Sometimes I do things I know I shouldn’t do.

It usually feels pretty good. At first. Later, I feel really bad about it.

That’s my worldview.

Well, part of it. From there it goes in some rather bizarre directions. Extraterrestrials battle over the character, government, methods, and motives of the Ruler of the Universe. Unanswerable questions are raised. Questionable answers are offered.

I call what I believe, the distilled Adventist worldview. It’s not a finished view. It’s not the final truth. There is room for growth. It continues to mature. Newfound truths may advance our understanding. It’s not uniquely Adventist. Glimpses of it can be found in the writings of John Milton and Henry Melvill, in Manicheanism, and in stories like The Mandalorian.

Distillation is a process through which impurities are removed. Simple nuisance particles may also be detached. The process is often intense. It calls for heat and transparency. It must be closely monitored. Combustion or even explosions may occur.

I find a clear distinction between the distilled Adventist worldview and both the historic and current Adventist worldviews, which seem more and more undifferentiated to me. Instead of going through this tedious and potentially dangerous distillation process, I see our church “retreating” to a safer, evangelical, fundamentalistic, Reformation-based form of theology. I don’t believe that was the intention of our founders. I believe they are two radically different worldviews.

I see one based in love; the other, based in fear.

I don’t think I was afraid of God when I was six-years old.

That year, my friend, Gayle, and I, saw a dark cloud about half the size of a man’s hand in what she thought might be the eastern sky. She excitedly told me that Jesus was coming! Her father was a pastor. I figured she knew. We ran home and told our mothers. They gave us Graham crackers and milk and told us to calm down.

That’s the last time I can remember being excited about Jesus coming back. Mostly it scares me. Still.

By the time I was eight, my worldview was saturated in fear.

I don’t blame my parents for my fears. They always shared a loving view of God with me. Largely unwittingly, and I think for the most part unintentionally, my pastors, teachers, and Sabbath School leaders somehow instilled in me a fear of God, a fear of my neighbors, a fear of our government, a fear of the Devil, a fear of the Ten Commandments, a fear of The Last Days, a fear of the Judgment, a fear of the Second Coming, a fear of persecution, a fear of Hell, a fear of the General Conference president, a fear of hidden sins, a fear of death, a fear of my body, and a fear of Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity. I feared everything outside of the safe and comfortable confines of the church. Although inside the church it wasn’t always so comfortable, either.

When fear is overwhelming, there are at least three possible responses. You may have a mental health crisis, you may deny the fear and its causes, or you can “whistle past the graveyard.” I chose the latter. I pretended I was not afraid. I was terrified.

I’ve been asked how I can seem to be so critical of our church and yet continue to be a loyal member. My loyalty to Adventism is directly tied to the classes and tape ministries of several Adventist pastors, theologians, and educators that I encountered in the 1970s and 1980s. Through them I finally saw the light of the good news about God and His character. It shines brilliantly in the First Testament in the writings of men like Moses, David, Isaiah,

Jeremiah, Micah, and Hosea. It explodes into vibrant colors through the prism of Christ’s life and death in the Second Testament—most clearly in the works of John, the disciple who so gratefully reveled in the love of Jesus.

Based on the intended audience for this article, I will presume most of you are well acquainted with the current Adventist worldview. As I mentioned above, I do not see it as being significantly different from an evangelical, fundamentalistic, Reformation-informed Christian worldview. Not having the space to expand and contrast the differences between the current and distilled worldviews, I will focus on describing the distilled Adventist worldview. Hopefully, you will be able to see some of the important lines of divergence between the two views.

In distilled Adventist theology, sin is rebelliousness. It is an attitude of self-centeredness, not a collection of behaviors and acts—a vicious inborn character flaw that leads us to fight God and His government. It is less “what we do,” and more “who we are.” Living with this attitude, everything we do, good or bad, is sin. God’s response to our sin is less anger than sorrow. Each time we act out in sin, we hurt both ourselves and others whom He has created. We form scars, and accumulated scar tissue will eventually destroy both our capacity and our desire to be healed.

God has given us at least five “tools” to help us fight against our sinful natures. The first is the enmity he has put between us and our great enemy. This is what makes us want to change for the better. It’s what eventually makes us feel bad about doing those things we know we shouldn’t. God has also given us His Spirit, to help us respond to that enmity against sin and to give us the power to take the steps needed to accomplish a change in our characters.

And He has given us forgiveness.

We often worry about forgiveness, but forgiveness is not a problem for God. We’ve been forgiven. It’s guaranteed. He forgives freely—even before we ask. The father of the Prodigal Son was not waiting for his son to come back with a speech of confession and repentance. The love and goodness of the father drew the son home to himself. He cut his son off with a hug and a family robe when he began his speech of contrition.

The Roman soldiers at the Cross didn’t ask for forgiveness. Christ gave it to them anyway. But being forgiven doesn’t mean being saved. And presuming on God’s forgiveness may callous us to such a degree that we eventually no longer respond to His entreaties.

What we need is a new character. A rebirth. A change of heart. A healing.

To be healed, we must trust God enough to allow Him to heal us. If we do, He can and will heal us completely. While we must confess (admit guilt) and repent of (turn away from) our sin, that doesn’t induce forgiveness. Confession and repentance are but the first steps in the healing process. They make forgiveness efficacious in our lives. They are not down payments to help cover our sins.

The last two gifts, the greatest ones from God, are found in His Son.

Christ’s primary mission to earth was to show us the Father. He, being of the same nature and character of God, could not fail to do this. He was the greatest gift the Trinity could possibly give. Through Him, we receive the fifth gift, a clear representation and revelation of the goodness and righteousness of God.

This Gift was not meant for humanity alone. In that peculiar, “Star Warsian,” extraterrestrial conflict we Adventists have recognized in our reading of Scripture, we find that a defense of the righteousness of God, His goodness, and His trustworthiness, was necessary for the eternal peace and safety of all creation. That defense was most brilliantly displayed on the Cross.

At the Cross, the impure accretions that had formed on the world’s view of God were distilled off in the clearest revelation of the character of God that the universe could ever receive! Lesser nuisances that had accumulated were also removed. Confusing terms such as propitiation, expiation, payment, cost, penalty, and appeasement were clarified and should no longer befog our view. God doesn’t demand sacrifices, nor does He destroy sinners! The death of Christ ultimately and irrefutably verified that God told the truth regarding the natural results of sin and demonstrated His role in the destruction of the wicked.

Calvary was Hell. On it, Christ experienced the full wrath of God. No eternal fire. No brimstone. No smoke of torment. No destruction at the Father’s hand. Nothing like the anger we humans possess. Just the overwhelming, fatal pain of separation from the Creator—of being given up (forsaken). “God’s wrath is simply His turning away in loving disappointment from those who do not want Him, anyway, thus leaving them to the inevitable and awful consequences of their own rebellious choice” (A. Graham Maxwell).

We can’t overstate the goodness of God. Everything He does and allows is a manifestation of loving righteousness. This is the distilled Adventist worldview. This should be our message to the world.

Mark Johnson, MD, is a retired public health physician and the chairman of the Boulder Vision Board. Email him at: [email protected]