[From ws7/17 p. 12 – September 4-10]
“Keep encouraging one another and building one another up.” – 1Th 5:11
(Occurrences: Jehovah=23; Jesus=16)
Having suffered the recent loss of my wife after four decades of happy marriage, I can take great comfort from the Bible texts referenced in this week’s Watchtower study, particularly so because I do not stop at the cited verses, but go on reading to get the fuller sense of how the Father comforts us. For example, paragraph 1 directs us to read 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4:
“Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our trials so that we may be able to comfort others in any sort of trial with the comfort that we receive from God.” (2Co 1:3, 4)
There is a vital element missing which will escape you if you confine yourself to only the cited verses. The next verse reads:
“For just as the sufferings for the Christ abound in us, so the comfort we receive through the Christ also abounds.” (2Co 1:5)
The next “read” Scripture is Philippians 4:6, 7 found in paragraph 6. Again, an amplified reading provides additional insight into the means by which we are comforted.
“. . .Always rejoice in the Lord. Again I will say, Rejoice! 5 Let your reasonableness become known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:4-7)
Clearly, the Lord here referred to is Jesus Christ who is near. We should not take this to mean that the end is near. This was written almost 2,000 years ago. No, the nearness is physical, though not perceived with physical eyes. Jesus assured us that wherever two or three of us are gathered in his name, he is with us. What a comfort that is. (Mt 18:20)
Acts 9:31 is also referenced in paragraph 6. It contains an arbitrary insertion of “Jehovah” into the text of the NWT Bible version, but in the original, the word used was “Lord”. If we read the context (vs. 27, 28) we find that Lord is indeed the correct rendering, because it refers to the Lord Jesus appearing to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and that Saul spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus in that city. So when verse 31 speaks of ‘walking in the fear of the Lord’, we can see that Jesus is being referred to. The Israelites were to walk in the fear of Jehovah, but we are not Israelites. We are Christians. The Father has given all authority and judging to the Son, so we are to walk in fear of him. (Mt 28:18; John 5:22)
Paragraphs 7 thru 10 shows just how empathetic Jesus is toward those of his followers who are suffering pain. The next “read” Scripture is found in paragraph 10: Hebrews 4:15, 16.
If we read a few verses before, we can get some important additional information.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold on to our public declaration of him. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tested in all respects as we have, but without sin. 16 Let us, then, approach the throne of undeserved kindness with freeness of speech, so that we may receive mercy and find undeserved kindness to help us at the right time.” (Heb 4:14-16)
Speaking from personal experience, holding on to my public declaration of Jesus Christ has helped me greatly to endure the pain of loss I’ve experienced. I am enduring twin losses. The loss of a life companion who by marriage became “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” as God intended is a unique kind of pain, lessened, but not done away with entirely by the hope we both share. (Ge 2:23) The other pain is very different, but one shouldn’t take from that, that it is any less traumatic in its own way. A lifetime of belief cannot be discarded as easily as one takes off an old sweater. For many thousands, awakening to the fact that what they believed was the one true faith on earth—the visible organization chosen by Jehovah God himself—has been so disturbing that they have experienced a total shipwreck of their faith in both God and His Christ.
Jesus will not abandon us, even if we abandon him. He will knock on the door, but he will not force his way in. (Re 3:20)
Paragraph 11 gives us some wonderful Scriptures to comfort us in times of immense grief. How sad though that the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which casts the Other Sheep as no more than friends of God, strips away much of the power of those words. For example, it quotes 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17 but ignores the fact that these verses apply to the adopted Children of God.
“However, we are obligated always to thank God for you, brothers loved by Jehovah, because from the beginning God selected you for salvation by sanctifying you with his spirit and by your faith in the truth. 14 He called you to this through the good news we declare, so that you may acquire the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So, then, brothers, stand firm and maintain your hold on the traditions that you were taught, whether it was by a spoken message or by a letter from us. 16 Moreover, may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave everlasting comfort and good hope by means of undeserved kindness, 17 comfort your hearts and make you firm in every good deed and word.” (2Th 2:13-17)
The Congregation—a Source of Great Comfort
A promising subtitle, but alas, I have not found this to be the case. Speaking with others who have suffered loses similar to mine, I realize that I am not alone in this. Even those who remain died-in-the-wool Jehovah’s Witnesses have expressed their disappointment in the congregation due to its lack of real support.
I do not think this is due to ill will. Rather, it is the consequence of the routine established by the Organization. I recall being very busy with this routine. I was taught that if I held to the routine, I would be saved. I was supposed to do all the things the Organization told me to do like regularly attend all the meetings, keep my hours up in field service, reach out for greater responsibility as an appointed servant, attend conventions and circuit assemblies, support the circuit overseer during his visits, keep the hall clean and well maintained, etc. These are things that are highly visible and easy to measure. (The amount of field service and placements one logs every month is tracked and recorded.)
However, comforting the grieving is not part of that routine and is not measured. So it garners no kudos from those above. For this reason, it tends to fall by the wayside. To illustrate, a field service car group might be in a remote territory (ours measured hundreds of square miles in size) and near the home of a aged widow. Would they go in for an encouraging visit? Often not, because they could not count their time and mindful of keeping their hours up, they’d forgo the opportunity to show Christian love and practice the form of worship of which the Father approves. (James 1:27)
For those of us who have, or are in the process of, departing from this artificial form of worship, the trauma of having friends and family turn their backs on us is mitigated by the new, truer friends we are encountering. (2 Ti 3:5) As Jesus promised, we will actually end up with more and better friends and family. (Mt 19:29) I have certainly experienced the truth of his words.
Keep Providing Comfort
I appreciate the counsel under this subtitle. It is appropriate. However, I fear it is too little too late. The occasional article like this one—as good as it may be—is not enough to overcome the mindset of Witnesses indoctrinated to put works in first place, to measure faith by the number of hours one devotes to the preaching work.
So while this is a good article for the most part, I doubt that it will change much in the status quo of JW.org.