Jehovah Witnesses

I had some visitors yesterday morning, and I was happy to see them. We had a good, long chat. They weren’t intending to stay long. They just wanted to share an encouraging verse from the Bible with me. The passage was Psalm 37:10-11:

For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more.Indeed, you will look diligently for his place, but it shall be no more.
But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

I asked how people might know whether they were ‘wicked’ or ‘meek’, in terms of this passage. I told them that from my reading of the Bible, no one except the Lord Jesus Christ falls into the category of ‘meek’. Everyone else has earned, by their attitudes and behaviours, the description of ‘wicked’.

If I remember correctly, my new friends told me that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice deals with our past sin if we are baptised, and Jehovah then gives us the tools to avoid destruction at the end of this age; bible study, doing his will and witnessing. I was also told that no one could know whether they were saved until the judgement of the last day.

For my part, I said that unless Jesus does everything to the rescue a person from sin and death, then no one can be rescued. Unless a person is reborn by the Holy Spirit (I know that JWs believe that only 144000 can be born again), people like us will have no interest or liking for our Creator. The life, death and rising again of Jesus is both most necessary and is also all that is necessary to reconcile us to God. We are simply to trust  Jesus: who the Bible says he is, what the Bible says he did, and what the Bible says these things mean. This sort of faith is just as much a gift from the God as the work of Jesus on the cross. The Saviour of the world has left nothing to chance. You can know you are (have been) saved when you trust yourself to Jesus.

They asked about those who do trust in Jehovah for a time and then stop. My answer was that some people, who never really trusted Jesus but were attracted by an ‘idea’ of Jesus for a time, do come and go. But Jesus said that He is the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep (his people) and no one can take them from his hand. Those who are really his, the ones whom the Father had given Jesus, these shall be saved because Jesus came for them.

They said that God gives us free will to make a choice, like Adam had a choice. I said that before Adam sinned, he could freely choose to continue as a loving creature of God, or he could freely choose to rebel and make war with his creator. He chose to make war. After that point, he and his children (except for the intervention of Jesus) always will choose to make war. This choice they make freely as they have no desire to do otherwise. This is why Jesus had to act for his people before they had any love for him — while they were still his enemies. This also is why a mighty work of regeneration (re-birth) is necessary to bring a person to trust Jesus.

My new friends thanked me for my time, but they had to move on. I was happy they came. I have respect for them. They work very hard and are zealous. I’ve been to one of their meetings (it went for two hours) and they study the Bible and watchtower materials with unflagging attention. But I believe it is zeal without knowledge. They read their Bibles, but it is through a foreign lens. As they left, I urged them to deal seriously with the parts of the Bible that do not line up with what they are being told.

Of these two people, which one really knows God?

It came to my attention a while back that there are two men in the Bible who claimed to know God. They told God that they knew him. One is Jonah and the other is the last guy in the parable. The one that Jesus told about the master and his three servants (Matthew 25:14-30). Jonah said that he knew God is good, but Jonah did something very wrong in response to that knowledge. The last of the three servants said that he knew God is bad, and that servant did something very wrong in response.

In the parable, the master represents God and the servants are people in this world. The master’s rewarding of the first two slaves (that’s what they were) is quite extraordinary. Their job was to do as they were told, to slave for their master. A reward was not to be expected (see Luke 17:7-10). This master was a very good master, but the third slave didn’t see it that way:

Lord I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your money in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.

In the ancient world, people generally became slaves because they had lost everything, either by being captured in war or by going broke and getting into debt. In short, it was slavery or death. All they had after becoming a slave was provided by their master. Now, some masters were good, others were bad. Some slaves recognised that their life had been spared and served as well as they could, others looked at everything with a hard stare. This third slave had the hard stare. He was right in thinking his labour deserved no reward. He was wrong in thinking that his particular master was bad. His master’s free, open and generous rewarding of the other two slaves shows how wrong the third slave was. By doing nothing, the third slave was not only stealing from his master, he was showing utter contempt for him. The slave had his life, a place to live, food and clothing all because of his master. The parallel between this story and the relationship between God and human beings is right there. God supplies freely all the good that we have. It might be little or much, but whatever it is, it comes freely from our creator; from the one who is good and who does good. Many people take it all, and then say they know that God is bad.

How about Jonah. He was told to go to Nineveh and tell them that they were doomed. In three days time, he was to tell them, they and their great city will be destroyed. The Assyrians were not nice people. Their brutality was well known — in fact they advertised. When they captured a neighbouring city (which they did often), many of the inhabitants were beheaded or left to die slowly while impaled on stakes.

Jonah’s own country had experienced the horrors of the Assyrian war machine. On the face of it, he might have been glad at the news that God’s judgment was to fall on them at last. But he knew God. So he ran. He was not afraid of Assyrians, he feared God’s grace. This is what Jonah said to God after Nineveh was spared:

Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness. One who relents from doing harm.

Jonah knew God. He knew that he was merciful and gracious. How? Because God had been gracious to him. Jonah was a bad person, like all humans, but God had been gracious and had shown mercy to Jonah. Jonah knew that he had a good eternity to look forward to; he knew his wrong doing was forgiven. Knowing that God is like this, Jonah knew what God was planning.

You see, God did not need to send a warning if he had no intention of showing mercy. The hard message was a call to repentance, and Jonah knew it. He ran in the hope of preventing God’s mercy coming to those sinners of Nineveh, to people who were bad like he was bad. Jonah really knew God; he knew God is gracious and merciful but his response to those great truths was very bad. God had shown mercy to one who had been his enemy, that is, to Jonah. This is why Jesus tells Christians to love their enemies. It is because He first loved them while they were still his enemies.

Two people said that they knew God. One was right, the other was wrong, but they both were bad. The good news of Jesus Christ comes to bad people like us. Do we know God? We ought to see his goodness in Christ Jesus, admit our badness, and happily serve our Creator — even if it means taking good news to people we don’t like.

The value of testimony

I read a news article the other day about archaeologists digging around Jamestown, Virginia, and finding a sorry set of bones. They belonged to a young woman who lived there in the early part of the town’s history. There was a famine between 1609 and 1610, and she probably died of hunger. After her burial, her body had been dug up again and butchered for food by some desperate people who didn’t want to die as she had done.

The news article gave the impression that this gruesome discovery of 2013 ‘proved’ that the stories of cannibalism were true. Why, I ask, didn’t the archaeologists believe the written testimony of George Percy, who was a leader of colony in its early days, or that of John Smith who was also associated with the colony? Apparently, there are about six accounts of this sort of behaviour that have come to us from around that time.

What is the matter with testimony? What would motivate independent witnesses to invent stories like this? Why should modern researchers doubt it? As much as people might hope things like this did not happen, we oughtn’t let our fond imaginings about the past prevent us from accepting good testimony to the contrary.

Sometimes we think we are so much smarter and more rational than those who have lived before us. Henry Rogers in 1850 aimed a clever piece of writing against such presumption. In his day there was a very real and angry debate in England over what was called ‘Papal Aggression’.  The pope had appointed Dr Wiseman as his legate to England, and Wiseman issued a statement saying that the reformation had then been overturned and England was Catholic once more. It was in all the papers. Around the same time, John Henry Newman and his brother Francis William Newman had both rejected England’s Protestantism. John left the Church of England for the Church of Rome, and Francis became a Christ-rejecting theist. Henry Rogers imagined what future historians would make of these events in 2000 years’ time.

He supposed that those future historians would dismiss the written evidence from 1850 and conclude that the whole thing was an allegory. With key figures having names like Wiseman and Newman at such a time of change, the whole story would be thought of as something like Pilgrim’s Progress and dismissed as a myth. And yet Rogers  and his readers knew that it really did happen.

Why am I writing about this? I write because people often disregard the testimony of the Old and New Testaments simply because it is testimony and not something they have seen for themselves. Again, people see that the Bible records extraordinary happening, which we don’t see happening today, and they conclude that these things could never have happened. This is not a wise attitude to have.  Sure, some people have made up stories to trick other people; sometimes with malicious intent. But the New Testament records eye-witness accounts by people who did not seek wealth or fame, but in fact suffered great material and physical loss in spreading the message of Jesus. Again, the message they spread was not something that they were tricked into believing at second hand. They themselves saw Jesus risen from the dead on a number of different occasions and in various circumstances over a period of forty days. If they died because of the message they preached, it was because they knew it to be true. They knew that Jesus’ resurrection reconciled them to the God they had offended. They knew that Jesus would raise them on the last day. People might die because they believe someone else’s lie, but would these followers of Jesus face danger, perils and death preaching a message they knew to be false? Unlikely.

C. S. Lewis was an expert in myth. He had read lots of it. It was his job. When he read the New Testament, he did not see myth there. He said that those who claimed to see myth in the Bible were like people who claimed to see fern-seeds (there are no such things) but would not see a real elephant that was 10 feet away from them.

I recommend that we all give the Old and New Testaments a careful and honest reading.