God’s Principles Tested
God’s principles of government worked perfectly under perfect conditions. Up to this point our study has been focused mainly on that sinless period. However, we must now focus our attention on the drastically changed conditions that developed after angels and then mankind exercised their God-given liberty by choosing to not serve God. It is with intense interest that the entire universe looked on to see whether these principles could still operate without modifications, additions, or any other changes. Would God find it necessary to solve the sin problem by exercising His infinite physical power to destroy the wrongdoers? After all, it is in times of great stress that one’s true character comes out. For all of heaven, it must have been a very stressful time when mankind chose life without God. Therefore, all waited to see how God would respond and if His character would change.
As students and others have viewed history, they have been convinced that the entrance of sin imposed on God the necessity to take action. As they have viewed history and seen the reaction of men to the stresses around them, they naturally assume that God too had to change to meet the new stresses around Him. They naturally look at the big stories, stories like the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues upon Egypt, the destruction of the rebels who worshipped the golden calf, the death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, Achan, and many other such instances and conclude, man changes therefore God changed and these stories prove that they did. But is that really true? Did God really change? They read these words used to describe God’s responses and conclude from this that God exercised force to put down rebellion, that He punished by His own decision and decree, that He destroyed those who rejected His last offers of mercy, and that He does not, therefore, give all individuals full liberty to yield or withhold obedience.
I will certainly admit that on the surface it strongly appears that this is true, but at the same time, we know that there is more than one way of understanding what happened.
Hebrews 13:8 makes it clear that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Jesus is the reflection of the Father meaning that Christ came to show us the Father’s character and therefore if Christ never changes, neither does the Father. So what is happening?
There prevails in the world today the concept that the law was made for God’s personal exaltation, that it is His invention to produce and maintain His position of undisputed authority. Therefore, it is seen as a device calculated to exalt One at the expense of another or all the rest.
What is the origin of this teaching? The answer to this question is an infallible guide as to whether it is true or not. A careful study of what took place in the Garden of Eden reveals the truth. God made the earth and equipped it with all the powerful life-support systems as a love gift to Adam and Eve. Because he was interested only in receiving from them service motivated by live, He did not place them “beyond the possibility of wrong-doing. God made them free moral agents, capable of appreciating the wisdom and benevolence of His character and the justice of His requirements, and with full liberty to yield or to withhold obedience.
There is no point in saying that one has full liberty to withhold obedience if there is no opportunity to do so by placing the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden. That was the one tree the Lord did not give them. It was His property, not theirs. All He asked of them was to respect it as being His. If they could always do this, and teach their children the same principles, then there would never have been unhappiness in the world. There would only be perfect trust and security and unity.
If they could learn perfect respect for another property, there would never be any stealing, adultery, or murder. If they could respect the time belonging to another, the could never be a Sabbath breaker.
This is what the law is all about – respect for that which belongs to another. On the first table of the law is the area of respect for that which is God’s and on the second, for that which is humanity’s.
When God instructed them regarding His tree, they were given the clearest warning: “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
It is as important to see what the text doesn’t say as to what it does says. What it does not say that in the day when they ate of it (the fruit of the tree) that the Lord would destroy them. It says that they would die. Granted, the text does not spell out the way they would die, and it could be interpreted to mean that they would die at God’s hands. But Adam and Eve did not understand it that way, and Satan knew this. He knew that they understood God’s words to mean that the destruction would be the result of the eating of that tree and not the act of God. Therefore, Satan set to work to destroy their confidence in all interpretation of God’s work and to substitute it with one of his own.
Satan himself gives us the evidence we need to understand what is happening. This is deduced in the following way. Satan came, not to endorse God’s truth, but to overthrow it. There were only two possible ways of understanding God’s words. They either meant that God would personally kill them for disobeying Him, or they would die as a consequence of their wrong deeds. To perceive which is the error, it is only necessary to ask which of the two Satan denied and which was he supported.
Throughout that conversation with Eve, Satan worked up to and stressed the idea that there was no danger in eating of the tree. He assured her that doing so would not bring death. He insinuated that there was another reason for God’s stipulations, a reason entirely motivated by self-protectionism and self-interest. Therefore, he implied without directly saying it, that if there was any death at all it would be God’s directly administered act, not the natural consequence of broken law.
He was too cunning to confront Eve with this counter interpretation in the first moments of their contact. First, he had to inject just enough doubt into her mind to get her thoughts working in the desired direction. So he asked in an incredulous tone if it was really true that the Lord had denied to a creature so beautiful, intelligent, and worthy as herself the right to partake of the fruit of the tree. To give more power to the suggestion, “the serpent continued, in a musical voice, with subtle praise of her surpassing loveliness; and his works were not displeasing.
Eve, by misquoting the words of God showed that misdoubt had begun to form. Whereas God has said, “You shall surely die,” she quoted Him saying, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die” (Genesis 3:3).
The word “lest” denies the certainty and admits only a possibility. Her use of it transmitted to the serpent the information that her conviction of the nature of God’s law was weakening. Thus, he was emboldened to make a direct attack on the law and the character of the One who had made it. So he said to the woman, “You will not surely die” (verse 4).
This is the attack on the law. God had said that disobedience to the law would bring death, but here Satan was saying that the law could be broken with impunity. He argued that there is nothing in keeping the law which affords a protection from death. Eve had the choice then of whether she would believe the truth as God told it or Satan’s proposition.
As he did with the angels in heaven, Satan follows an attack on God’s law with an attack on God’s character. In order to sustain his statement that breaking the law would not bring death, he said that there was another purpose for God’s saying it would. Here are his words. “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5).
Just a gentle reminder that a created being can never become greater than he who created it. Satan being a created being desired to become greater than God himself and in the process convinced one third of the angels to follow him in his accusation that God’s law and character were flawed. Now with Eve, he did not promise that she would be greater than God, but only that she would ascend and be like God for it was unfair of God to withhold this from His created beings. Satan presented God as one who was deeply concerned lest any of His creatures should ascend to a position of equality with Himself so that the glory, honor, and power which he had previously enjoyed as His own special privilege would have to be shared with others.
While God had not told them, and for very good reason, Satan insinuated that the tree held magical properties which would project those who partook of it into a gloriously superior station in the universe. While God had not revealed this to them, Satan continued, stating that God certainly knew about it and was desperately afraid that they would partake of the tree and thus become equal with Himself. In order to be secure from such terrible contingency, He had placed fear in their hearts to prevent them from eating the tree.
From this subtle lie spoken to Eve Satan would alter develop the teaching that it is God who destroys. There was no need to take this teaching all the way to its ultimate conclusion, for he could accomplish the objective of the moment without doing so. But over time, he had to change mankind perspective of God in order to elevate his own position. So instead of sin, death and destruction being the result of Satan, it was this imperfect God that bestows punishment upon people without reason or merit.
If God was the kind of being who would stoop to inventing a lie in order to safeguard His own position, and should that lie be discovered and the people do the very thing He had commanded them not to do, then He would not quietly acquiesce to sharing His throne with them. He would naturally resort to other measures to accomplish the same purpose.
The point is that a being of the character Satan represented God to be would be unable to do anything else. Deception having failed, He would be driven to use the only other weapon available. – force. He would enter into direct physical conflict with those who sought to climb into His place, and in the end, when even that failed, He would have to liquidate them.
While we are now aware of who authored these rebellious ideas, we are to understand that this does not explain how God worked these principles out in every one of the difficult complications introduced by the sin problem. But a foundation has been laid upon that such comprehensions can be built. It will not be possible to approach every situation with knowledge that the devil will continue attempting to cloud the mind with erroneous view of what God did, exactly as he did in the Garden of Eden. There will not be the blessed tendency to reject such an interpretation and search further for a real one.
The time has come to study God’s behavior as far as it can be understood during the interlude of sin. As we continue forward in exploring the law and especially the character of God, contemplate this question. If God is unchangeable, being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and He determined to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth to reveal the true character of God to mankind and the unfallen universe, does this sound like a God that is a tyrant? Does this sound like a God, who sent His Son to redeem the world, would be one to wipe out entire nations and cities? After all, Christ came to reveal God’s character and if God is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then the God so many see in the Old Testament should be the God still seen in the New Testament, but according to many there is a marked contrast between the Old and New Testament. But is there? If we begin to peel away the layers of false teaching and lies built up and portrayed by Satan to assassinate the character of God, and discredit God’s law of love, then perhaps, just perhaps we will begin to get a better, clearer, and truer picture of who God is and how much he loves each of us.
I Invite you to continue reading this series as we explore more about God, His character and His law of love. On Monday we will have a review or summary of what we have learned so far. Please stop back often.
To view past posts on this subject of God’s Charter and the Plan of Salvation click the link below.
01 He Wanted to Teach Respect 05 Approaching the Study of God
02 Why a Tree to Teach Respect 06 The Constitution of the Government of God
03 The End of The Great Controversy 07 A Perfect Law
04 Isaiah’s Wonderful Prophecy 08 God’s Principles Tested
09 A Summary