I was visiting friends this week, some I hadn’t seen in a long time. Obviously, I wanted to share the marvelous truths I’ve discovered these past few years, but experience told me to do so with great care. I waited for the right turn in the conversation, then planted a seed. Little by little, we got into deeper topics: The child abuse scandal, the 1914 fiasco, the “other sheep” doctrine. As the conversations (there were several with different ones) drew to an end, I told my friends that I wouldn’t broach the subject again unless they wanted to talk about it more. Over the course of the next few days, we vacationed together, went places, ate out. Things were just like they’d always been between us. It was as if the conversations had never taken place. They never touched on any of the subjects again.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. I have a very close friend of 40 years who gets very disturbed when I bring up anything that might make him question his belief. Yet, he very much wants to remain my friend, and enjoys our time together. We both have an unspoken agreement to simply not venture into the taboo area.
This kind of intentional blindness is a common reaction. I’m no psychologist, but it sure seems like some form of denial. It is by no means the only type of reaction one gets. (Many experience outright opposition, and even ostracism, when speaking about Bible truths to Witness friends.) However, it is common enough to warrant further exploration.
What I see—and I’ve very much appreciated the insight and experiences of others along these lines—is that these ones chose to remain in the life they’ve come to accept and love, the life that gives them a sense of purpose and an assurance of God’s approval. They are convinced they are going to be saved as long as they go to meetings, go out in service, and follow all the rules. They are happy with this status quo, and don’t want to examine it at all. They want nothing to threaten their world view.
Jesus spoke about blind guides leading blind men, but it still is baffling to us when we attempt to restore sight to the blind and they intentionally close their eyes. (Mt 15:14)
This subject came up at a propitious time, because one of our regular readers wrote in about a conversation he is having by email with family members which is very much in this vein. His argument is based on this week’s CLAM Bible Study. There we find Elijah reasoning with the Jews whom he accuses of “limping upon two different opinions”.
“…those people did not realize that they had to choose between the worship of Jehovah and the worship of Baal. They thought that they could have it both ways—that they could appease Baal with their revolting rituals and still ask favors of Jehovah God. Perhaps they reasoned that Baal would bless their crops and herds, while “Jehovah of armies” would protect them in battle. (1 Sam. 17:45) They had forgotten a basic truth—one that still eludes many today. Jehovah does not share his worship with anyone. He demands and is worthy of exclusive devotion. Any worship of him that is mixed with some other form of worship is unacceptable to him, even offensive!” (ia chap. 10, par. 10; emphasis added)
In a previous article, we learned that the most common word for worship in Greek—the one implied here—is proskuneo, which means “to bend the knee” in submission or servitude. So the Israelites were trying to submit to two rival God’s. The false god of Baal, and the true God, Jehovah. Jehovah wouldn’t have it. As the article says with unwitting irony, this is a basic truth “that still eludes many today.”
The irony continues with paragraph 11:
“So those Israelites were “limping” along like a man trying to follow two pathways at once. Many people today make a similar mistake, allowing other “baals” to creep into their life and push aside the worship of God. Heeding Elijah’s clarion call to stop limping can help us to reexamine our own priorities and worship.” (ia chap. 10, par. 11; emphasis added)
The fact is that most Jehovah’s Witnesses do not want to “reexamine [their] own priorities and worship.” Thus, most JWs won’t see the irony in this paragraph. They would never consider the Governing Body to be a type of “baal.” Yet, they will faithfully and unquestioningly obey every teaching and direction from that body of men, and when someone suggests that perhaps submission (worship) to those instructions might conflict with submission to God, these same ones will turn a deaf ear and carry on as if nothing had been said.
Proskuneo (worship) means abject submission, the unquestioning obedience which we should only give to God, through Christ. Adding in a body of men to that chain of command is both unscriptural and damning to us. We may fool ourselves by saying that we are obeying God through them, but do we not think that the Israelites of Elijah’s day also reasoned that they were serving God and putting faith in him?
Faith is not the same thing as belief. Faith is more complex than simple belief. It means firstly to believe in the character of God; i.e., that He will do good, and will keep his promises. That belief in God’s character motivates the man of faith to do works of obedience. Look at the examples of faithful men and women as put forth in Hebrews 11. In each case, we see they believed that God would do good, even when there were no specific promises; and they acted in accordance with that belief. When there were specific promises, together with specific commands, they believed the promises and obeyed the commands. That is essentially what faith is.
This is more than believing that God exists. The Israelites believed in him and even worshipped him to a point, but they hedged their bets by worshipping Baal at the same time. Jehovah promised to protect them and to give them the bounty of the land if they obeyed his commands, but that wasn’t good enough. Obviously, they weren’t fully convinced Jehovah would keep his word. They wanted a “Plan B.”
My friends are like that, I fear. They believe in Jehovah, but in their own way. They don’t want to deal with him directly. They want a Plan B. They want the comfort of a belief structure, with other men to tell them what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, how to please God and what to avoid so as not to displease him.
Their carefully constructed reality provides them with comfort and security. It is a paint-by-numbers form of worship that requires them to attend two meetings a week, go out in the door to door work regularly, attend conventions, and obey whatever the men of the Governing Body tell them to do. If they do all those things, everyone they care about will continue to like them; they can feel superior to the rest of the world; and when Armageddon comes, they will be saved.
Like the Israelites in the time of Elijah, they have a form of worship of which they believe God approves. Like those Israelites, they believe they are putting faith in God, but it is a facade, a pseudo-faith which will prove false when put to the test. Like those Israelites, it will take something truly shocking to break them free of their complacency.
One can only hope that it doesn’t come too late.