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One of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians was Ignacy Paderewski, Polish pianist, composer, and statesman. He was taught music in the traditional way: he learned notes and where they could be found on the piano, and he practiced scales and other exercises to train his fingers. Paderewski advocated a similar method for his students: play the music set before you.

By contrast, Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist, taught students to play an instrument by ear after listening to recordings of each piece. This method is widely used, and in some circles, it is gaining popularity over the more traditional method.

Each method has its advantages, but each is incompatible with the other. Both have developed vocal and passionate proponents. Both camps argue that “scientific studies” have proved the superiority of their respective systems. No resolution of this dilemma is in sight.

Now, let’s suppose that Paderewski and Suzuki could actually meet. Further, let’s suppose that this imaginary meeting also includes a gathering of their most passionate disciples. Human nature being what it is, the discussion will naturally turn to teaching methods, with each camp staking out its respective territory.

Let’s also suppose that the discussion becomes so heated that Paderewski and Suzuki propose a test to decide this dilemma once and for all. They choose 200 untrained music students and divide them into two groups of 100 each. Paderewski instructs one group his method, and Suzuki trains the other group in his method. They each teach their students for three years, and then all of the students take a standard music examination to measure their progress.

At this final music examination, who is on trial—the 200 students? No! There are just two people on trial: Paderewski and Suzuki. The trial is about their respective teaching methods, not about the students who followed those methods.

God’s Problem

This simple parable illustrates a problem that God had many millenniums ago. There was a perfect angel in heaven, who stood next to God’s throne. Here’s how the Bible describes him: “ ‘ “You were the model of perfection, / full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. / You were in Eden, / the garden of God; / every precious stone adorned you: / . . . You were anointed as a guardian cherub, / for so I ordained you. / You were on the holy mount of God; / you walked among the fiery stones. / You were blameless in your ways / from the day you were created / till wickedness was found in you” ’ ” (Ezekiel 28:12–15).

Isaiah calls this angel “Lucifer” (Isaiah 14:12, KJV). Unfortunately, rebellion took root in the mind of this once mighty angel. He thought he could do a better job of running the universe than God could. Notice what Lucifer said in heaven before his fall: “ ‘I will raise my throne / above the stars of God; / I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, / on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. / . . . I will make myself like the Most High’ ” (Isaiah 14:13, 14, emphasis added).

Lucifer issued a direct challenge to God’s authority. God could have simply eliminated Lucifer to start with. Some people wonder why He didn’t. “It would have spared us these thousands of years of pain and suffering,” they say. The problem is that eliminating Lucifer before Lucifer had a chance to demonstrate the fallacy of his form of government would have created fear in the minds of the rest of the angels. They’d say, “We’d better toe the line, or look what will happen to us!” God had to deal with Lucifer’s challenge in a way that would make it evident to the entire universe of intelligent beings that He, God, was right and Lucifer was wrong. God had to do the equivalent of a universal show-and-tell.

So who is on trial in this grand experiment? Scripture tells us explicitly: “Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: ‘That You may be justified / in Your words, / And may overcome when / You are judged’ ” (Romans 3:4, NKJV, emphasis added).1 God is on trial during the time this challenge to His authority is being resolved.

In Revelation 12:7–9, we read about the protagonists in heaven and the great controversy between Christ (Michael) and Satan (the dragon): “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Thus, our planet has become a cosmic laboratory in which Satan’s delusions of being a self-proclaimed deity can be tested. Paul said, “We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9). Thus, our lives are the evidence in the cosmic trial over God’s government versus Satan’s government.

This is quite sobering: what do each of us demonstrate to others about the character of God? Is He loving and caring, or is He capricious and vindictive? We cannot tell the angel observers about God’s character; we must show them.

The Challenge Resolved

In the same way that our imaginary music dilemma was solved, there must be an examination or trial, with evidence taken from the results in the lives of those involved in the cosmic experiment, and that’s us! The Bible calls this trial a “judgment”: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed” (Acts 17:31).

All people will be involved in this judgment that vindicates God and His character. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, / including every hidden thing, / whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; see also Matthew 10:26). No evidence will be concealed; all will be revealed. There is no point trying to hide anything in this life.

It’s important to understand that God does not need a judgment in order to decide who is to be saved and who is to be lost. He already knows that! Paul said plainly that “ ‘the Lord knows those who are his’ ” (2 Timothy 2:19). The purpose of the judgment is to reveal to the universe the validity of God’s form of government and the justice of His decisions.

So where does that leave you and me? We select ourselves for eternal life or eternal death, according to our decision about Jesus. He said that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11). He also said, “ ‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life’ ” (John 5:24).

If you accept Jesus as your Savior, you have the assurance of salvation right now. Your salvation depends on your continued relationship with Jesus and your acceptance of His salvation. He paid the price on the cross to save you, and there is nothing more you can contribute to that perfect provision.

The only matter to be revealed in the judgment is whether you and I have accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation and shown evidence of it in our lives.

It’s like our imaginary test between Paderewski’s students and Suzuki’s students. God’s plan of running the universe and Satan’s plan for running the universe are on trial. Every human being is a subject in that trial. Those who are on God’s side are examples of His plan for the universe, and those who are on Satan’s side are demonstrating his plan.

The good news is that if you’re on God’s side, your eternal salvation is secure, because you are demonstrating the validity of God’s plan! That’s why God’s final judgment is good news for all those who have accepted Jesus!

1Scripture quoted from NKJV is from The New King James Version, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

Who Is on Trial?

by Peter McGowan
From the January 2009 Signs