God on trial?
The time has finally come. It is the greatest event ever to take place in the history of the universe, and you are there. In fact, every one who has ever lived in the universe is there.
The setting is like a Greek amphitheater, only immeasurably larger, and shaped in a semicircle with risers so that all can see. The acoustics are superb.
Suddenly someone steps onto the stage. A distinguished man attempts to hush the crowd. Napoleon,1 the famous general and former emperor of France, takes several steps forward. “We are here,” he asserts, “ for a very important occasion. This is not the trial of the year or decade, or even of the millennium. This is the trial of the ages—the trial of God. We would like to know if He is worthy to be God. We will examine His actions to determine whether or not He has acted wisely, whether He has preserved liberty and peace, whether He has acted in love and with justice.
“Our first task will be to determine what truth is so that we can have a basis for judging God. We will extrapolate principles of truth from our study of nature, history, and interpersonal relationships —the principles by which the universe operates. Then will come the time for the truth about God. If He abides by these universal principles, then we can make a rational judgment in His favor, and the universe can safely worship Him.
“The jury—well, that’s you. You will decide. The prosecuting attorney— that’s you also. And the judge—well, that is in your hands as well. And now, ladies and gentlemen—oh, and the angelic host, you are all welcome! We must go to great lengths to make sure that we are fair with God. When we are finished, we want to make sure that we have a clear basis upon which to judge God. Does that sound fair enough?”
The crowd responds with a loud applause. Napoleon takes a bow. Stretching out his arms, he signals the crowd to settle down again.
“Well, then,” Napoleon continues, “I suggest that in the style of the best of democracy, we choose a chairman—I mean, a chairperson. I recommend that we nominate a general to fill this function. Knowing how to persuade and organize people, generals can bring order out of chaos. I would like to suggest the name of Alexander the Great, that mighty Greek general who consolidated an even larger empire than mine.”
Nero immediately stands to his feet, exclaiming, “Why would you choose Alexander? I was the emperor of the great Roman Empire that conquered Greece. I nominate myself, thank you!”
Napoleon proudly steps forward. “There will be no self-nominations. You must come to this task with greater humility. Otherwise, obviously, I would have chosen myself.”
“Alexander is surely a great man, but he has too many enemies,” a voice protests. “He can hardly bring consensus. Actually, that would be the problem with any general. Let’s move on to another candidate.” The crowd clearly agrees with the suggestion. Napoleon seems somewhat disturbed that they have so readily dismissed his candidate, but he quickly regains his composure and asks, “All right, any other suggestions?”
George Bernard Shaw stands to his feet. “We need a playwright, someone who understands human nature and the game of life, who knows how to act it out, so that we can grasp the issues more readily. I nominate Shakespeare!” Immediately it seems as if people everywhere are jumping to their feet to make nominations—poets, musicians, artists...
Finally Sir Francis Bacon, the famous philosopher and statesman, manages to get the attention of the vast throng. “I have been amazed at how far the scientific revolution has taken us. The foundation of discovery and knowledge, science has performed miracles of healing, provided mass travel and communication, discovered vast sources of energy, and allowed us to explore the depths of the seas and the outer reaches of space. We need a scientist who has the ability to synthesize all of this vast scientific knowledge. This will give us the best foundation for our verdict about God. I nominate Darwin.”
Gently, Plato stands and captures the attention of the assembly. “Since my resurrection I have been amazed at the latest accomplishments of science. I understand as well the need to grasp the human spirit, and I support the effort to find an organizing principle for knowledge. But it is the task of philosophy, not of science, to integrate all of the human disciplines. I nominate Socrates, the father of philosophy and of human thought. Surely he is best qualified to guide us in the discovery process to a fair verdict; one that we all can assent to.”
As Aristotle seconds the motion, you can sense relief that at last they have found the right person.
Socrates accepts the position and takes the chair. He is in deep thought as he begins. “Our work is surely the most important task that has ever been undertaken. We must be fair yet thorough. To do that, we need to study God’s actions in all ages to make sure that He has been fair and honest, and has always acted out of love, justice, and with truth. It would take eternity for this assembly to undertake such a study. Therefore, I suggest that we break into subcommittees representative of different eras, geographic locations, and scholarly specialties so that we can carefully look at things from every angle.”
The nature of knowledge
Socrates continues. “However, before we break into committees, I think it is important for us to agree on several questions. What is knowledge? What is truth, love, and justice? Then we must decide what principles will guide us in determining whether God has acted in harmony in each area.”
Plato rises to his feet.2 “I have given a lot of thought to this question of knowledge. It’s quite self-evident that knowledge does not primarily come from the things we apprehend with our senses, but rather from what emanates to the mind from eternal forms. This is what enables us to integrate what we observe with our senses into knowledge.”
Somewhat disturbed at this suggestion, Socrates responds. “I recall our student- teacher days with fondness, Plato. Certainly you will remember that we determined that knowledge is first of all innate, that we are already with it, that we have only to discover it by means of dialogue.”
Already the intellectual boxing match is under way. Aristotle presents his rebuttal and alternate suggestion. “As my predecessors and teachers, I have high esteem for both of you. However, I must respectfully disagree. Knowledge is really a little more concrete than what you are suggesting.”
“You fellows from Greece,” Immanuel Kant protests, “are assuming that there is a definite stable reality that is available to my mind that I can call knowledge. But in actuality, I cannot know anything for sure outside of myself, for my mind could be distorting what I see as reality outside of me. There is no way I can get outside of my mind to determine that there is any congruence between what I think I see and what is actually out there. If we really wish to judge God, we must turn inside ourselves, to our moral nature. That will give us the proper set of principles for coming to a verdict on God.”
At that point Alfred North Whitehead rises to his feet. “I am somewhat perplexed by all of this discussion about knowledge. It seems that each of you has assumed that there is some definite eternal structure, whether inside or outside of us, that we can know. The only problem is this— reality itself is not static. It is in the process of evolution. In fact, God Himself is in process. If we are going to come to a verdict about God, we must decide from which era to glean the principles by which we will judge Him. We can hardly expect Him to be above the environment within which He is evolving at the time. Thus it would not be fair to use the principles of the twenty-first century as a basis for judging what God did thousands of years ago, for reality was rather primitive back then. On second thought, maybe we can grasp the principles that are driving evolution itself, that is, if they themselves are not in the process of evolution, and we can use them as the criteria for judging God.”
Pilate can hardly contain himself. “Three thousand years ago I asked the question ‘What is truth?’ Now finally we are getting some good discussion. But it doesn’t seem as if we have made a lot of headway. Can someone please help me? What is truth?”
Lucifer steps onto the stage. “You are all doing so marvelously. I am very pleased with myself—at how well I have trained you to think critically. And as you have clearly demonstrated, things are not so clear-cut after all. We have not been able to agree among us about the nature of truth, love, or justice. But that is only natural. It is all right, for truth is really relative. There is no one given standard in the universe that we can universally agree upon with any degree of certainty. Each of us perceives truth individually, and so, really, we are accountable only to ourselves, not to anything or anyone else! We must emphasize our independence from God. Were it not for that independence, we would not be in a position to judge God as we are now doing.
“Those poor people down through the ages who have thought that they needed to live by the so-called Word of God—why, I met one of them out there in the wilderness of Judea 3,000 years ago, and look what happened to him— he was crucified, a most humiliating and cruel death. That’s what he got for being so straight-laced.
“Well, I am delighted, absolutely delighted. We have brought together the most distinguished minds that the world has produced. I can hardly wait until we get to the verdict. Poor God, I wonder how He will come out! Let us ascend into heaven, and exalt ourselves above the stars of God. Why, we could be designer gods ourselves, couldn’t we? Oh, well, I didn’t mean to delay the proceedings. It’s just that I can hardly contain myself with the excellency of wisdom, knowledge, and judgment manifested here. Well, please get back to the trial so that we can—”
Words without knowledge
All of a sudden Lucifer finds himself interrupted. A voice like the sound of thunder echos through the amphitheater, but it is clear, distinct, and resonant. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:2-7).*
“Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has taught Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing” (Isaiah 40:13-15).
“There is no searching of My understanding. Keep silence before Me, Lucifer! Come near for judgment. Who in righteousness has called Me to My feet? Who gave the nations to Me? Who made Me ruler over kings? I, the Lord, am the first; and with the last I am He. Your molded images are wind and confusion [see Isaiah 40:28; 41: 1, 2, 4, 29]. Your designer gods are just that—gods that you have made and control. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
Lucifer is speechless, and a long silence follows. Then that magnificent voice breaks it, bringing comfort to those who have served God down through the ages. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). “Behold, all those who were incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; they shall be as nothing, and those who strive with you shall perish. You shall seek them and not find them—those who contended with you. Those who war against you shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing. For I. the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (verses 11-13).
The assembly falls silent. As He has done so many times in the past, God reveals His love, righteousness, and justice. Who is a creature that dares to put God on trial? Just and truthful are His ways. Holy is His name.
E. Edward Zinke is a businessman and theologian. This article is adapted from the book The Certainty of the Second Coming, which he co-wrote with Roland R. Hegstad (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 2000). His e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
* All Scripture passages are quoted from the New King James Version.
Notes and references:
- No attempt is made here to judge historical figures. Only God can do that.
- I have not attempted to describe in detail the many and varying concepts of knowledge. However, the examples chosen illustrate the diversity of positions on the nature of knowledge.