The Death and Rebirth of the Investigative Judgment, Part 4: Reframing the Judgment

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The Death and Rebirth of the Investigative Judgment, Part 4: Reframing the Judgment

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Welcome to the most anticipated article in “The Death and Rebirth of the Investigative Judgment” series. Up to this point, we have merely explored the empirical death of the landmark Adventist doctrine known as the Pre-Advent Investigative Judgment (PAIJ). That death, I have argued, is not due to a mortal flaw in the doctrine itself but in our collective failure to allow the doctrine to transcend its historic framework. This failure is due to many factors that I have not attempted to explore, but suffice to say, Adventism has constricted the PAIJ into a religious box that interacts with religious concerns and makes sense only within a religious cosmology that is regarded as meaningful only by those who self-identify as already belonging to a religious (a specifically Adventist one) community. This narrow ideological fabric has resulted in the catastrophic demise of the one doctrine we hold as our most unique contribution to theology. However, if released from this constriction, I contend that we will discover the foundation for its rebirth. That rebirth is what this present article is all about.

Related Article: Answering Objections to the Investigative Judgement Doctrine

Before I begin I want to make two things clear. First, I am not a deconstructionist. Unlike many critics of the PAIJ whom assert the doctrine has been wrong all along, I happen to believe we have been right. At no point do I question the validity of our historic understanding of the PAIJ.[1] So in this present article, I am not calling for a deconstruction of the doctrine in which we throw away all we have built in favor of some new, unheard of formulation. To the contrary, as I mentioned in article two (based on Kierkegaard’s view of past and future in tension) we must look to our historic understanding in order to build the future. Therefore, at no point do I advocate or even claim camaraderie with anyone who seeks to abandon our historic position.

Second, because I am building on our historic foundation, the present article simply explores how to contextualize, or reframe, the PAIJ in a way that speaks to universal primary ideas. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to picture our understanding of the PAIJ in three layers. The first layer introduces the doctrine in connection with universal primary ideas (more on this to come), with simplicity and with applicatory power. The second layer digs even deeper by exploring the rich symbolism, typology and archetypes associated with the PAIJ. It explores the sanctuary in depth (its cultic rituals, architecture, art) along with its metaphysical origins and meaning as well as its soteriological and eschatological implications. This third layer is the final layer of intricacy and amplifies the doctrine’s utility even more by exploring its contribution to Christian theology and how it resolves important issues in the debate over Christian theology. In doing so, it expands on the PAIJ’s meaning and relevance (these will be briefly explored in the next article).

Related Article: Why the Critics of the Investigative Judgement Have Failed

The problem with Adventism that I am aiming to resolve is we tend to introduce people to the PAIJ at the third layer. Those who are lucky eventually find the second layer. But very few, if any, ever encounter the doctrine at the first layer. I propose we do it backwards (which is really the right way) and introduce people to the doctrine at the first layer. This means it must connect to a universal primary idea, be simple enough for even a child to comprehend, and have applicatory power. This first layer is the one we must use in evangelism, Bible studies etc. The second and third layer are reserved for deeper study as the convert continues to explore in the years that follow baptism.

With those preliminary considerations out of the way, I want to turn our attention over to the reframing of the PAIJ with the simple question: is reframing itself even biblical?

 

Is Reframing a Doctrine Biblical?

The primary fear associated with “reframing doctrine” is that by virtue of the act itself, we may end up destroying the thing we think we are saving. Consequently, many approach the attempt itself with suspicion. Therefore, before fully diving in I would like to calm those fears by turning over to Scripture.

The most popular Bible verse to date is John 3:16 in which Jesus, while proclaiming the gospel, instructs Nicodemus that he must be “born again”. Christians have historically used this framework as the primary means by which the gospel is illustrated and shared. However, as pointed out by Jefferson Bethke in his book, “It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die”, Jesus only ever used that framework once, in John chapter three. However, when you turn to John chapter four, Jesus presents the gospel to a woman in Samaria and does not mention being born again at all. Instead he frames the gospel in the idea of thirst and satisfaction, thereby offering himself as the “living water”. In John 6 he frames the gospel in the idea of hunger and introduces himself as “the bread of life.” In John 10, he is the good shepherd. And so on and so forth.

The point is, Jesus is preaching the gospel in each case, but he is changing the framework. To a religious Jew who believed his natural birth was sufficient for salvation, he stresses being “born again”. To a lonely woman searching for satisfaction, he is “living water.” To a crowd of hungry seekers, he becomes “the bread of life,” and later on, the “good shepherd”. But what happened to the “born again” metaphor? Why didn’t he just stick to that one? After all, it captures the essence of salvation as being both a justifying and sanctifying act. Why risk losing that essence by using any other framework? To make matters worse, don’t the other frameworks lend themselves to a consumerist approach to the gospel in which Jesus is embraced because he offers satisfaction of some sort without any inkling of individual death and rebirth? And yet, never again is Jesus recorded using that one framework. Instead, he continually reframes the gospel to meet the people where they are.

Paul did the same. When speaking to the Jews he used the Old Testament, but when speaking to the Greeks he reframed the gospel message in their own cosmology going so far as to equate Jesus with their “unknown God” (Acts 17:23). This pattern of reframing the gospel in Jesus and Paul is nothing more than connecting the secondary ideas the gospel introduces to the primary ideas the audience was already interacting with. And because primary ideas differ from place to place, Jesus and Paul both adapted the secondary idea of the gospel to speak directly to the primary ideas of their listeners. This is the key to relevance. Paul expressed this brilliantly when he wrote:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:20-22)

However, what Jesus and Paul never did was redefine the gospel. Reframing is one thing. Redefining is another thing altogether. Both Jesus and Paul clearly reframed their message, but the foundation of that message was always the same. As a result, they built diverse frameworks on the solid foundation of the one gospel. Thus, Paul could say, “…even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8) while simultaneously presenting that one gospel in a diversity of frameworks. Likewise, I propose that in order for the PAIJ to offer something of meaning, new frameworks for interacting with it must be erected, but these new frameworks must be built on its historic foundation. Therefore, as I work my way toward that reframe, let us revisit its historic foundation.

 

The PAIJ as We Know It

The PAIJ as we currently know it is a very religious concept that speaks value into religio-centric discussions. At its onset, it was a doctrine that helped make sense of the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844. However, the doctrine quickly expanded to much more than just a moment in historic time. Rather, the doctrine claimed a central space in the church’s understanding over three things: theodicy (which Adventists refer to as the Great Controversy), the gospel, and last-days’ events.

In relation to theodicy, the doctrine helps us conceptualize God’s moral government (a concern of Arminian-Wesleyan theology) in a way previously undone via the transparency motif. In relation to the gospel, the doctrine helps us make sense of the endless debate between Calvinism, Arminianism and the proponents of eternal security (once-saved-always-saved). By exploring the process of salvation via the sanctuary and demonstrating that the judgment begins in the church, Adventism not only resolves many of those historic soteriological tensions but it also retains justice in that a person cannot hide their villainy and hypocrisy within the garbs of religiosity, church membership, or theological technicalities (as we find in once-saved-always-saved). The eye of God scans all, the records of our lives maintained in heavens sanctuary with exact precision, and only those authentically in Christ are safe. This understanding is appalling to Calvinists and proponents of eternal security but makes perfect sense to all Arminian denominations who believe that a born-again person can, indeed, be lost again.[2] Thus, in the PAIJ, the Christian is called to a Christ-centered life that avoids the traps of self-focused legalism and self-centered licentiousness.[3]

And of course, the PAIJ ties into end time events and helps us tie together the conclusion of the Great Controversy as a complete eradication of all sin. This includes necessarily a rejection of eternal hell in which sin reigns in the universe eternally. Because the PAIJ is centered on “cleansing” then, the most natural direction for scripture and Adventist theology is to hold a cleansed-universe theme in which sin and sinners are no more. Hence, there can be no eternal realm in which the sin-infected souls of the rebellious damned dwell forever.

When it comes to the personal experience of the Adventist, this doctrine, at best, encourages the believer to be in Christ. Self and world are forsaken for a thriving relationship with Jesus which results in a transformation of the character that reflects the love of God more and more. The belief that the judgment is now underway, and that this judgment is illustrated in the sanctuary’s final cleansing ritual, shows us that God is now doing his final work on behalf of the human race. This means that, while we don’t know when that work will end, the fact that he is now doing his final act to save as many as possible should motivate us to missional living.

Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, this framework tends to have value mostly in theological discussion. It also has value for a certain substrate of Adventists who have managed to comprehend the complex structure of the doctrine, and, against all odds, apply it to their lives. However, enthusiastic as my description of the PAIJ above might be, the truth is very few have such an experience with it, and when it comes to those beyond our walls, the perspectives that the doctrine addresses (such as the systematic tensions between Arminian, Calvinist and OSAS soteriology) are too academic and difficult to grasp – let alone apply. Therefore, if we want the doctrine to speak value to our church and humanity as a whole, it must transcend its historic formulation.[4] Thus, for the remainder of this article I will present a possible reframing of the doctrine that addresses a universal primary idea, can be explained with a simple mechanism, and has applicatory power.[5]

Reframing the PAIJ in the Universal Primary Idea of Suffering

As we begin, I would like to suggest that one universal primary idea that is contextual to Daniel 8:14 is the idea of suffering. This idea is both meaningful to the human experience and contextual to the PAIJ. Thus, if we generate a first layer approach to the PAIJ using the framework of suffering, we will have met the main requirement for relevance – interaction with a universal primary idea – without twisting the doctrine into something it is not. Allow me to explain.

The book of Daniel, much like Revelation, is a book steeped in suffering. Not only has Israel been subjected to decades of social injustice due to its long lineage of self-absorbed governmental corruption, but it has now been conquered, ransacked and exiled by the beastly empire of Babylon.[6] Chapter one introduces us to the aftermath of this agonizing subjugation followed by the Babylonian attempt at re-education – a method of brainwashing conquered subjects in order to override their national and religious allegiances.

Related Article: God Groans

Sadly, Adventists tend to interpret the book of Daniel from a position of Western privilege. We do not know the agony of suffering Daniel is acquainted with so we don’t even recognize it happening all around him. We seldom, if ever, stop to analyze the loneliness, hopelessness and anger Daniel would have experienced. The deep searching questions, the trauma of being uprooted from his homeland, of losing his autonomy and familiar environment while being forcefully thrust into a pagan society. How many sleepless nights would he have experienced? What of the death of his loved ones? Or the agony of seeing his countrymen turn their backs on God even more in order to fit into Babylonian culture? Would that have induced anxiety? Disappointment? Confusion? But it’s not just experiences of suffering popping in and out of Daniel’s story that I am referring to, but to the very real stream of suffering that he found himself in – a system in which the threat of death loomed daily and was potentially accompanied by the post-traumatic stress induced by the constant fear of what is to come. Grant it, Daniel’s faith was strong and it helped him endure with faithfulness. But to assume that his faith made him immune to suffering and doubt is an assumption that would betray our own inexperience with the true depths of the agony of being. Thus, in our preaching on the book the impact and state of suffering is hardly explored. This separation from suffering is a gap we must work to close, for it misses one of the keys to finding utility in the book – suffering and its immeasurable psychological, sociological and existential impact on the human will.

To be is to suffer. This is not the way things were designed but is certainly the way things are. The Buddha captured this well when he said, “Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering…”[7] Friedrich Nietzsche summarized it with four words: “To live is to suffer…”[8]– a perspective echoed by holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl, when he stated that “suffering is an ineradicable part of life“[9] and the entertainer Woody Allen, who captured its essence when he wrote, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.”[10]

Related Article: Nietzsche and the Cross

Now, of course, as Christians, our perspective of suffering is not as pessimistic as that of the world. To the contrary, for the believer, suffering is filtered through the enthusiastic promise of redemption. In this sense, we find ourselves in agreement with German national and victim of Nazi ideology Anne Frank when she wrote,

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.[11]

This hope of a universe in which all is made right, in which harmony is restored and sin abolished is the foundation for how Christians, in contrast with other perspectives, interact with suffering. Despite the difference in filter though, the point remains that suffering is a universal primary idea that all are acquainted with and which the Bible does not shy away from. Hence, the narrative of scripture is a tale of paradise lost, followed by the agony of shame, relational breakdown and pain in labor and childbirth. The people of Israel suffered. The heroes of Israel suffered. Jesus himself was “made perfect in suffering” (Hebrews 2:10) and indeed endured the greatest of all human sufferings by tasting not only his own immediate suffering, but the suffering of all humanity (Hebrews 2:9) – a suffering induced by separation from God (Matthew 27:46). And nowhere in scripture are we promised a reprieve from suffering. To the contrary, we are promised an extra measure of it (John 15:20). Therefore, life and existence are intertwined with the state of suffering.

Related Article: Should Adventists Be Involved in Social Justice?

But it’s more insidious than that. Suffering is not just something that is but something that is perpetuated. And the most damning part of the entire thing is that this state of suffering we despise is perpetuated by our very own human will. That is, suffering continues to spread, expand, and demolish, because it has a host through which it can self-perpetuate –

the human heart. And this host, unified into empire, becomes a beast that devours, tramples, and crushes (Daniel 7). Thus, in the end, suffering is more than just something we experience but something we prolong. That is, we are the nurturers, perpetrators, and apparent immortalizers of suffering.

Driven by the impulse of self, human beings cannot help but perpetuate suffering in some way at some stage in their life. Consequently, it is not simply true that we live because Christ died, but that Christ died because we live. Our very being demanded a sacrifice before it was actuated (Revelation 13:8) due to the risk and eventual manifestation of human selfishness. And it is from this obsession and impulse of the self that suffering continues to dominate the human story. The Dalai Lama expressed this well when he said that “The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.”[12] The journalist Dennis Prager also captured this reality when he wrote,

There is no limit to suffering human beings have been willing to inflict on others, no matter how innocent, no matter how young, and no matter how old. This fact must lead all reasonable human beings, that is, all human beings who take evidence seriously, to draw only one possible conclusion: Human nature is not basically good.[13]

Take this individual reality and multiply it by millions of people, and you end up with the “beasts” of Daniel 7. They are beasts because human empire is nothing more than a collective self that is driven by the impulse of self-resulting in the perpetuation of suffering on a grand, more systemic scale. Sadly, in the West, society is plastic. We live in an artificial, matrix-like version of reality, in which our consciousness is plugged into a veneer of endless diversion, amusements and social currencies. Thus, professor Cedric Vine could say that in the West, Christian worship is the worship of thankfulness for prosperity whereas outside the West, Christian worship is the worship of lamentation.[14] Because of this, we seem to miss the presence of suffering in Daniel even though its embedded in the text all the way up to the age of the church. But if we find it and extrapolate it from the text, it can lead us to a framework for teaching Daniel – including Daniel 8:14 and its resulting PAIJ – in a way that speaks to the universal primary idea of suffering without having to force fit suffering into the doctrine’s scope of vision.

 

How Does it Work?

But how exactly does this “suffering-reframe” thing work? It’s really quite simple. Within this experience of suffering we encounter Daniel, a Jewish-teenage captive immersed in a struggle between two kingdoms. This two-kingdom tension is everywhere in Daniel’s book and pictures the kingdom of God in a historic struggle with the kingdom of man. There is a pattern here that cannot be ignored. A tension between two kingdoms is repeated over and over again, and beneath this cosmic struggle lies the very real effect of collateral human suffering.

Chapter seven keeps the same pattern of war between two kingdoms. We are taken on a vision of human and divine struggle culminating in the injustice of the church, its perpetuation of suffering, and ultimately, its judgment, which ends with the kingdom of God declared sovereign over the earth. This is the same pattern as in the previous chapters: a struggle between two kingdoms resulting in the suffering of the innocent and culminating in the annihilation of human empire, which is then replaced by the eternal kingdom. Finally, we arrive at chapter eight in which we are once again shown a more detailed vision of the events. The battle between two kingdoms is pictured again, followed by the perpetuation of suffering, and reaches its apex in the injustice of the church, which is consequently destroyed. The PAIJ finds itself smack in the middle of all of this, and, if framed in the common experience of suffering, it will speak to human needs in a way our present formulations often fail to do.

 

Transition 1

At this point, everything we have explored interacts with the universal primary idea of suffering and its derived primary ideas of injustice and the struggle between good and evil. Each of these themes are felt and discussed everywhere from Hollywood’s “Marvel Cinematic Universe” to the mythological narratives of unreached tribal nations. Daniel’s visions speak directly to these universal primary ideas by acknowledging not only their existence but also exposing the thing which perpetuates them – human empire driven by human will. In doing so, Daniel’s vision sets the foundation for introducing a kingdom made “not by human hands” (Daniel 2:34), which conquers the whole earth and dwells forever in justice and love.[15]

So far, we have merely set the foundation for reframing the PAIJ. Rather than looking at Daniel from a religio-centric perspective, we can see that it interacts with the universal human question of suffering. By acquainting ourselves with suffering, both individual and systemic, we can capture the relevance inherent in the book and speak value to the human experience. However, we are not done. To truly reframe the PAIJ we must also embrace simplicity. I would like to introduce this simplicity by zooming in on the PAIJ itself introduced in chapter eight.

Here we are shown that Satan’s entire campaign has a target. He climbs to the height of power and, once there, he attacks the sanctuary. If we are to picture the history of human empire as repeated experiments in the war against God, then the church emerges as Satan’s latest and best invention. All of the anomalies have been removed. And now, with his greatest weapon, he goes to war against God by “casting down” (Daniel 8:11) his sanctuary. But why? And what does this ancient and forgotten cultic edifice have to do with the universal primary idea of suffering?

At this point I want to step away from the first element of the PAIJ’s rebirth (connecting it to a universal primary idea) and into the second element – simplifying its mechanics so that even a child can comprehend the narrative.

Simplifying the Mechanics of the PAIJ

This is the point in the visions in which we, as Adventists, have a big decision to make. Will we continue here to speak to universal primary ideas? Or will we shift gears and turn to religio-centric concerns that have little meaning outside of our Adventist box? Historically speaking, that is precisely what we have done. Once we arrive at the sanctuary in Daniel, we dive into a detailed and exhausting investigation on the sanctuary and arrive at conclusions so complicated few people can keep up (and fewer still find interesting). I would like to propose that, while those detailed investigations have some value, they are not necessary for the culture to gain a proper grasp of the vision’s thematic aim, and are, in fact, counter-productive. The sanctuary in Scripture simply represents two things. First, God’s desire to dwell with his people (Exodus 25:8), and second, God’s plan to bring us back into that “dwelling” (the gospel, John 1:29). There is no need to make it more complicated than that.

Related Article: The Gospel in the Sanctuary

Thus, the sanctuary which represents God’s “withness” emerges in chapter eight as a primary target of the enemy, and when we cast a bird’s eye view over Scripture’s narrative, we can see this tension over the sanctuary everywhere. But the question we are interested in is, why? Why is Satan so bent on destroying the sanctuary? The answer is simple. If the sanctuary represents God’s connection with humanity, then it’s “casting down” represents an attempt at damaging that connection. In other words, the sanctuary represents God’s “withness”, but Satan is bent on our separation. Thus, he attacks the sanctuary in order to secure separation between us and God.[16] He tramples on the gospel so that he can keep his prisoners, locked safely in the ideological prison of his own making, a prison built on the idea that God is separated from us. Therefore, Satan aims to trample the gospel (sanctuary) because it is in the gospel that man and God are reconciled. He wants to bring separation. And all the war and suffering in the human story are simply collateral effects of Satan’s campaign toward divine-human separation.[17]

This concept is very simple to grasp. There is no need to go into Leviticus and explore Yom Kippur or the entirety of the sanctuary services. These can be explored at a later time in the third layer of depth. But here, in the first layer, we simply look at the battle between two kingdoms. Man’s kingdom, undergirded by Satan, and God’s kingdom represented by Christ. Satan works to separate us from God (casts down the sanctuary) and God works to end the separation (restoration of the sanctuary). And in that tension between withness and separation lies the experience of suffering. Suffering is not simply pain, misfortune or oppression – suffering is separation. And in a collective, global sense Satan systematized this separation into the universal church depicted as an “other horn” in Daniel 7. The suffering now self-perpetuates through the automated funnel of religious influence. Is there no end in sight?

Keeping it Simple in Daniel 8:13-14

We finally arrive at Daniel 8:13, in which a being in the vision asks the question, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled — the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the LORD’s people?”

The language in this question alone is confusing but if we slow down we will find it is simple. There is an attack against God, centered on his sanctuary. The heavenly being wants to know how long the daily sacrifice (gospel) will be “cancelled” (Daniel 8:11), how long the rebellion that causes desolation (war, devastation, ruin) will go on, and how long the sanctuary and God’s people will be trampled. “How long?” is the basic question.

But let us linger there for a moment, for the question itself is not exclusively theological. Rather, it is an utterance emerging from suffering. “How long until…?” is the kind of question you ask when your present experience is no longer desirable. “How long until lunch?” is asked when the present reality of hunger pangs has reached a torturous point. “How long until vacation?” is asked when the present demands of work have peaked your stress levels. But the question does not simply denote exhaustion with a present, menial experience but with agonizing imprisonment from which there seems to be no reprise. “How long?” is the kind of question one would expect a slave, after years of working the fields like an ox, to whisper as he lies down at night, his back reshaped by the scars of the master’s whip. It is the question asked by a child immersed in the darkness of cyberbullying before sinking into suicidal despair, of a woman whose entire family has been massacred by war or genocide. “How long?” is the cry emanating from the halls of Auschwitz, from the souls of the sex-slaves bound to underground brothels, and from the mother who buried her child in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. “How long?” is the cry of martyred souls who beckon to heaven, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10). It is the utterance from the lips of a prophet who, despairing of life, cried out, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence! but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2). How long can the human heart endure such agony? How long until the pain outweighs any justification we concoct for our existence? It’s the cry of the dispossessed, the ostracized, the outcast who cannot fathom taking another breath. The cry of the abused and mistreated. The question ought to make us weep. It is a question that is sacred. It treads on the ground of agony, of human tears, and of mortal blood. How long?

Related Article: How Long?

But the question is more than an echo of human suffering. It is also a question that peels back the layers of alter-dimensional reality and helps us glimpse, even if for a moment, the parallel suffering of heaven. Its inhabitants are not disconnected. The question of suffering haunts angelic society as much as that of men. Looking upon the events of the vision – the war against the sanctuary with its resulting perpetuation of human suffering – one being in heaven despairs of the pain. Seldom do we stop to ponder angelic suffering. This being has been at the center of the struggle. He has witnessed his companions join Satan in the rebellion. He carries the trauma of desolation, of witnessing the dark depths to which humanity can sink, of Satan inspiring the most grotesque expressions of worship as men sacrificed their own children in fire. But worst of all, he has witnessed the violent murder of heaven’s prince. The being has beheld his share of suffering. And now, with the gospel plan accomplished, he longs for an end to the separation and the suffering. But there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. The other horn wages war and succeeds. The sanctuary is cast down. The people of God become objects of vengeful intolerance. The world seems darker than ever before. “How long?” the angel blurts out, “Until the vision is fulfilled?”

I would like to remind the reader, at this juncture, that I am not here dealing with theological or systematic validity. I am dealing with doctrinal utility. And to that end I would say, Adventism must derive its identity not from Daniel 8:14 alone but from Daniel 8:13. Verse 14 gives us the answer to the question, but verse 13 gives us the question. Sadly, Adventism is a movement that rushes to answers. After all, our identity is rooted in an answer, so it makes sense. Our evangelism is all about answers. Our Bible studies are all about answers. Our witnessing is about answers. Oh, that we would someday forsake our obsession with answers just long enough to sit with the question! Daniel 8:13 must become a part of our identity. We must identify with the suffering. But you cannot do so if you rush to ponder, pontificate and philosophies. You can only do so if you sit with the question, with the suffering, and simply breathe.

Allow me to summaries my point so far. Do you want the PAIJ to have utility for the human experience? Here is my plain suggestion: It must be reframed in suffering.

Suffering is the context of Daniel. It is the context of Revelation. Both were written in exile. Both were written far from home. Both were written with a longing to be home. Both were written by a displaced, ostracized and outcast people. A people suffering. A people facing political and literal extinction at nearly every turn – the Jews in Persia, the Christians in Rome. The visions are bathed and immersed in struggle, in agony, in pain. War tugs at each text, two kingdoms locked in a cosmic conflict over the souls of men. And the enemy of men and God tramples on his sanctuary with one objective: to separate man from God forever; to immerse us in terminal cancerous suffering and a hopeless nihilistic fate that would strangle our very will to exist.

Transition 2

So, what exactly have I proposed so far? It’s really quite simple. In order for the doctrine of the PAIJ to have meaning for the culture, we must connect it to a universal primary idea. I propose that the experience of suffering is a perfect fit. However, we must also teach it with greater simplicity. By focusing on the broad themes of the sanctuary and leaving the other more detailed elements for deeper study at a later time, we can give people not only a doctrine that interacts with a very real human need but do so in a way that doesn’t require people to sit through complex and overwhelming charts and diagrams. We will explore this more in the next installment of the series.

In short, the framework above is simple. All you are really doing is telling a story of war resulting in suffering to which God promises a reversal. That is basically it. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. By doing so, the doctrine is introduced in a way that both connects to a universal primary idea and has a simple mechanics that can be followed even by a child.

However, one more element remains before we can truly say we have achieved a relevant conceptualization of the PAIJ. That element is what I refer to as “applicatory power”. This is the part in which we ask, what difference does this make? And this is perhaps the most important and forgotten portion of the doctrine. While some Adventists have managed to see the PAIJ in a meaningful way and also understand it within its traditional framework, fewer still are able to answer the question “so what?” What difference does it make? It is to this final element that we now turn.

Discovering the PAIJ’s Applicatory Power

The visions of Daniel are a narrative of struggle between two kingdoms. The struggle is marked by collateral suffering. This suffering is the result of separation from God. Even heaven despairs with the question, “How long?” To which an answer is given: “there will be 2300 evenings and mornings and then the sanctuary will be restored.” (Daniel 8:14) The answer has many layers of depth to it, but if we stick to the first layer it simply means this: the separation Satan is working to induce will not succeed. The sanctuary will be restored. God will reverse the evil of empire.

Related Article: Restoring the Sanctuary

But the restoration of the sanctuary is a historical process, not a moment in time. This means that before Jesus returns, God is engaged in the process of restoring his connection and his gospel to all humanity. This reality is reflected in Ellen White’s prediction that “the final message to be given to this world will be a revelation of God’s character of love.”[18] For centuries Satan labored to darken the earth. But a line was drawn in the sand and God declared: “no more.” And thus began the PAIJ, as the beginning of the end of suffering. The tribunal for universal social justice convened on that day and is soon to close. The judgment is here. Separation is being erased. Suffering is being erased. The gospel is not just a message of forgiveness and future hope for salvation. The gospel is a message of restoration to God’s original design. And this restoration involves the very annihilation of suffering. God is not simply introducing a new kingdom, he is reversing the effects of the old.[19]

When asked about suffering, the Buddha concluded that it was the result of desire that could only be escaped when one overcame desire itself. Others after him, proposed suffering was a mere illusion. To the Hindus it is karma and exacerbated by “past inappropriate action”.[20] To the Jews it is encapsulated in a reward and punishment system among various other theories.[21] To the Muslim it is intended to identify the righteous and caused by un-submission to Allah.[22] To the Baha’i it is a stage in our spiritual evolution.[23] To the classical Christian it is an anomaly to be fixed at the return of Jesus. To the gospel narrative however, suffering is more than a state but a condition of being to be healed. This perspective is amplified by the PAIJ, which sees human will as the perpetuator of suffering – a suffering which will cease by healing, or “reversing” the impulse of self within the human heart and restore humanity to the impulse of love.

In this sense, the PAIJ is not simply God reversing suffering but reversing the perpetuation of suffering. However, this does not take place through human legislation or political science as the social justice warriors and evangelicals of the day insist. Rather, it takes place through the gospel reversing the impulse of self in the human heart. In order for suffering to end, the human heart must be healed of the beastly drive toward self-promotion and returned to the heavenly design of selfless love. In our traditional conceptualization of the PAIJ, we tend to view the cleansing of the sanctuary primarily as a legal act in which God is removing data of sins committed from the sanctuary in heaven. Without denying this, the present framework emphasizes the experiential cleansing over the legal. That is, God is removing the impulse of self from the human heart rather than simply cleaning up a ledger in heaven. God engages in this process of reversal in heaven’s sanctuary by reversing the work of evil (perpetuated by the church, human empire, and human impulse). All of us are invited to allow God, through his grace, to reverse the impulse of self within and replace it with the design of love.

Ellen White expressed this angle of the PAIJ well when commenting on Jesus’ cleansing of the earthly temple. She writes,

In cleansing the temple from the world’s buyers and sellers, Jesus announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin, — from the earthly desires, the selfish lusts, the evil habits, that corrupt the soul.[24]

These earthly desires are the impulse of self through which suffering perpetuates both individually and, more tragically, systemically when the impulse is institutionalized via the power of empire and church. Thus, for Adventists, the reversal of suffering is not to be found in policies, institutions, or governmental structures but in the gospel’s power to reverse the impulse of self and restore the human heart to the design of love.

Related Article: An Analysis of the Great Controversy’s Scariest Chapter

This restoration, however, must move us to pour out onto the earth with a heart for the suffering. To quote Nathan Brown, we must become “agents of reversal”[25] in our world. In light of a present judgment in which suffering and the perpetuation of suffering via man made systems and empires are being undone, we discover applicatory power that invites all who embrace this message to be part of the reversal. It is this call to be “agents of reversal” bolstered by the reality of a present judgment in which the reversal is already underway that can provide the PAIJ with applicatory power, and likewise, redefine the identity of Adventism as a movement.

Why? Because our message is not simply one of forgiveness and reconciliation or legal justification or philosophical apologetics. Our message is one for the suffering. Adventism is a church for the suffering. Our evangelism is a message for the suffering. The PAIJ gives us a vision of the existential divine-human separation as coming to an end in the present flow of history. Since the judgment began in 1844, suffering is reversing via the restoration of divine-human connection through the gospel and its transformative effect – a gospel that was trampled and distorted through the decades of counter-narrative promulgated by the institutional church. This element of the gospel places it beyond mere legal amendments and into the human heart. The result is that, through his grace, God heals his people from self-centered perpetrators of suffering, to other-centered reversers of suffering. Consequently, we no longer fit into human empire. We become wanderers on the earth driven by a kingdom ethic of love rather than the beastly impulse of self. Therefore, Adventists, above all people, should be active in sitting with the suffering, raging against the systems of suffering, and preparing society for a world inhabited by those who have forsaken the impulse of self that leads to suffering.

Interestingly, it is the reversal of suffering that inspired the pioneers to join the prohibition movement.[26] They were not fundamentalists who hated alcohol because they found a Bible verse that said “alcohol bad”. Rather, they saw alcohol as a social ill that fueled interpersonal, societal and national suffering. On top of this, they saw that alcohol always had an adverse effect in poorer communities. It broke down the family unit, parental responsibility, and economic stability, resulting in the abuse of wives and children. Thus, alcohol did not simply inebriate the cognitive sensibilities but was part of the system that led to socio-economic, developmental, and relational suffering, especially among poorer communities who could hardly recover from its effects. Thus, for our pioneers, to oppose alcohol was akin to opposing the perpetuation of suffering.[27] This same perspective led Ellen White to recommend Adventists to vote for prohibition even on the Sabbath, led her to command civil disobedience to the church rather than return a slave to its owner,[28] and undergirded the health message and its positive impact on reversing the curse of disease which had, to a large degree, become the cultural norm.[29]

Tragically, the reversal of suffering motif seems to have died with our pioneers. Following after them, the church has not done a good job at maintaining this vision. Had we done so, what would Adventism have been during the Jim Crow era?[30] Would Lucy Byard have died on the steps of an Adventist hospital that refused to admit her simply for being black?[31] Would mainstream German Adventist Churches have echoed hatred of Jews and become instruments for the perpetuation of suffering ushered in by the Third Reich?[32] Would the first clergy man sentenced for war crimes in Rwanda have been an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister?[33] What would have been our message to a world frightened by the threat of communism and nuclear annihilation? And what of the present context of fear driven by our erratic political climate?

Related Article: Winning People for Jesus in Volatile Contexts

We can only speculate, but my belief is that, had we reframed our doctrine in suffering rather than constraining it to parameters that had long lost their significance for us, our history would be different. Imagine Adventists living in society by self-identifying as “agents of reversal” in their neighborhoods, workplaces and families! How would our local churches function if we saw them as “spaces of reversal” in their communities? How would our pastors and conferences prioritize and strategize if the leaders saw themselves as “delegates of reversal” in their regions? How would our personal spiritual lives be impacted if we daily sought to allow grace to reverse the impulse of self within each of us – an impulse that breeds suffering whenever it is exercised?

Instead, our identifying doctrine – the PAIJ – has been reduced to a mere religious formula that raises debates and arguments only hyper-religious theological nerds find interesting. Consequently, our youth find the doctrine meaningless.[34] Our local churches have zero impact on their local communities and our history is filled with the very perpetuation of suffering that the PAIJ promises to undo. We have gotten locked in an outdated framework that has kept us disconnected from society, lost in endless theological banter, while the world outside oscillates between hope and despair with naught a word from the one movement that claims to be the present truth for the final days.

Conclusion

My invitation is this: let us not discount the frameworks of old but let us build on them by finding exactly where the PAIJ belongs. And it belongs in the center of suffering. It must be framed in suffering. Understood in suffering. Expressed in suffering and beheld in suffering. For it is a doctrine that emerges in the context of suffering and challenges us to become agents of reversal in the midst of suffering – a church working to reverse the suffering perpetuated by the governmental systems of man’s beastly empire through the power of the gospel and active, humanitarian involvement in our communities.

The combination of Arminian theology, the Great Controversy motif, our apocalyptic consciousness, Christ-centered vision and the Pre-Advent Investigative Judgment narrative provides Adventism with the raw materials to be the most powerful, satisfying and meaningful voice on the universal primary idea of suffering. But in order for us to finally occupy that space in the culture, we must reframe our conceptualizations and application of the PAIJ from religio-centric to a voice for the suffering that sits with both the idea of suffering and its contemporary, systemic expression. As the philosopher Nietzsche implied, we must – like a snake – shed our skin, or risk death itself. And if we do, the sanctuary can once again become a unifying element of Adventist theology that strings our entire message together into a cohesive story that will speak value to humanity. If it was able to do so during a time when our audience was primarily Christian and engaged in traditional theological considerations, why can’t it do it again in our contemporary secular age? The only variable to decide this is us.

As I close this article, you might find yourself with some large questions such as: how does reframing the PAIJ in suffering interact with the doctrine’s historic priorities? Does this reframe somehow damage our apocalyptic warning to the world? Can this reframe prepare society for the deceptions soon to come upon it? These and other questions will be answered in the next two articles in the series in which I close with an overview on how we can easily and accurately teach this perspective of the PAIJ in a way that not only addresses the universal primary concern of suffering, but also provide a solid foundation for a person’s theological foundations.

Read the rest of Marcos’ series on Pre-Advent Investigative Judgement

______

Notes.

[1] When I speak of the validity of our historic understanding I do not refer to the doctrine’s corruption via frameworks like perfectionism and Last Generation Theology. I contend that these systems of thought are not only heretical but are highly to blame for the doctrine’s contemporary demise.

[2] For more see Manea, Mike & Marcos Torres. “Why the Critics of the Investigative Judgment Have Failed,” https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/why-the-critics-of-the-investigative-judgment-have-failed and Manea, Mike. “How Adventism Ended the Gospel Wars,” https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/how-adventism-ended-the-gospel-wars.

[3] For more see, Torres, Marcos D. “Facing Life’s Record: An Analysis of The Great Controversy’s Scariest Chapter,” https://thestorychurchproject.com/bloghost//2013/08/facing-lifes-record-analysis-of-great.html.

[4] However, certain rules must be in place. The first I have already mentioned – that a reframing of the PAIJ must build on its foundation and not deconstruct it. The second is that the reframing cannot be forced. That is, we cannot simply look at the needs of humanity and then twist the PAIJ like a pretzel to try and make it fit somewhere. A better alternative to fitting in, argues social worker Brené Brown, is “belonging”. And while she is addressing intrapersonal concerns and not ideological ones, this perspective can nevertheless be appropriated for our present task. Thus, I contend that rather than trying to make the PAIJ fit in with modern culture we must, instead, discover where it naturally belongs in the realm of universal primary ideas. In this way, we can arrive at an authentic reframing and avoid disingenuous formulations in the name of “relevance”. The third is that reframing the PAIJ must, of necessity, provide us with a simple message that can be understood by all. This does not mean the task of reframing is simplistic. As will be seen in the remainder of this article, there is a lot of work to do there. In fact, this entire article series calling for a reframing is itself moderately complex. What we need, however, is to translate that process into a simple message that can be presented without demanding a prerequisite of theological education or immersing into doctrinal mechanics that people struggle to comprehend. For more on the difference between fitting in and belonging, see CBS News, “Author Brené Brown on the difference between belonging and fitting in,” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/author-brene-brown-social-scientist-new-book-braving-the-wilderness.

[5] The final point to also keep in mind is that reframing the PAIJ is not about finding a new framework by which we constrict the doctrine all over again. If the foundation is properly set, then reframing the PAIJ is about discovering a diversity of ways, or a continuum of frames in which the doctrine can be expressed and communicated. In this present article I offer one framework, but I contend that other frameworks relevant to diverse audiences can and must be found. I leave that task up to other thinkers to explore.

[6] This is witnessed in chapter one with the struggle between Babylon and Israel functioning as a microcosm of the war between Christ and Satan. The tension is repeated in chapter two with the story of human empire being ground to powder by the invading eternal kingdom, in chapter three with the battle over worship, in chapter four with God’s judgment over Nebuchadnezzar, in chapter five with Belshazzar taunting God, and in chapter six with another struggle over worship, Daniel on death-row, and the Median King ultimately submitting to God’s kingdom.

[7] New World Encyclopedia. “Suffering,” http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Suffering.

[8] As quoted in, Wachs, Stephanie W. “On Survival (Or To Live Is To Suffer),” https://medium.com/@stephaniewittelswachs/on-survival-or-to-live-is-to-suffer-857749f9c66e.

[9] Frankl, Viktor Emil and William J. Winslade. “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

[10] As quoted in, Johnston, Janis C., “Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss,” p. 91.

[11] Anne Frank House. “A choir of voices: Holocaust diaries by Anne Frank and other young writers,” https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/go-in-depth/holocaust-diaries-anne-frank-and-other-young-writer.

[12] Karl, Jonathan, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps, “The Dalai Lama’s secret to happiness in 140 characters,” https://news.yahoo.com/blogs/power-players-abc-news/the-dalai-lamas-secret-to-happiness-in-140-characters-191833143.html.

[13] Prager, Dennis. “A Letter from Africa,” https://www.dennisprager.com/letter-africa.

[14] Advent Next Podcast. “Faith and Politics from the Gospel of Matthew – Dr. Cedric Vine,” ep. 2, https://www.adventnext.com/podcasts.

[15] Now of course, one can just as easily look at the book of Daniel and say that the struggle between the two kingdoms is a struggle over the truth of God’s character versus lies. This is an alternate framework to suffering through which the entire narrative can be contextualized as well. Or we can frame the visions in judgment which is also a recurring theme in the entire book and a primary idea most people are familiar with. It can be framed in government, political science, world religion, the gospel – even mental health! My point by focusing on suffering is not that it is the only way of introducing the PAIJ to the culture, but that it is one potential framework that can be used to contextualize the doctrine in the language and concerns that people are actually talking about.

[16] This attack on the sanctuary is not new. When Babylon conquered Israel, it destroyed the earthly sanctuary. Then, under Medo-Persian rule, God delivered his people back to Israel to rebuild it. Satan attempted over and over again to prevent its reconstruction but he failed. Two entire books in the OT are dedicated to this rebuilding: Ezra and Nehemiah. Next, the Greek empire swept through and the sanctuary was once again attacked. Antiochus Epiphanes comes to mind as one of the most anti-sanctuary figures during that time. But Antiochus is only a small player in a much larger narrative. By the time Jesus arrives, Rome is the new empire in town. It subjugates the Jews and offers them a puppet king named Herod. The temple is still a center for Jewish worship but has become a mere rite of ceremonies and an economic center. The place of God’s meeting with man has been trampled so much that it has lost its meaning. As a result, Jesus performs a microcosm of the sanctuary’s cleansing when he lashes out against the vendors in the temple for their perpetuation of human suffering (John 2:12-22). The one place that was meant to symbolize God’s connection to humanity had been transformed into a place of exploitation which gave rise to the systemic rejection of the poor. After cleansing the temple, Jesus welcomed the poor and outcasts. His judgment restored the people’s connection with God via the temple. He had interrupted the perpetuation of suffering.

[17] Is this all the “casting down” of the sanctuary represents? Of course not! But it’s all that you need to explore in the first layer of the doctrine. You can add onto this in layers two and three. But as far as the first layer is concerned, keep it there. It’s so simple even a child can grasp it and it also sets a foundation for adding more in the future.

[18] White, Ellen G. “Last Day Events,” p. 200.

[19] Jesus, as was mentioned earlier, voluntarily entered into the greatest type of suffering when he experienced separation from God on our behalf. Thus, there is a deep connection between the perpetuation of suffering and our separation from God illustrated by a trampled sanctuary.

[20] Whitman, Sarah M., “Pain and Suffering as Viewed by the Hindu Religion,” http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/pastoral/events/hindu_painsuffering.pdf.

[21] My Jewish Learning, “Jewish Answers to Suffering and Evil,” https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-answers-to-suffering-and-evil.

[22] Patheos Religion Library: Islam, “Suffering and the Problem of Evil,” https://www.patheos.com/library/islam/beliefs/suffering-and-the-problem-of-evil.

[23] Oliveira, Marco. “A Starting Point for Understanding Suffering,” https://bahaiteachings.org/starting-point-for-understanding-suffering.

[24] White, Ellen G. “The Desire of Ages,” p. 161.

[25] The Story Church Project. “Should Adventist Churches be Involved in Social Justice? with Nathan Brown,” https://thestorychurchproject.com/bloghost/2019/3/17/should-adventist-churches-be-involved-in-social-justice-with-nathan-brown.

[26] See: Miller, Jared. “Adventists, Prohibition, and Political Involvement,” http://libertymagazine.org/article/adventists-prohibition-and-political-involvement.

[27] Whitaker, Rachel. “Drying Up the Stream,” https://www.adventistreview.org/archives/2004-1504/story1.html.

[28] Branson, Roy. “Ellen G. White: Racist or Champion of Equality?”, http://www.oakwood.edu/additional_sites/goldmine/hdoc/blacksda/champ/index.html.

[29] See White, Ellen G. “Ministry of Health and Healing,” and Knight, George R. “Ellen White’s World.”

[30] Hollancid, Cleran. “‘Race and the Adventist Church,” https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/race-and-the-adventist-church.

[31] North American Regional Voice. “Memories of My Grandmother, Lucille Byard,” http://www.blacksdahistory.org/remembering-lucy-byard.html.

[32] Schroder, Corrie. “Seventh Day Adventists,” http://www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Research/Proseminar/corrieschroder.htm?fbclid=IwAR1vOZlLvN0hy02ORDHtNcJMYYQBbvLplCsNbpN-Mlyg6dx-Jbc1U8FFi_I.

[33] Carroll, Rory. “Pastor who led Tutsis to slaughter is jailed,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/feb/20/rorycarroll1.

[34] See both “Seventh-day Adventist Young Adult Study,” Barna Group, 2013, http://www.youngadultlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Barna-SDA-Millennials-Report-final.pdf, and “21st Century Seventh-day Adventist Connection Study,” https://www.adventistarchives.org/the-twenty-%C2%AD%E2%80%90first-century-seventh-%C2%AD%E2%80%90day-adventist-connection-study.pdf.

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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.