Friday, August 30, 2013

THE PASS/FAIL EXAM


In the religion in which I was reared, the Seventh-day Adventist church, this life was viewed essentially as an entrance exam, and it was going to be scored strictly pass/fail.  Moreover, you only got one shot--no retakes.  If you passed, you got into heaven to spend eternity in a state of bliss.  If you failed, the news was not so good.
  There wasn’t any hell, exactly.  It wasn’t that you were destined for a fiery place, doomed to an eternity of torture and hard, meaningless labor.  Rather, after death you would lie “dormant,” eventually to be resurrected but only for a brief time.  This second resurrection was to come one thousand years after a first resurrection--of the righteous.  If you were in the second resurrection, you were to hear God’s judgment that you failed the exam, followed by a brief period of war between Satan and God (Satan loses big time, by the way), and ultimately final death by fire.  Presumably, this would involve some pain followed by eternal nothingness.  We used to speculate that those whose sins were greater would suffer for a longer time, but compared to an eternity of nonexistence, it didn’t appear to make much difference.

Frankly, it all seemed a little harsh.  You might have tried in this life, some perhaps harder than others.  But this scenario converted into a strictly either/or result what seemed like a continuous range of life conduct from the most heinous to the most saintly, with most people falling somewhere in the middle of the range, probably along a bell curve.  While human conduct may have been on a continuum, God, it appeared, only scored your exam digitally.  

As kids, we were not in any position to question this scenario.  We were taught simply that those were the rules and we were instructed to do our best to pass the test.  In fact, to deny the truth of the scenario was viewed as a sin, an automatic disqualification from passing the test, and even to question the scenario was seen as flirting with disaster. 

This was 50 years ago, and I thought it would be safe to assume that the SDA church had softened its approach to ultimate rewards and punishments.  Even at the time, they had downplayed the idea of torture of the damned, choosing to focus on the heaven side of the equation.  So I took a look at their official website: http://www.adventist.org/.  A quick review reveals that, while the church has maintained the strict pass/fail nature of the test, they appear to have made it easier to get a passing score.  When I was a kid, even one unforgiven sin on your record could be enough to keep you out of heaven.  Now the focus is on God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice clearing the path for salvation.  I couldn’t find any discussion about requiring an unblemished record.  But the scenario of a first and second resurrection and the destruction of the damned are still there.  Some people are going to fail the exam; it’s just not as clear what you have to do to get a passing score.  I guess this doctrine, stemming primarily from an interpretation of the bizarre, psychedelic prophesies in the Book of Revelation, is so fundamental to the second advent teachings of the church and the writings of its prophetess, Ellen G. White, that the church simply cannot abandon it without relinquishing a sine qua non of its faith.

© 2013 John M. Phillips

2 comments:

  1. That's a pretty good summary of the SDA Church beliefs. But their are SDA's that have looked further and have come to the conclusion that there is more truth to be learned. Sometimes they call themselves SDA's with the Larger View. We are not appreciated by the "church leaders" and if there are leaders that do agree they are ofteh afraid to speak out because of job security.

    This view actually grows out of the Constantinian era..when church and state became one. This was when rules broken were considered punishable by law. And punishment of the law breaker was inflicted by authority. God's laws are natural laws, that tell us how life was built to operate and not following those laws have natural consequences, death. This then lead to Catholic control until the Reformation.

    As you illustrated in a previous blog. touch the stove and you will get burned. God may have raised His voice in warnings and actions, in Bible accounts, to get the peoples attention, so they would listen and avoid the consequences on their own decisions. But He often gets blamed for the choices and the consequences that resulted.

    Does a parent raise his voice and punish to get the kid to watch for cars when crossing the street? But if the kid disobeyed and runs in from of the car and gets hurt, does he then need to also spank the kid to teach a lesson? Or does he dial 911 and start cpr, doing all he can to save the child...even donating organs and giving his blood for transfusions to save his child... maybe even his life if he follows the child out into the street and pushes him out of the way of the on coming car....this is God. He is doing everything to save us. Just like Aids is terminal, so is sin...just look at Syria...killing each other, and what does America want to do? Go punish by more death....that is how the end will be, sinners turning on each other and God will just cleans the earth with fire when all are dead, that made the decision not to be agree with the laws on which life is built. Love God, become one in thought...so when we are doing His will we are actually do the desires of our own heart and your neighbor as yourself. You may be more christian than you realize, John...probably a man after God's own heart.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa,

      Thanks for your insight into the differences in opinion within the SDA church. It is interesting to me as a former SDA.

      I have tried to understand the points you are making in the remaining three paragraphs, but I'm afraid I have failed. The essay I wrote concerns the dogma of the SDA church re the destruction of the wicked following Christ's second coming. As I said elsewhere, God gets the credit but none of the blame, even though, as an omniscient, omnipotent being, he set the whole thing up, knowing that this would be the result. And, frankly, it doesn't help any to put the blame on Satan, when God created Satan knowing that he would turn against God and seek to attack Him.

      Am I understanding right that in the end God would not destroy the wicked? Rather they would kill each other and God would simply clean up the mess? Where does that interpretation come from--clear language in the scripture?

      Please understand that I made the above remarks, not because I am in agreement with your views on the End of Days, but because I am just trying to understand your thinking. As you know, I don't believe in God, Satan, evil, sin freedom of choice, or the inerrancy of scripture, as I have said elsewhere.

      One more thing: As I have asked before, I would like to avoid references to issues that could be considered to have a political component, such as the current crisis relating to Syria. That goes also for the other topics I mentioned, including gay rights, abortion, gun control, etc. Somehow, I don't mind talking about religious issues--after all that is what this blog is about. But political issues can, I feel create all kinds of other complications. Thanks.

      Delete