Challenging God: A Conversation With a Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer

Who do you think you are...God?

Who do you think you are…God?

Our meeting started off like they usually do with about a half hour of small talk. My Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer friend’s wife use to be a little aggravated by the amount of time we spend talking, but I think she has come around. She and I did most of the talking about any number of random things. One interesting thing to note is that she noticed the bookmark that I use for my Teach book. I told her that my daughter made it for me as a CHRISTmas gift last year.

She took the CD case of one of my favorite CHRISTmas albums, photo copied it, colored it in and then taped it together in the form of a bookmark as if it was laminated. It isn’t the prettiest thing, but I use it because it is from my daughter. As I was showing them my bookmark, I explained that the artist (Gary Hoey) has a couple of CHRISTmas albums that I really enjoy. I then told them about my favorite CHRISTmas album of all time. It is called “Sleddin’ Hill” by August Burns Red. If you are into heavy music, this album is for you. Every year when my kids and I put the CHRISTmas lights up on our house, I have that album blaring out of the garage.

The best part about this conversation was that they never challenged me on CHRISTmas. They both just smiled and thought it was interesting that there was such a thing as Christian heavy metal CHRISTmas music. They don’t know it yet, but if we are still meeting during CHRISTmas time, I’m going to play it for them and see how they react. I don’t do it all the time, but there are times when I like to see how much I can get away with.

We began our study on page 28 of the Teach book with the section title, “The Origin Of An Enemy.” We read paragraphs four and five and then I wanted to make a point about a statement made on page 29. “Well, today a person who was once decent and honest may become a thief. How does that happen? The person may allow a wrong desire to develop in his heart. If he keeps thinking about it, that wrong desire may become very strong. Then if the opportunity presents itself, he may act upon the bad desire that he has been thinking about.”

I fully agree with this statement, but interestingly enough the Watchtower undermines that idea when it comes to their doctrine of the Kingdom. The Watchtower teaches that during the 1,000 year Kingdom rule on this earth, Satan will be kept in a prison. I have had countless Witnesses tell me that since Satan will no longer be able to tempt us, there will be peace and tranquility throughout the earth. It is almost as if they blame Satan for all of the evil that happens today, including their own sin. I wanted to make sure my Witnesses understand that I don’t believe that.

KW: Have you heard the phrase, “The Devil made me do it?”

JW1: Yes.

KW: You know, I don’t need any help. I’m a pretty good sinner all by myself.

They both laughed as we talked about how the paragraph says that we sin because of our own desires. I reread one of the sentences.

KW:  “A person who was once decent and honest may become a thief,” and he doesn’t need Satan’s help to do it.

JW1: That’s right.

I wrote in my book, “I don’t need Satan to help me do evil.” After I wrote it down, I addressed an issue I have never really understood from the Watchtower point of view. Genesis 3:1 describes the event where Satan used a snake to tempt Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Paragraph four of the book we are studying says, “This powerful angel, or invisible spirit creature, used a serpent to speak to Eve, even as a skilled person can make it seem that his voice is coming from a nearby doll or dummy.”

KW: What’s with the ventriloquism act?

JW1: That is just showing that it wasn’t some random snake speaking to Eve. Satan used the snake.

KW: I don’t get it. Why couldn’t Satan just possess the snake?

JW1: Essentially, that is what he did. This is describing it in ways so that people who have zero knowledge of the Bible can relate to it.

KW: I think people understand demon possession pretty well when you take into consideration all of the demonic movies that come out. When I first read this paragraph, I made note of it. If the text said that Satan spoke through the snake, I understand that or if it said he possessed the snake, I think most people would understand that concept. But to make the reference to ventriloquism, I don’t understand why the book says that.

My Pioneer friend started to explain that the book just puts it that way so that the reader can understand that it was really Satan behind the message. He wasn’t being forthright with me about the Watchtower stance. That is when his wife interjected and addressed the issue I wanted them to address.

JW2: Some people think the snake actually talked. They don’t get that it was actually someone else making that happen.

KW: What would be wrong with the snake talking?

JW2: They weren’t created to talk.

KW: Then what would be the purpose of using it as a dummy if it doesn’t talk?

JW2: Satan wanted to deceive Eve.

KW: How would it be deceptive if you already know snakes don’t talk? What is the point of using an object that doesn’t talk to deceive someone into believing what it says?

My Pioneer friend then brought up an explanation I have never heard before.

JW1: What has been suggested is that maybe Eve would think that the snake ate from the tree and that is why it could talk. Maybe she thought, “Hey, if I eat from the tree… look what it did for the snake. What if I ate from the tree? I’ll be like God.

KW: Or maybe she would then talk like a snake.

They both laughed.

KW: I’ve always had a different view. Now, the Bible doesn’t say this and it is only my personal view. I believe this happened early on in Eve’s existence. We don’t know how long she lived prior to this incident, but we do know it was before she had children. If we were to be transplanted on another planet, we would be new to the environment. If an animal started talking to me, I’m going to think it is normal on this planet. Maybe she didn’t know that snakes don’t talk because it wouldn’t make sense for Satan to use it like a puppet if she already knew that snakes don’t talk!

JW1: You raise some really interesting points there. I think that you are right that it probably wasn’t very long into her existence when this happened. You are right though. She was younger and less experienced so that is probably why Satan targeted her.

My Witness friend was eager to get me to agree that Satan was behind the whole thing so it really didn’t matter exactly how this event took place. I didn’t agree with the method, but I did agree that Satan was behind it so I let the point go. There are many more things of greater importance that I know we will be discussing soon. I often keep in mind that I have to pick my battles. We continued on in our study.

We spent some time talking about how Satan turned to evil and became the devil. I pointed out that I always thought it was funny that their book rarely refers to Satan without also including the phrase, “the Devil.” I joked around that I was glad they did that because I wouldn’t want to get Satan the devil confused with Satan the baker. Things got a little more interesting when my Witness friend read the question for paragraph eight.

JW1: “What challenge did Satan evidently make?”

KW: I am not sure I agree with the question. This line of reasoning makes it look like there are two opposing forces and man is caught in the middle.

My witness friend had trouble with my statement. I’m pretty sure he has never been challenged on this idea before. He wasn’t sure what to say. We looked at Genesis chapter three and examined how Satan questioned what God said and tempted Eve. The Teach book says of this event on page 30 that Satan challenge was essentially, “God is a bad ruler. He tells lies and holds back good things from his subjects. Humans do not need to have God ruling over them. They can decide for themselves what is good and what is bad. And they will be better off under my rulership.” Nowhere does the Biblical text say these things. They very well may be true, but I am always uncomfortable with making assumptions of what the text supposedly means when things are not explicitly stated. Cults are experts at taking certain ideas, reading them into the Biblical text and then creating whole doctrines based off of those assumptions. Doing this can be very dangerous.

KW: The book says Satan basically said, “They will be better off under my rulership.” Where does the Bible say that?

JW1: Well,… uh, that is… uh…

KW: I don’t think Satan cared about Adam and Eve.

JW1: Oh, no. Absolutely, he didn’t.

KW: Then they wouldn’t be better off.

JW1: Right, it was a lie. Satan told a huge lie and that was part of it.

Hmm. Okay, I didn’t read the book that way, but I get what he was saying. My Witness friend was saying that all of the above was the lie that Satan was telling and wanted Adam and Eve to believe, knowing full well that it wasn’t true. Even as I read through it again, I think the statement is ambiguous at best. It looks to me like the book is saying that this is actually what Satan thought.

The full statement says, “When Satan led Adam and Eve into sinning against God, he was really leading a rebellion. He was challenging Jehovah’s way of ruling. In effect, Satan was saying: ‘God is a bad ruler. He tells lies and holds back good things from his subjects. Humans do not need to have God ruling over them. They can decide for themselves what is good and what is bad. And they will be better off under my rulership.'” The statement certainly gives me the impression that Satan challenged God’s rulership partly because he thought he would be a better ruler. What is linked to that is also the claim that Adam and Eve would be better off under Satan’s rulership. Again, I let it go thinking it wise to pick better battles. We moved on to the next question asked in the Teach book.

JW1:”Why did God not destroy the rebels immediately?”

KW: That is a great question.

My Witness friend explained that if God had done that, He wouldn’t have answered Satan’s challenge. He would have come across as a dictator. I decided to challenge that idea.

JW1: Certainly God had the power to wipe out everyone, but that wouldn’t answer the question. The question was not, “Is God all powerful?” Everyone knows that. Even the angels.  The question was, “Does God have the right to rule?”

KW: Who was questioning it?

JW1: Satan was.

KW: But if God wipes him out, he no longer questions it.

JW2: The angels would then question.

KW: But they already know the answer. Your husband just said they knew the answer.

JW1: Satan wasn’t questioning God’s power. He was questioning the way he exercises power.

KW: I understand that. What I am pointing out though is that if everyone who thinks that way is wiped out, then the challenge is nonexistent. The only people who are left are those who already know that God has the right to rule. There is no challenge if everyone is wiped out.

JW1: Well… that’s true.

KW: There are no neutral parties watching the situation and wondering who is right. The bad guys are gone and all the good guys know that God has the right to judge.

JW1: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.

No it isn’t. I just pointed out a flaw in Watchtower reasoning and now you understand it.

KW: Who does the challenge come from and if they are all wiped out, then no challenge remains.

JW1: Right, but as a God of justice and who always does what is right, would it be right for God to destroy anyone who questions what he does? That’s pretty harsh.

KW: I don’t think it is wrong though. If God always does what is right, then there is no need to challenge it. We may question for purposes of understanding, but that is not what Satan was doing. There is a huge difference between questioning and challenging.

JW1: Well, He is within His right to do that.

KW: If God is within His right to do that, then there is no problem. What bothers me about this paragraph is that is implies that God needs to prove Himself.

JW1: Yes, that’s what it is… or it is more of allowing Satan to prove his case.

KW: The book says on page 31, “Would it have proved that God’s way of ruling is right?” When I read that, I get the impression that God is trying to prove Himself.

JW1: Yeah, I see how you could get that.

I explained how this whole idea makes it look like God and Satan are on opposite sides and that Mankind is in the middle.

JW1: This is the fundamental choice put before mankind. Will we obey God or will we obey Satan? That is an extreme simplification of it.

KW: It makes Man neutral and I don’t think we are neutral.

JW1: We are free moral agents and we have the ability and opportunity to choose.

KW: Except for this one little fact. We are free moral agents, within our defective selves.

JW1: Ahh, yes. That’s right.

I reminded him that paragraph seven mentions that mankind is like a loaf of bread baked in a dented pan. Because the pan is dented, everything baked in it will bear that same mark. It is the same thing with mankind. Because Adam’s nature was changed from perfection to sinner when he sinned, all of his progeny are now sinners. He then said that we still have the ability to serve God in an acceptable way, if we really wanted to. He almost started sounding like a Mormon. I asked him to repeat what he said.

JW1: If we are really trying, then the sacrifice of Jesus covers our sins.

Yep, that’s Mormonism alright.

KW: If we are really trying, then the sacrifice of Jesus covers our sins?

JW1: Yes.

KW: Trying what?

JW1: Trying to please God, trying to do what’s right.

KW: That is a whole other subject.

Indeed it is. I use an approach called the Impossible Gospel of Mormonism when talking to Mormons about how one obtains the forgiveness of sin. One of the key components to the argument can be summed up in the popular Mormon saying, “You do your best, and Jesus does the rest.” For years I have been looking for an equivalent approach to use for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but there just aren’t many quotes from Watchtower literature which spell it out as clearly as the quotes from Mormon sources. I asked my Witness friend more about this idea. I wanted to see if he had any Watchtower sources he could point me to for later study. He essentially explained the same gospel concept that Mormonism has, but with a few minor differences.

When he finished talking about trying to please God, he read paragraph 10 and then one of the verses mentioned there. Proverbs 27:11 reads in the NWT, “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, So that I can make a reply to him who taunts me.”  I remember talking about this verse with my previous Jehovah’s Witness elder friend. We talked about it in this meeting too. I bring it up again because it is so prevalent with the cults. They are experts at quoting passages of scripture and then inserting outside ideas into the text. In this passage Solomon is counseling his son to be wise. The idea the Watchtower inserted into this text is that God is telling mankind that we need to make a wise decision and choose to follow Him so that He can make a reply to Satan. There is nothing in the context which suggests this. When I objected to the idea. My Witness friend asked;

JW1: Who inspired Solomon to write this?

KW: God did.

JW1: Do you think that there is a possibility that there could be a parallel here?

KW: No.

He was surprised.

JW1: No? Is it absolutely impossible?

KW: I see where you are going with this, but the context here says nothing about God answering Satan’s challenge and that it is up to us to choose the right path.

My Witness friend then took me to Job 1:8-9 to prove that this type of thing does happen. I agreed with him, but made the point that I wouldn’t use Proverbs 27:11 to prove it.

KW: I am very hesitant to say that because it is true in this one instance, then it must be true cosmically.

JW1: Yes and you do have to be careful about that.

KW: That is why I am hesitant. I want to see a clear connection and if there isn’t one, then I don’t want to make one.

JW1: Are you able to consider that it is a possibility?

KW: For the Job passage, yes, but not for Proverbs.

JW1: I think what you are trying to say is that you don’t want to jump to conclusions.

KW: Yes.

JW1: You want to make sure that one stair is built on another stair and that there are no gaps.

KW: Right. I like my stair with no gaps.

We all laughed.

JW1: Here is what I suggest. Accept it as at least plausible.

KW: I can deal with possibilities, I can deal with suggestions, but when we start making blanket assumptions, I get really uncomfortable with that.

JW1: Sure, I can see that.

We ended our discussion, but continued to talk about everyday life. It was a pleasant conversation as we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. That is a good thing too because I anticipate next week’s conversation to be a little more vigorous. We will be discussing who rules the world.

Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness friends.

 

 

 

 

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