The two mind-sets

Is it possible for two persons to observe the same kinds of evidence and reach opposite conclusions. MINISTRY Editor J.R. Spangler analyzes the reasons why and how this can happen.

J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

Belief is a mind-set. Unbelief is a mind-set. Negative or positive patterns of thinking or belief are produced by choice. Eve chose to believe Satan rather than God. Abel chose to believe God. Cain chose not to. Both had the same evidence, the same environment, the same culture, the same parental counsel, the same God. Yet one believed and the other disbelieved.

God does not force belief on anyone. Lucifer, in the confirming culture of heaven, chose to disbelieve. Noah, product of an iniquitous age, chose to believe—though all natural evidence denied, rather than confirmed, the possibility of a worldwide flood. His contemporaries, on the basis of the same evidence, disbelieved God and " 'did not know until the flood came and swept them all away'" (Matt. 24:39, R.S.V.).*

Their spiritual descendants built a tower—this time disbelieving God's promise that no flood would again devastate the earth. Abraham believed God so unreservedly that his belief is to this day cited as an example of righteousness by faith. His leaving of his country and his offering of Isaac stand as monuments of faith for all succeeding ages.

Joseph believes; his eleven brothers do not; Moses believes, and delivers his people from Egypt, leaving as a sample of trust in adversity the expression The waters opened before me. But the people he led wandered forty years in the wilderness because unbelief kept them from entering the Promised Land. Caleb and Joshua, with a mind-set of belief, saw the foes to be conquered as grasshoppers; the other ten spies, with a mind-set of unbelief, saw giants blocking the way.

Unbelief often results in unreasonable and irresponsible actions. When the faith less spies gave their report, the people saw their worst fears confirmed. "Revolt and open mutiny quickly followed; for Satan had full sway, and the people seemed bereft of reason."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 389. Belief, on the contrary, leads to reasonable and responsible actions.

Another memorable example is the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who led 250 leaders of the congregation in opposition to Moses and Aaron. Unbelief has a way of undermining confidence in God and His leaders. Though the censers of the rebels were hammered into an altar covering to remind the people of the high cost of rebellion, the very next day the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, "'You have killed the people of the Lord'" (Num. 16:41, R.S.V.).

Because of his unbelief, Samson came to the place where he did not realize that God had departed from him. The Scriptures often emphasize the penalty of unbelief. King Saul's unbelief led to suicide.

The mechanics of unbelief are vividly portrayed in people's attitudes toward the claims of the Messiah. People had a certain perception of how He would come, of how He would look, of how He would act, of how He would speak. Isaiah 53 suggests that many would disbelieve because the reality did not correspond to their perceptions. Before judging them too harshly, put yourself in their place.

Someone rushes up to you and cries, "The Messiah has come!" What would be your response?

"Really? Where is He? How did He come? What does He look like?"

And the answer comes: "He was born in Bethlehem."

"Born? Born! What do you mean, born? The Messiah is not a man to be born as we were. This is ridiculous! But while we're indulging your fancy, perhaps you'd like to tell me where He was born."

"In a barn."

"This is preposterous! First you tell me He was born, and now you tell me it was in a barn. But let's continue this exercise in creative fiction: Who were His parents?"

"Well, His mother was Mary, and . . , well, He had no earthly father."

And so it goes, the story becoming increasingly fantastic. Reality didn't con form to perception. Not only was He born as any human body, not only was He born in a barn, but He grew up in an infamous place called Nazareth. He worked as a common laborer in His father's carpenter shop for thirty years. Put these ingredients together and you come up with a story that no truly knowledgeable person could be expected to believe.

But that isn't all. We are expected to believe that this "Messiah" ended up ignominiously on a Roman cross. Every thing about Jesus—His person, His dress, His background, His home, His possessions (or lack of them), His relatives, His associates (many of them the scum of the earth: whores, tax collectors, uneducated and uncultured fishermen, whom He wanted to save), His attacks on the religious system, His undermining of the customs of the community, and finally His trial and death as a common criminal— add up to the most unbelievable story in history.

Of course, there were also evidences of His deity—multiplying loaves of bread and a few fishes into a banquet for thousands; healings, and even rumors of people raised from the dead. But with these came more of the seemingly nonsensical. Can you imagine His telling the Jews that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood as prerequisites to His abiding in them? When He got to this place in His sermon, probably most of His audience got up and walked out. Only the twelve stayed around. And Judas was there henceforth only in body, his mind now possessed by doubts that were to make his name infamous.

Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, " 'Do you also wish to go away?'" And Peter answered, " 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God'" (John 6:67-69, R.S.V.)?

Who was Ellen White? An inspired messenger who spoke for God, as she claimed? A plagiarist? A deceiver, or perhaps herself deceived?

Belief is a mind-set. Unbelief is a mind-set. Each is produced by choice. And while unbelief is often characterized by unreasonableness, belief too may seem incredible—that which cannot be credited.

I believe Ellen White was an inspired messenger who spoke for God. Certainly, the Bible itself confirms the perpetuity of the spiritual gifts, among them the gift of prophecy.

But beyond that is experience.

If I were to evaluate Ellen White on the basis of her looks and education—or her use of sources, failure to give credit, statements that seem to be out of harmony with present-day historical and/or scientific knowledge—or the way some individuals, including church leaders, have used her writings as a club or a "final word" for certain points they want to prove and to promote to the exclusion of other points to which they pay no attention; if I were to make my evaluation on the basis of the claims some have made for her writings or herself, setting her on a pedestal of perfection, I would cry out, I cannot believe! I will not believe!

But I have had an experience with Ellen White's works. I know what it means to read the Testimonies and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this testimony was written for me, causing me to kneel in submission for the reproval and the approval of the Holy Spirit. I know what it means to see Jesus so vibrant, so real, so living in The Desire of Ages that tears of joy and thanksgiving stream down my cheeks. I know what it means to read the closing chapters of The Great Controversy, fall on my knees, and like Thomas of old grasp the feet of Jesus and cry out, "My Lord and my God!" Because of the pointed testimony of Jesus through her books I am a better husband, a better father, a better minister. Through the gift of prophecy I have received insights and principles that have made me a more successful evangelist and minister than I would otherwise have been.

I'm not exactly the personification of an ad for healthy living, but there's little doubt in my mind that I would be less vital—and in all likelihood, interred in an early grave—if it were not for God's instructions through Ellen White on health principles. And while I do not hold her writings to be equal in authority with the Bible (although inspired in the fullest sense of the word by the same Holy Spirit), I certainly hold them to be of more authority than my family doctor seeks to exercise on me!

I am a Bible preacher. It is my authority. But in presenting the Word, I have been indebted to Ellen White for language far richer than I would otherwise use (and, I confess, I have not always credited her—or others—as my source!). I have found her writings stimulating, leading me to richer and deeper conceptions of the conflict between God and Satan and the place of the cross in reconciling not only man but God's whole creation to His leadership.

After he had read a number of Ellen White's books while researching the charges of plagiarism made against her, Roman Catholic attorney Ramik said: "I, personally, have been moved, deeply moved, by those writings. I have been changed by them. I think I am a better man today because of them. And I wish that the critics could discover that!"—Adventist Review, Sept. 17, 1981.

I too will never be the same man again because of this gift!


* From the Revised Standard Version of the
Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952, © 1971, 1973.

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J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.

June 1982

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