortable idea of sin. However, because of its history (the concept of sin has been used to abuse, coerce, manipulate, and control others), I hesitate to use this term until I have clearly defined what it means. Even then, I tend not to use it too much in order to maximize the person’s ability to see with clarity the issues Scripture is addressing.

 

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Because of this, I focus more on the root of sin rather than the particular three-letter word itself. And that root is the impulse and pattern of self-centeredness. This impulse may be mitigated and managed through education, self-development, and value structures that emphasize altruism, inclusivism, and charity—but in the end, the impulse is always there and can never be fully eradicated. As a result, despite the incredible advancements in education, psychology, and ethics, horrid activities like slavery,[2]racism,[3]and other social ills are on the rise—almost like antibiotic-resistant infections.

 

Thus, human civilization is marked by this perpetuation of the pattern of self and can be seen in small, seemingly imperceptible selfish actions we commit every day which, when multiplied exponentially, give birth to entire cultures, communities, and countries that are driven economically and socially by an impulse that includes some and excludes others, advances some and oppresses others, privileges some and victimizes others. Consequently, even nations which today are regarded as champions of human rights are built on the subjugation and suffering of others: The land of the free and opportunity—the United States—with its displacement of Native Americans and participation in the global slave trade which, for a time, was key to its economic success.[4] The lucky country—Australia—with its displacement of the indigenous peoples and stolen generations in which European colonialists, in league with the church, aimed to “breed the black” out of the natives.[5] Europe—famous for its civilized and cultured class—simultaneously colonized islands and countries, oppressing the indigenous populations, robbing them of their sovereignty, and exploiting their resources.[6] Then there are corporations that profit from wars,[7] chocolate companies that profit from child labor,[8] fast fashion that exploits third-world workers in order to provide westerners with cheap, trendy clothes,[9]and jewelry companies that have long profited from conflict diamonds.[10]

 

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I could go on and on, but again, these are macro-scenarios. One need not look that high to get a glimpse of the perpetuation of the impulse of self. One can simply look across the street. In the enlightened west, domestic abuse is on the rise,[11] as well as bullying and violence in school.[12] And then there is the most difficult place to look: the self. Look honestly enough and you will find that you, as a human being, have perpetuated suffering on this earth at some point in your life. We cannot help but hurt others or even ourselves. We lie, cheat, and manipulate; and even the kindest, most outward-focused ones among us live with the regret of botched opportunities, neglected chances, and wasted moments that have perpetuated suffering around us. None of us are immune.

 

Is it true that many people today recoil at the mention of things like “sin”? Yes, but no. What people recoil against is judgmentalism and ethical coercion—things the church has done unchecked for far too long. But when speaking of the human capacity to perpetuate suffering—this the culture can resonate with. They see it everywhere and many oppose it through social justice movements that aim to construct a more equitable future for the marginalized. So, it’s not sin’s reality people need to be convinced of. Rather, what I have found the secular mind to be sometimes in need of is the realization that the problems of humanity are not simply “out there” but are fundamentally within.

 

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Thus, a second layer is added to the Great Controversy. One which builds on the rebellion of Satan by, in some ways, moving beyond it far enough to say, “The devil didn’t make us do it. We did it to ourselves.” And from this layer, we can better grasp injustice and suffering as patterns of being in the world—patterns that emerge through complex interrelated events and culminate in trauma but which nevertheless originate within the very heart of man.

 

The Reversal of the Way of Self

However, one more layer remains which ties the entire narrative of the Great Controversy together and provides it with the relevance needed to connect with the secular mind: the reversal. What I mean by this is that God is on the move to reverse the way of self and he is actively doing it all around us. However, he is not seeking to establish a church full of rituals, a nation driven by policies, or a system organized by structures that agree with his ethical priorities. This is all meaningless in light of the fact that mankind’s problem is not religious, national, or systemic. Mankind’s real problem is impulsive—we are driven by an impulse that we perpetuate in repeated patterns until it gives birth to an assumed way of being in the world. This assumed way is the way of self, and none of us can avoid it.

 

For example, let us imagine a social worker actively involved in helping others and a warlord exploiting the vulnerable to advance himself. The social worker volunteers at the local soup kitchen and is, in all sincerity, a wonderful person. However, he is unknowingly trapped in the same “way” of injustice the warlord finds himself in. Thus, the social worker serves the poor and then uses his mobile phone to take a picture of all the smiling faces without realizing that his mobile phone exists as the result of economic exploitation that allowed the phone company to purchase the minerals from a mine in Congo.[13] And who sold them the minerals? Why the warlord who rapes and murders innocent people to maintain control over the region and line his pockets with western money. And that same social worker may even hand out clothes at the soup kitchen so that the poor can dress themselves and be warm—clothes manufactured in a factory in Bangladesh which collapsed and killed over 300 people because the company that hired them cut corners to keep costs as low as possible.[14] And what can the social worker do about this? Is he to blame for the suffering? Should he refuse to buy a mobile phone, or buy cheap clothes? And if he did—how would this help? In truth, there is little to nothing the well-intentioned social worker can do. He is trapped in a system—a “way” of being—a way crafted and nurtured by a world driven at every angle by the impulse and pattern of self, a way so entrenched in the ebb and flow of human society that there is virtually no escape. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.[15]

 

Thus, the solution to this problem cannot be temporal. Man, as the perpetrator of the problem itself, cannot pretend to emerge as its solution. The solution must come from outside—from God. But if God is to resolve this problem, it will not be with religion. He will not fix it with ethics. He will not fix it with legislation. He must, instead, create an altogether different way. A way founded by perfect love and in direct opposition to Lucifer’s government of self-centeredness. A way patterned after perfect love in opposition to man’s perpetual patterns of self-centeredness. And a way so pure, so entrenched in divine harmony that it does not, and indeed, cannot mingle with the way of self. This new way is thus a rebellion. It is counter-cultural. It refuses to conform to the unjust patterns of this world or to succumb to them. It is, in many ways, the fullest realization of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”[16]

 

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And this new way that rages against the darkness of human empire is the kingdom of heaven. It is what author Donald Kraybill referred to as “the upside-down kingdom.” A new way founded in Jesus, patterned in Jesus and etched in Jesus. This way is not of this world; it is opposed to the systems of this world, and is so other to this world that friendship with this world is enmity with the new way. And the people of the kingdom are thus invited to have the mind of Jesus, to not be conformed to the patterns of this world but to be renewed by having their minds aligned to the way of other-centered love. This way is the way of Jesus, the way of light, the way of self-sacrifice, self-abandonment and other-centered rhythm. It is a kingdom driven by the ethic of love, not the impulse of self.

 

And this kingdom of love is at war with the empire of self. The two will never mix. You cannot legislate the one into the other, for the kingdom of God is a kingdom of the heart. It is not a religious ideology, a political philosophy, or a governmental system. It is a way of being. And this way of being, this kingdom of love, the Bible declares is in conflict with the impulse of self and, in the end, will reverse Lucifer’s way of self until that empire is completely and utterly erased. And this reversal has already begun.

 

This approach to the Great Controversy has significantly more meaning to a secular culture navigating the absurdity of life and being. It touches on the humanitarian heart of the age, on the cry for social justice and equity. However, it also challenges it. The kingdom of God does not fit any earthly political campaign. It refutes the left and the right, the conservative and the liberal, the globalist, and the nationalist. It exposes the entirety of human empire as a kingdom built on the impulse of self, maintained through the patterns that perpetuate self, and solidified as a way of self. And then it promises one thing: a new kingdom is coming—not like all the others—built on the impulse of love, patterned after perfect love, and is itself, the way of love. And this new kingdom will depose all the institutions and systems of this world and restore the universe to oneness with a God whose ontology is love.

Click here to read the rest of this series on Reimagining Adventism.

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Notes.

[1] Billy Graham, “The Cross – Billy Graham’s Message to America,” [Web: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bba2Dqaw6SI].

[2] Kate Hodal, “One in 200 people is a slave. Why?” [Web: theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/25/modern-slavery-trafficking-persons-one-in-200].

[3] Rob Picheta, “Children ‘whitening skin to avoid racism’ as hate crimes against minors rise,” [Web: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/30/uk/britain-children-racism-hate-crime-gbr-intl/index.html].

[4] Greg Timmons, “How Slavery Became the Economic Engine of the South,” [Web: https://www.history.com/news/slavery-profitable-southern-economy].

[5] The Sydney Morning Herald, “Caught up in a scientific racism designed to breed out the black,” [Web: https://www.smh.com.au/national/caught-up-in-a-scientific-racism-designed-to-breed-out-the-black-20080214-gds108.html].

[6] Harry Magdoff, Richard A. Webster, and Charles E. Nowell, “Western colonialism,” [Web: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Western-colonialism].

[7] Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen, “Military spending: 20 companies profiting the most from war,” [Web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/02/21/military-spending-defense-contractors-profiting-from-war-weapons-sales/39092315].

[8] Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel, “Cocoa’s child laborers,” [Web: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa].

[9] “The True Cost,” [Documentary: https://truecostmovie.com]

[10] Natalia Wojcik, “Conflict diamonds may not be on the radar, but they’re still a worry for some,” [Web: https://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/04/conflict-diamonds-may-not-be-on-the-radar-but-theyre-still-a-worry-for-some.html].

[11] Sarah Marsh, “Domestic abuse offences in London rise 63% in seven years,” [Web: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/27/domestic-violence-london-rise]

[12] Jennifer McClellan, “One third of middle- and high-schoolers were bullied last year, study shows,” [Web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/allthemoms/2018/09/24/one-out-three-students-were-bullied-us-school-last-year/1374631002].

[13] Erin Banco, “Is Your Cell Phone Fueling Civil War in Congo?” [Web: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/07/is-your-cell-phone-fueling-civil-war-in-congo/241663].

[14] Hayden Cooper, “Factory collapse a ‘wake-up call’ for fashion industry,” [https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-30/bangladesh-building-collapse-fashion-industry/4661162].

[15] Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” [Web: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/letter-birmingham-jail].

[16] Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” [Poem].

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About the author

Marcos Torres

Marcos Torres is a pastor in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. He loves talking about faith, culture and Adventism. You can follow his blog at www.thestorychurchproject.com.