[From ws11/16 p. 26 December 5, 19-25]
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not being seen.”—He. 11:1 BLB[i]
Paragraph 3 of this week’s study asks us: “But what exactly is faith? Is it limited to a mental grasp of the blessings that God has in store for us?”
To answer that first question and see how the second question misses the mark, read carefully the entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews. As you consider each example the writer points to from pre-Christian times, bear in mind that the Sacred Secret was still a secret for those ones. (Col 1:26, 27) There is no clearly spelled out resurrection hope in the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament. Job speaks of a man living again, but there is no evidence that God actually told him this, or made a specific promise to him. It is likely his belief was based on words handed down from his forefathers and on his confidence in the goodness, righteousness and love of God. (Job 14:14, 15)
Abel is mentioned as well in this chapter, yet there is no evidence that Abel was told about the hope of a resurrection. (Hebrews 11:4) We may speculate, but if the hope was clear then—or later when Moses, who spoke face to face with God, started writing the Bible—one would expect to see it spelled out; yet it is not there. (Ex 33:11) All we see are vague references to it.[ii] The Bible speaks of putting faith in the name of God and of the Christ. (Ps 105:1; John 1:12; Acts 3:19) This means we trust in the character of God not to disappoint, but to pay back goodness for those trusting in him and loving him. In short, faith is the belief that God will never let us down. That is why we have ‘the assurance of the things we hope for’ and why we have the conviction that things not yet seen are real.
When Job hoped to live again, did he understand the nature of the first resurrection, the resurrection of the righteous spoken of at Revelation 20:4-6? Likely not, since that sacred secret had yet to be revealed. So his hope could not have been based on a “mental grasp of the blessings that God had in store” for him. Yet whatever he hoped for specifically, he surely had the confidence that the reality would be of God’s choosing and whatever that turned out to be would be perfectly acceptable to Job.
All those mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 hoped for a better resurrection, but until the sacred secret was revealed, they could not have known what form that would take. (He 11:35) Even today, with the full Bible in our hands, we still rely on faith, for we have only a vague grasp of that reality.
Not so Jehovah’s Witnesses. Paragraph 4 states that “faith involves much more than a mental understanding of God’s purpose”. This implies we already have such a “mental understanding of God’s purpose”. But do we? Witnesses do not see hazily as by a metal mirror, but they see clearly with the aid of colorful illustrations painted by talented artists and inspiring dramatic video presentations downloaded from jw.org. (1Co 13:12) These give them a good mental understanding of the “promises” of God. But is that truly ‘reality not yet seen’? It could be argued that it will be when the unrighteous are raised to a state of sinlessness at the end of the thousand years; when death is no more. (1Co 15:24-28) But that’s not the “promise” Witnesses look forward to. These illustrations depict scenes from the New World following Armageddon, not a thousand years farther along. Somehow billions of unrighteous coming to life will have little to no impact on the idyllic setting JWs envision for themselves.
Is this really what the Bible teaches Christians to hope for? Or are men getting us to put faith in a promise God never made for Christians?
Does faith require any mental understanding of God’s purpose? How much mental understanding did the evildoer hanged alongside Jesus have when he asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom? All he believed was that Jesus was the Lord. That was enough for him to be saved. When Jehovah asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, how much mental understanding did Abraham have? All he knew was that God had promised to make a mighty nation from Isaac’s descendants, but as to the how, when, where, what and why, he was pretty much left in the dark.
Witnesses tend to treat faith in God like a contract. God promises to do X if we do Y and Z. It’s all spelled out. That really isn’t the kind of faith Jehovah is looking for in his chosen ones.
The reason that “mental understanding of God’s purpose” is so emphasized here is that the Organization is relying on us to put faith in the mental picture they have painted, as if it actually comes from God.
“Clearly, our prospect of enjoying eternal life in God’s new world depends on our having faith and keeping it strong.” – par. 5
Yes, humans will enjoy eternal life in God’s new world, but the hope for Christians is to be part of the solution. The hope is to be part of the kingdom of the heavens with Christ. These are the things not seen in which we hope.
From this point forward, the article makes excellent points about faith and works. Another aspect of faith, as demonstrated by the examples given in Hebrews chapter 11, is that all those men and women of old acted on their faith. Faith produced works. Paragraphs 6 thru 11 give Bible examples to illustrate this truth.
The fine counsel continues in paragraphs 12 thru 17, showing how faith and love are both required to please God.
Exercising Soundness of Mind
With such fine Bible counsel fresh in our mind, we are well prepared for the bait-and-switch which has become a common feature in the magazine articles we study.
“In our present day, Jehovah’s people have been exercising their faith in God’s established Kingdom.” – par. 19
All along we have been speaking of faith in God and Christ, and yet here, at the end, we are talking about faith in God’s established Kingdom. There are two problems with this. First of all, we are never told in the Bible to put faith in the Kingdom. The kingdom is a thing, not a person. It cannot keep promises. The article made it clear that faith and belief are not the same thing. (See paragraph 8) Yet here what is really meant by faith is belief—belief that the teaching of the Governing Body that the kingdom was established in 1914 is really true. Which brings us to the second problem with this statement. The kingdom of God was not established in 1914. So they are asking us to put faith in a thing, not a person, which turns out to be a fiction of men.
This article is about strengthening our faith in Jehovah. However, the Organization is viewed as synonymous with Jehovah. When a Witness is told by the elders that “we want to follow Jehovah’s direction”, they really mean “we want to follow the direction of the Governing Body”. When a Witness says, ‘we need to be obedient to the slave’, he doesn’t see this as obedience to men, but to God. The slave speaks for God so, in effect, the slave is God. Those who might object to such a statement will still acknowledge that we are expected to obey the direction of “the slave” unconditionally.
So the article is really about strengthening our faith in the Organization and the Governing Body that directs it. To aid us in doing this, we have the following words to make us feel special.
“This has resulted in the development of a worldwide spiritual paradise that has over eight million inhabitants. It is a place that abounds with the fruitage of God’s spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) What a powerful demonstration of true Christian faith and love!” – par. 19
High-sounding words indeed! Yet can we call it a spiritual paradise if, to cite just one issue, our most vulnerable ones are not adequately protected from predators? A recent government inquiry showed that, in just one country, over a thousand cases of child sexual abuse went unreported authorities.[iii] This is prompting further inquiries into the polices and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses with regard to providing proper protection of children.[iv]
What has been the reaction to this ‘trouble in paradise? Have witnesses demonstrated the fruitage of God’s spirit toward such ones? Has there been a “powerful demonstration of true Christian…love”? No. Often, when victims speak out or take legal action, they are cut off from their emotional support structure of family and friends by the unscriptural practice of disassociation. (If you disagree, then please provide the scriptural basis for this policy using the comment section for this article.)
Additionally, can it be a spiritual paradise if there is no freedom? Jesus said that the truth would set us free. Yet if one speaks up about the truth and offers correction based on the Scriptures to the elders, traveling overseers, or Governing Body, one is sure to be intimidated by threat of disfellowshipping (excommunication). Hardly a paradise when one is afraid to speak up for fear of being persecuted.
So Yes! Exercise faith in Jehovah and in Jesus, but not in men.
[i] Berean Literal Bible
[ii] The contexts of the much ballyhooed prophesy of Isaiah at chapter 11 seems to indicate that the prophet is speaking of a spiritual paradise linked to the coming of the Messiah, not a prophecy relating to an earthly resurrection.