A Life that Matters
by Nathan Brown
It’s how all good stories end; and, at least in a general sense, it’s how the big story of our world ends. The good guys are victorious; the bad guys defeated; wrongs are made right; the world is renewed and restored; “and they all lived happily ever after.”
But the closing lines of Ellen White’s book The Great Controversy don’t use this classic formulation. Instead, it goes like this: “From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love” (p. 678).
There is obviously something bigger going on here than just the characters in the story having all their adventures completed, trials overcome, and problems solved. We are reminded that the real Hero of the story is a God who loves. It also awakens echoes of where the story began. The Great Controversy is the fifth and last in the “Conflict of the Ages” series that began millennia and 3,500 pages earlier with the opening lines of Patriarchs and Prophets: “‘God is love.’ His nature, His law, is love. It ever has been; it ever will be” (p. 33).
The big story of the “Conflict of the Ages” and the great controversy is the love of God. Ellen White gave away the ending in the first page of the first book of the series. And the epic story in between—particularly focused on Jesus, “the Desire of the ages”—is the story of that love being worked out amid the history, tragedy, and brokenness of our world. We might be tempted to assume this is more a story of a higher plane and another place. The workings of God’s love and its final victory can sometimes feel like the business of a distant heaven that we might get to experience for ourselves at some time in the future, if we can sustain that much hope. But in Ellen White’s progressing understanding and urging, this love is as much about transforming the present as it is about final re-creation.
For a variety of reasons, I have been reading quite a lot of Ellen White’s writings over the past couple years, and I have been struck repeatedly by the significance she recognized in life here and now. One of her major themes is that this life matters. The choices, priorities, attitudes, actions, and lifestyle we adopt today make a difference for today and forever, for us and for others—and this emphasis continues to be seen particularly in the Adventist church’s expansive health, education, and welfare work around the world.
A few years ago, I was fascinated to discover the record of Ellen White’s funeral held on Sabbath, July 24, 1915, at Battle Creek, Michigan (recorded in Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, pp. 462–480), particularly the address by then-General Conference president A. G. Daniells. Daniells had worked with her for most of the last 25 years of her life, first in Australia in the 1890s and on their return to the United States at about the same time, with Daniells becoming General Conference president in 1901 and continuing in that role until after her death. He knew Ellen White well and offered an inspiring summary of her life’s work.
In his eulogy, Daniells recognized the God-given inspiration that sparked Ellen White’s ministry and emphasized her focus on the Bible and Christ as the central foundations of all that she did, spoke about, and wrote. He recognized in White’s writings the role of the Holy Spirit “to make real in the heart and lives of men all that [Jesus] had made possible by His death on the cross” (p. 472), and the role the church should also play.
Daniells also pointed to the broader focus of Ellen White’s ministry and writings; the implication of her understanding of the nature of God and His mission that life matters now in so many ways: “Through the light and counsel given her, Mrs White held and advocated broad, progressive views regarding vital questions that affect the betterment and uplift of the human family, from the moral, intellectual, physical, and social standpoint as well as the spiritual” (p. 473).
Daniells used remarkably strong language to summarize her call for action in the world in response to the issues of her day: “Slavery, the caste system, unjust racial prejudices, the oppression of the poor, the neglect of the unfortunate,—these all are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the well-being of the human race, and as evils which the church of Christ is appointed by her Lord to overthrow” (p. 473).
When we rediscover the life and work of Ellen White, we find a strong belief in both the love of God and that our responses to that love matter. In the stories of her life, we also find a life that mattered, a remarkable pioneering woman who lived her life for the God whose love she came to understand more and more, and risked herself to contribute to the mission of the church and care for those in need. Trusting the final joyous ending, we are called and inspired to work toward it now in those same kinds of ways.