Many people today agree that our world is a battlefield of good and evil spiritual powers. Their activities are evident, for instance, in the dramatic contrast between the happiness of life and the pain of death, the beauty of love and the cruelty of hate, or the fact that sometimes good people are the ones who suffer the most (cf. Ps. 73:2-17; Mal. 3:13-18). In Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24-29), the servants asked the owner of the field, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” And the owner replied, “An enemy did this.”1
The mysterious coexistence of and dispute between good and evil do raise a few crucial questions: Did that controversy have a beginning, and will it ever end? What is its basic theological meaning? And, more, how widespread is it in our world today? This article seeks to find some biblical answers to these three foundational questions.
How It All Began
The great controversy is a currently ongoing cosmic conflict that had a beginning and will have an end. Its mysterious beginning in the heavenly courts was foreseen but not ordained by God, who “made provision to meet the terrible emergency.”2 After losing his gratitude to God and becoming increasingly jealous of Him (Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-17), Lucifer began to spread his apostasy in the heavenly courts. “God in His great mercy bore long with Lucifer,”3 but there came a time when the rebellion was consolidated, and Lucifer (who became Satan) and his angels were “hurled to the earth” (Rev. 12:7-9).
With the fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), earth became the battlefield of good and evil.
All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the worldwide flood. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation. (Rev. 12:4-9; Isa. 14:12-14; Eze. 28:12-18; Gen. 3; Rom. 1:19-32; 5:12-21; 8:19-22; Gen. 6–8; 2 Peter 3:6; 1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 1:14.)Human history is much more than just the stage of human actions. It is indeed the scene of a continuous struggle between Satan’s deceiving strategies and God’s redemptive plan. Despite Satan’s success in misleading the vast majority of human beings, God is still in control of the whole struggle and allows it to develop only within certain limits (cf. Dan. 4:32). Whenever those limits are pushed, God intervenes through His judgment, as in the destructions of the antediluvian world by the Flood (Gen. 6–7) and of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim by burning sulfur (Gen. 19:23-29; Deut. 29:23; Jude 7).
The pagan theory of natural immortality of the soul suggests that sin had a beginning but will never come to an end. By contrast, the Bible teaches that sin and sinners finally will be destroyed, and the universe will be restored to its original perfection and harmony. Through God’s timely design of the plan of salvation (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 13:8) Christ’s triumph over Satan, sin, and death (John 12:31; 14:30; 19:30; Rev 1:18) is assured. This great controversy will be concluded with the final destruction of Satan, his angels, and all the wicked (Mal. 4:1; Jude 5-7).
What Does This All Mean?
The whole cosmic controversy gravitates around God’s character as expressed in His moral law. Throughout history Satan developed different strategies to distort people’s relationship with that law. In Old Testament times, up to the Babylonian exile, God’s people were always tempted to transgress the law by idolatry. After the exile, the pendulum went to the opposite extreme of legalism, when the law was considered an end in itself for salvation. In the post-apostolic period, the cross of Christ, which confirmed the law (Rom. 3:31), began to be regarded as having abolished it. Meanwhile, the unconditional commitment to the law of God’s end-time remnant people places them under the special fury of Satan (Rev. 12:17).
Some people consider the cosmic controversy as the center of biblical theology. But neither it nor any other theme can replace God as the unfolding center of all true doctrine. The cosmic controversy provides the basic theological framework in which all Bible doctrines and lifestyle principles become meaningful and rightly focused. Furthermore, it also gives us a correct understanding of history as a huge stage where human beings play their life role either for Satan and his misleading cause or for God and His saving plan.
As the great controversy moves toward its end, evil, temptation, and sin have become more aggressive in nature and more widespread in scope. In the Garden of Eden temptation was delimitated geographically to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16, 17). With the fall of Adam and Eve temptation became a global reality with external (environmental) and internal (human nature) expressions (Gen. 3:7-19). In centuries past, the homes of God’s children were often (though not always) fortresses of spiritual and moral values (cf. Joshua 24:15; Job 1:5). Yet, with the intrusion of modern media into our lives, all kinds of temptations became available to God’s children everywhere.
Crucial within the great controversy is the dispute for the human mind, which commands personal and social behaviors. Christ explained that “from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21, 22). The force of evil is recognized in Paul’s words, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom. 7:19, NASB).* Only the supernatural power of God’s saving grace can rescue sinners “from the dominion of darkness” and bring them “into the kingdom” of Christ (Col. 1:13, 14; cf. Eph. 2:1-10), restoring in them “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and making them “new creation[s]” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The great cosmic controversy began in heaven through the rebellion of Lucifer and his angels, was transferred to this world through the fall of Adam and Eve, and will last until the final destruction of sin and all impenitent sinners (including Satan and his angels) at the end of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20. Since sin is not eternal, nor sinners immortal, they will be destroyed, and God will restore this earth to its original perfect condition. Then, the pain of death will be replaced by the happiness of life; the cruelty of hate will be overruled by the beauty of love—and no longer will good people have to suffer. At last, good will have triumphed over evil.
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1 Except otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations have been taken from the New International Version.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 22.
3 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 495.
This article originally appeared on www.adventistworld.org in May, 2010.
Alberto R. Timm is the rector of the Latin- American Adventist Theological Seminary and lives in Brasilia, D.F., Brazil. He is married to Marly and has three children: Suellen (22), William (16), and Shelley (13).