“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18.
Here is both a comfort and a challenge. We appreciate the fact that the Lord offers to reason with us, but He also shows us that there is something wrong with us. We have sins as red as scarlet, and He offers to forgive us and wash these away. Consequently, we are invited to reason with the Lord, but not as equals. We cannot, because we are not like Him, nor are our minds like His mind.
Earlier in the same chapter, Isaiah puts our condition into perspective: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” Isaiah 1:2–5.
God calls us to reason with Him, but He also warns us that our heads are sick and so we have to reason with sick heads. This is the best we can do. We just do not have good sense anymore. Let us get that established right at the beginning.
With our true condition in perspective, I would like to study with you how many down through the years have considered human reason, and the effects this has had on Adventism today.
I want to pose to you a question that I will seek to answer in this article. That question is simply this: How does it happen that a Bible scholar of our own faith, a respected man, will announce to us, “Folks, the prophecy of Daniel 8 does not say or mean what we have been thinking it said or meant?“
To answer this, we must go back a long, long way and start at the beginning, at the time when God gave man the ability to reason. (For God’s invitation for us to reason with Him indicates that He has given human beings reasoning powers.) There is no one in the world today that has good sense in comparison with Father Adam. Everything you see in any human being as a gift or attribute is something inherited from Adam.
For instance, some people have perfect pitch. They can name any musical tone, no matter what they have just heard. Others have a sense of perfect time. They can tell you what hour of the day it is without looking. Still others can work through complicated mathematical problems in the flash of a few seconds.
But think about Father Adam. He had all these abilities, and many more. He never needed written records to keep him from forgetting things. His head was not sick. I think if Adam were here today, he would probably say, “These people should not be running around loose. They ought to be locked up before they hurt each other!” He would be right, too, because we are continually hurting each other because of our sick heads.
Now let us move on from the very beginning. Let us just begin to reflect about the problem of human reason. Just look out at the world today. There are people with the very best of training, the very best minds that disagree about science, politics, or the best way to do just about anything.
Some years ago, when I was pastoring the Honolulu Central Church, I had a very illuminating experience. There was a severe problem with the public address system at the church. When the system was turned to normal levels out came shrieks and squeals and everything went wrong. So I looked for an expert to tell me what was wrong. The gentleman from the University of Hawaii gave me one opinion and the gentleman from the sound system downtown gave me an altogether different opinion. Finally, a gentleman came along who worked on organs. He said, “I think I can tell you what to do.” So he told me, we tried it, and it worked. I learned from that experience that even the best experts are often wrong, and they are constantly disagreeing with each other. This says that there is something wrong with human reason.
Insanity versus Stupidity
There are people in the world today who are mentally disabled. However, these people seldom deceive us. Their disability is self-evident, and it is usually uniform. A person who is retarded in mathematics is usually also retarded in social sciences and in a lot of other things.
Another problem of human reason is what we call insanity or mental illness. We must carefully distinguish between this and a mental disability. Retardation is usually uniform, but it is possible for a very brilliant mind to be off in certain areas.
I experienced this difference between insanity and stupidity some years ago. I was called to perform a ministry at the chapel of the mental hospital in Kaneohe, Hawaii. I had never been there before, and the grounds were large. I was running a little bit late and as I approached the grounds I was saying to myself, “I do hope I can by chance encounter some workman or attendant that knows where the chapel is, because I need to get there fast. And these grounds are huge.”
I parked my car and raced to the front steps of the main building. Just as I had hoped, a man came down the steps carrying a broom. I thought, “Ah, how wonderful. I have found one of the workmen.” I said to him, “Can you tell me where the chapel is.” “Oh, yes,” he said, “Come with me. It is easier to show you than to tell you.” So he led me up through the building and as we walked along, he talked in a very intelligent manner. We went through several hallways and finally to a back door.
Then he took me outside and said, “The chapel is in the trees up there.” I thought, “Oh, how fortunate! I am not going to be late.” I expressed my gratitude to him and he said, “Oh, that is all right. I should know where the chapel is, I am the Virgin Mary!” I was a little taken aback. Here was a very intelligent person, as far as I could see, but he had himself confused with the Virgin Mary. You see, stupidity is not insanity and insanity is not stupidity.
A friend once told me another story to illustrate that point. This man had a flat tire while driving past a mental hospital with large fenced in grounds. He pulled off into the tall grass between the road and the fence to change his tire. He removed the wheel; laid the hubcap behind him and placed each nut in the hubcap. But he put it too close to the road, and a car came by and hit the hubcap. It flipped and those five nuts flew in all directions into the tall grass.
Now he was stuck, with a wheel off the car and no way to fasten it on. Realizing that he had to find the nuts, he got down on his hands and knees and started searching through the tall grass. He finally found one, but that was not enough to hold the wheel on. He kept searching. As he was crawling and peering into the grass, he heard a voice from inside the fence saying, “Friend, may I make a suggestion?” He looked up in surprise and said, “Why, yes.” The man inside the fence said, “I would like to suggest that you remove one nut from each of the other three wheels, that will leave four there and that will give you four for the wheel that is off now. That is enough to get home on. Then you can buy some more nuts and put them back.”
What a beautiful idea! Why had he not thought of that? So as he started to do that, he said to the man, “Thank you. I presume you are one of the workmen or attendants here?” The gentleman inside the fence shook his head sadly. He said, “No, I am an inmate here. I may be crazy but I am not stupid!”
Driven by Emotions
Another problem of human reason is our emotional involvement. The human mind should be scientific and handle evidence objectively, as a computer would, and not be influenced at all by any emotional considerations, prejudices or biases. However, as good as that sounds, it is not fact.
There is no such thing as an objective human mind. Do not be misled when you hear the statement made, “we must follow evidence wherever it leads.” Evidence leads no where. Evidence simply exists. It is the interpretation of evidence that leads somewhere. And the interpretation of evidence is always, to a greater or lesser degree, subjective and influenced by emotional attitudes. There is no way that I can step outside of myself and say, “All right, mind, you sit on the shelf and work like a computer and do not pay any attention to me.” The mind is always influenced by the environment.
A History of Bible Interpretation
With this sketch of the problems that exist, let us move down through a specific area of human thought—the area of interpretation of the Bible. Beginning with Origen in the third century and moving down to the time of the Reformation, there were two ways of dealing with Scripture.
The first, and the one most likely to influence us, was what was called the allegorizing method. This method was acquired from the pagans who had the concept that an intelligent person can see hidden meanings in what he reads. A person who does not have that kind of intelligence would just see simple stories in the Bible, but if one was truly intelligent, he could read a passage and know much more. He could know, for instance, that this man’s left hand represents the Garden of Eden. His right hand represents the New Earth. The top of his head represents the Throne of God and his feet represent the Lower Regions.
This was Origen’s thinking and because he was a great leader of the church, these ideas spread and became the fashion on the common level. On a different level there was the philosophic method, which is the idea that if there is truth in the Bible, it should be possible to prove it through human reason. It was taught that truth did not need to be accepted on the authority of God, but that human reason could prove what truth is. First promoted by Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and the ancient philosophers, it was later held by Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotious, Peter Abaelard. So you have these two levels of how to interpret the Scriptures coming along side by side—one on the scholarly level and the other on a popular level.
The Reformationists reacted strongly against both the allegorizing and the philosophic methods. Martin Luther said that allegorizing put a nose of wax on the Bible that can be turned in any direction one chooses. And they spoke with equal strength against the philosophical study of the Scriptures. They said that it is too dangerous because the history of philosophy shows far too many unsuccessful attempts, to be given such infallible authority. They taught that the Word of God is revealed to man through the authority of the Holy Spirit. And it is not mans job to try to decide whether it is reasonable.
A new system of Bible interpretation developed in the Reformation days. It was called the systematic study of the Bible. In this system, if someone proposed that something was truth, he must give supporting texts from God’s Word in order for it to be accepted and believed. That is called Systematic Theology, systematic interpretation of the Bible. A truth should be stated in a proposition supported by proof texts. That was the Reformation style.
Next to come upon the scene was the Rationalistic School, which started in Germany and spread all over the world. The Reformers believed that God had revealed Himself in His Word, out of mercy to man, through revelation. In contrast, the presupposition of the Rationalist School was that the Bible is just like any other book. This is called the historical critical method.
If the presupposition of this method is accepted and the scholar must deal with the Bible as he would deal with any other book, there are certain things that immediately follow. First, no other book is inspired by God, therefore the Bible cannot be inspired. Next, since there is no such thing as long range prophecy found in other books, it cannot be found in the Bible. This conclusion is not the result of an examination of the evidence of the predictions and findings in the Bible, but this conclusion is required by the presupposition that there is no such thing as a difference between the Bible and any other book.
It is important that we understand the effects that presuppositions have on human action. To illustrate this, consider this situation. A pile of bones and rocks are sitting on a table. These bones are unmistakably half man and half monkey. That is the evidence. The evidence proves nothing. The interpretation of evidence might prove something. And the interpretation of evidence will reach back to the presuppositions.
The evolutionist says, “That is the proof that the monkey was developing into a man.” The creationist says, “That is the proof that the man was devolving into a monkey.” These two men can look at the same bones and come out with two different conclusions. Why? Because of their presuppositions.
The conclusion is not based on the evidence. The conclusion is based on the presupposition, which is unproven and unprovable in most cases. So the man who starts out with a presupposition that the Bible must be dealt with like all other books, well, how do you prove that? You cannot prove that. It is unproven and unprovable.
This problem with human reasoning can lead to some very interesting ways of thinking.
A man will say, along with his rejection of systematic theology, “Truth cannot be stated in propositions.” He has just stated, as a proposition, that truth cannot be stated in propositions! You would be astonished at how many times you encounter this same illogical logic in the halls of higher learning.
I once sat in on a class at Harvard University, where theological students from seven theological seminaries from around the area, came to listen to one of the great scholars of our time as he gave a most moving address. It seemed to me that he was very sincere. His line of reasoning went something like this: They have developed a new strain of wheat that will produce ten times as much as the old strains. We have to change our theology. They are sending men flying into space. We have to change our theology. As I listened to that for a while, I felt a little sarcasm creeping up in my mind and I thought to myself, “And old Bessie, the cow, is giving more milk than she used to. We must change our theology!”
Then he moved on to where he felt the strongest. He said: “Change is resisted by those who feel that some things ought not to change. We call them absolutes. But all absolutes must go.” I questioned in my mind, isn’t what he just said an absolute? I listened to a man again at Harvard, a learned professor from another university saying, “All value judgments are dangerous and moral value judgments are the most dangerous of all.” Isn’t that a value judgment?
A young man, at Atlantic Union College, came from a philosophy class into a religion class that I was teaching. Something he heard in the philosophy class bothered him. He challenged me with it. He said, “Listen, in philosophy there are no absolutes.” I said, “Is that absolute?” The class started to laugh and he started to grin and the expression in his eyes said, “I have been had. Nobody will hook me like that again.”
So you see, what we must watch out for is presuppositions, which are unproven and unprovable, upon which men base their conclusions. This is not evidence! It is just presuppositions.
A Muddy Mixture
Karl Barth developed the next major school of thought, during the early part of this century. He had learned the historical critical approach, that the Bible is like all other books. Yet, he still wanted to believe that the Bible was a revelation from God, so he tried to invent a theory to merge the two ideas.
What he came up with can be illustrated like this. Suppose a bee stings a man. The man screams. The scream tells you that a bee stung him, but you would not analyze the scream to find truth. If thirty bees sting thirty men and all thirty men scream, you know that thirty men got stung by bees but you would not compare their screams to see if they agreed with each other. And so he said that in the Bible we find overwhelming evidence that the Holy Spirit of God inspired men to write, speak and do things. But all we should learn from that is that God inspires men with His Holy Spirit. We should not analyze words of Scripture looking for truth.
This is the new orthodoxy school, in which Barth tried to hang on with one hand to the Bible being the revelation of God to man and still not reject the philosophy of the higher critical school, and so the historical critical method continues on.
These two schools of thought are prevailing in the theological seminaries of today. A more liberal theological seminary will not waste much time with Karl Barth and his thinking. They simply teach the higher critical approach. Other seminaries follow the Barthian approach and try to combine the two.
The results of these ideologies can be seen even in Adventism. A well-known Seventh-day Adventist scholar spent many years in Bible study. After attending one of these seminaries to get his advanced degree, he said, “Friends, we must recognize that Daniel 8, ‘Unto two thousand three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,’ does not mean what we used to think it meant.”
What did he base his conclusion on? Had he discovered that the verse says something different than we used to think it said? No! Had he read in the book of Daniel something to give him that opinion? No! His basis was the presupposition that God would not speak to a man in one generation about things that are going to happen many generations later.
I feel very uncomfortable with that facet of the historical critical method, which presumes to tell God what He can and cannot do. Suppose that God did intend to give Daniel information that would not make any sense at all to him, but would make sense to the generations that would come along later. Should God apologize to those doctors because He did not follow their presupposition. How ridiculous! Who do we think we are? I do not feel comfortable trying to tell God how He can exercise His will to reveal something to man!
Have you realized yet the fact that man reasons poorly? Because of that fact, God has given us revelation through His Word. In addition to the Bible, He has given us the writings of Ellen White, to deal with the minutia, the small things of life. God does not give counsel where no counsel is needed. And that says something to us about our sick heads that we would rather not hear. If you and I need to be counseled about the minutia of life, that implies that we cannot even handle those questions very well, on our own, by human reason. Is that an insult to our intelligence, or an act of mercy showing how much God cares for us? I prefer to believe that God has sent me counsel on the minutia of life because He loves me. Even though my head is sick, He still loves me.
Unfortunately, many do not think that way. Once I pointed out to a seminary professor a discrepancy between what he taught the class and a certain page in the writings of Ellen White. His response was, “Look, man, we ought to be able to think for ourselves. We should not need to run to Ellen White every time something comes up.” That terrifies me! Here is a man who insists that he has a good mind, when actually his head is sick and handicapped. He is likely, in his unwise self-confidence, to make wrong conclusions.
We must realize that we have sick heads, and flee to the counsels of God for help at every point where decision making is needed. I feel no shame in running to the counsels of God that came to us through Ellen White. I treasure them. I have found them dealing with the minutia of life in a way that helps me very much and I plan to continue that way.
The Lord’s gracious appeal to us is, “Come, let us reason together,” remembering the indications that we are not well. But, nevertheless, the Lord’s mercy and love are indicated and I believe that the twenty-five million words that came to us through Ellen White are words of love and mercy, an indication of God’s love for us. I believe that in my loyalty to them I find my truest freedom. I am not ashamed to submit my reason to the reason that comes to me from God—the source of all wisdom and knowledge.
This article was taken from a message given by Elder Larson some years ago while he was pastor of the Campus Hill Church at Loma Linda University.