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September 4, 2013

Adventists, Divine Judgment and Full-On Grace

My car radio has a treble and a bass. Turning up the treble allows me to hear higher frequency sounds. Turning up the bass allows me to her the deep low tones. I can turn down one and turn up the other. Or I can turn both up. In fact, on my car the knob for both is the same, I just toggle between the two.

It presents a profound truth about live: dichotomies together share the whole truth.

For those who don’t have radios, sheet music shows the same reality. The treble clef is where we see the high sounds, those piercing the air with their precise tunes and the bass notes reminding us that you can have sounds that get so low they almost just seem like the backdrop shaking the ground with trembling power. A good choir will deliver both those

Now, it is hard to find a person who can sing both the high and low notes, and harder still to find someone who can sing both simultaneously.

But God can, and that is the point of his amazing being.

And we can all get better at blending both, at least metaphorically in our lives.

My friend David Ferguson reminded us recently that leadership has many dichotomies and that each of those dichotomies can be turned up simultaneously. One can have a team that is fiercely independent but works well together. One can have quietness in a room where everyone hears the others views or sadly be in a room full of talking where no one is being heard.

So, it is figuring out how to experience the best of both simultaneously, the bringing together of dichotomies, that remains the challenge of leadership and in Christ we see it played out and by His grace, we can have that full on sound of treble and bass in other areas of our lives.

For me, that is what the investigative judgment doctrine has become: both a reminder God does both and all, and an invitation to be a part of that experience: bringing together the high and low, wonderful grace and ravaging justice, powerful accountability and amazing liberation from what we deserved from that accountability. It seems like an impossible dichotomy that can never be merged. But for those who cling to grace in judgment, it has become our song for the doctrine of investigative judgment.

But it has been hard to convince myself about this truth, and it seems harder still for my people—the Seventh-day Adventists—to understand and live the beauty of a treble-bass reality of the investigative judgment.

And the rest of Christianity—especially evangelical protestants seem even more troubled by this teaching and the full on blending of justice and grace than we are.

How can it be so rigidly demanding—every idle word and action will be brought into judgment—and so deeply graceful like the resurrection.

But like my car radio, God can pull off judgment like no one else: both grace and justice, radical forgiveness and radical accountability, both turned up all the way. Or for those without radios or mp3 players, He sings from both the highs and lows simultaneously.

And for those who see Him able to do this type of judgment, they start singing too. What do you think Revelation is all about? In between all the fire and justice and judgment is singing. Even the response to God’s judgment breeds a treble-bass experience, full on grace and justice.

So, to my fellow religious observers, I would say simply that those who think you can’t have grace and the cross and fiery judgment, you can’t believe in radical unmerited and outrageously granted and historical set forgiveness and future accountability (as Acts 17 discusses a set day in which He will judge all), then you can’t see what the angels are seeing. God does it all….and does it so well.

I understand the penchant to reject the hour of His judging as something foreign to grace. It doesn’t seem to mix well. That is because we misconceive justice. 1 John 4: 9 reminds us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He is just by forgiveness. That just way is far better than the alternatives. It is hard to get it into my own mind that judgment is dipped in and profoundly characterized by forgiveness and restoration.  It is hard to hear the soft and hard, the high and lows, the grace and peace in the fire of His judgment hour. But it is there. Wrestle with it in the teaching on investigative judgment (start with the Wiki).

But the lesson of John 8 and 9 is that you have to stay in the investigative judgment, stay and see how it unfolds. That was the truth of the woman caught in adultery who was guilty but so were all her accusers. Thankfully she stayed through the whole judgment process and heard the good news. The man kicked out of the synagogue by the God haters, needed to be transported to a better appeals court, and receive commendation–swift and personal–from the judge.  Those who left the judgment didn’t stay long enough to hear the good news.

You can’t read very far into scripture and you start seeing the treble-bass approach to judgment everywhere. I invite you to read the bible looking for this theme. And if you have trouble, you can get help from Leon Morris’s little book The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment or James Hamilton’s more challenging (still reading that one, as it is sooo dense with truth) Gods Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A biblical Theology.

It’s there.

It’s everywhere.

Judgment is not their to haunt us but to show us that God will be just and in His justice we can take full advantage of His forgiveness and he will be forgiving and in forgiving he will be just.

When God judges, everything gets done right and properly and effectively and the treble and bass get turned up fully.

Which brings me to my point.

I no longer accept the wide-spread rejection of the Adventist teaching on the investigative judgment. It is the defining teaching of not only the Adventist church, but the defining teaching of our time. Adventist are correct in holding it up for all to focus on. It is where we stand in earth’s history and God’s revelation of Himself to that world.

This doctrine brings home the truth of scripture. It is a full treble and bass experience of God. Truth hurts when it doesn’t have deep redemptive grace. Grace doesn’t reach its surgical power with out the best tones of truth: truth about God, truth about us, truth about Satan and evil, truth about life and death.

As Hamilton notes, its all about God’s judgment: the God of Exodus has revealed himself as merciful and just. He did it for Adam and Even when He investigated their situation, Moses spilled out the testimony when God revealed himself by the rock, Isaiah felt undone by the revelation of God on His throne and coals from that altar can burn but not leave a third degree lip, just pure words. And the  cross….wow, do you feel the symphonic justice and mercy simultaneously. If you can’t, I pray the Lord of music reveals the thundering justice as well as the majestic tingle tones of forgiveness that drip from that event and from the Person who makes that event the main characteristic of His entire existence as He has been slain from the foundation of the earth (it is who He is, not just what He does). See Rev 13:8.

The cross didn’t end the show of God’s full on treble-bass judgment. The choirs are still singing of God’s wonderful blending of both. Just read Revelation or the last book of the Bible written, John’s gospel. They all speak in the future and present tense of God’s work of judgment.

Everywhere is judgment, God’s judgment that turns up both justice and grace simultaneously, versus the justice of the world that is always full of gossipy snake venom, mostly one sided, always distorted, naively uninformed, partial and judgmental leading to deep legalism or horrible licentious or both.

I grew up spiritually in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Northern California. I had a chance to see first hand when extremes don’t blend the treble-bass full on gospel.

I recently visited my old places: Roseville, Auburn, Weimar, Loomis and Penryn. Wonderful places…California at its finest.

But it is always with a little knot in my stomach when I return. It was because for much of my growing up time in this region I was traumatized by individuals who kept trying to make one knob on the radio the only knob.

Some wanted only the high grace of God’s wonderful and radical forgiveness, at the Cross, at the Cross, at the Cross. Well the news of the Cross is the news for all times. The Cross was the event only because of the Person of the event. They wanted Adventism to reject the stupid teaching of a 1844 investigative judgment and embrace that judgment as completed at the Cross. They wanted us to see that the investigative judgment teaching was against the grace preached by Paul.  For them, Adventists were at a crossroad. They could repent of this silly teaching and renounce being a cult, and come into mainstream Christian teaching, or die in the foothills clinging to a legalistic and debilitating view of the investigative judgment. They thought we had become too works oriented, and lacked a deep experience of grace, radical forgiveness and full assurance.

They were partly, even at times mostly, right about many of their observations. sadly the through out the baby with the bath water. They made their rightness the only knob. Yes, we needed more grace, but we needed it IN the Judge of the Investigative judgment. They followed their rightness and missed the other truths. They failed to read Acts 17 where Paul–the king of gospel preaching– talks about a future date  set in which  judgement takes place. They forgot that if the Jesus moves into His Hour of Judgment that the Cross moves with Him because the Cross was an event–a cosmic wrentching event–only because it revealed the Person of Jesus. We are free and loved because of that Person and with the Person in the Judgment it will go better for us than we can ever imagine.

Then there were those bass players. They wanted a rigorous obedience to God’s law. Some thundered from the mountain. The law was a gift so you better keep it (a better phrase would be to receive it, as gifts are received before they are kept).  They rejected what they saw as sloppy evangelicalism that rejected the Sabbath and the strict accountability of judgment. They wanted a judgment based on an elevated importance of healthful living and the Adventist lifestyle which proved to be a poor understanding of the full righteousness demanded in that judgment and revealed in Christ.

Oddly, they too had many points right, but also missed the other tones of judgment.

We needed both, the treble and bass , but many of us felt a forced to select one of the other and many got side-tracked in the wilderness (now I speak of my own experience. It was dry as the hills of Gilboa!).

I know that for some, the investigative judgment is a doctrine that you need to reinterpret to be able to stomach. I understand the deep need to lavish in grace and deep acceptance and forgiveness. But I have come to see those as happening IN HIS HOUR OF JUDGMENT. HE IS THERE SO PEACE AND GRACE WILL BE THERE.

All God’s acts…the past, as well as the present and future arise from His character of just and forgiving judgment and to have a special time for that demonstration, it to keep the same event of the Cross present to us in the time-space continuum of judgment. It is not anything short of having God reveal again, this time with each person individually, His saving power. I want that. I want Him. I want His judgment.

I am convinced the doctrine of the investigative judgment is God’s great final message and experience for us as a people, where salvation gets turned fully on, the pulling together of all things in a wonderful consummation of who Christ is and how He thinks and acts toward His people, all people, the whole universe.

Just read John 8 and 9 and you get a picture of what God probably wants to accomplish in this final hour of earth’s history. He wants to tell everyone what He thinks of His wayward children–neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more. (Sin is a pain in the life, so that was good news twice).

The chiastic accounts of the woman caught in adultery and the man born blind and Jesus divine judgment is exactly what we all need and can experience in the current investigative judgment.

In fact, I have come to believe that this Hour of His judgment clearly noted in Revelation 14:6-12 can only be properly understand as the setting firm the everlasting gospel that has already been revealed in creation, the cross, and the resurrection but is to be more fully revealed again in our place and our time by the way God acts toward the dead and living in His final decision toward us.

He can be both just and forgive and that is the theme of all scripture and all history. But there is no better place to see that writ large and small but in His Hour of judgment.

The current investigative judgment going on NOW is radical good news and radical somber news simultaneously.

Yes, I know many will have trouble with that. But it is all about NOW. Both treble and bass fully engaged, and sadly there is going to be some who reject His judgment, like most of those characters in the story of John 8 and 9.  They get frustrated with Jesus and leave the judgment hour too early. and like those who rejected the Cross and reject Jesus, those who reject His judgment hour are equally rejecting Him. If they had just stayed, they could have gotten in line after the women, admitted their sinful need and said, “treat me like you treated that woman, I need your type of judgment. “

So, my appeal is to stick around for His judgment work. Hear God, try to drown out the fear and the crowds and wait patiently for…neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.

I love the Adventist teaching about investigative judgment—grace and justice turned up for me. It is a truth throughout scripture and one that is distilled so well for me in Micah 7:9…

Because I have sinned against him,
I will bear the Lord’s wrath,
until he pleads my case
and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light;
I will see his righteousness.

That is a judgment worth shouting for Joy about.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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