I couldn’t get this song out of my head. As I was driving to meet with my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend I had the chorus to R.E.M.’s, “It’s The End Of The World” stuck in my mind. I didn’t have the car stereo on because I didn’t need it. Over and over I kept hearing, “It’s the end of the World as we know it and I feel fine.”
The truth was, I didn’t feel fine. I was almost sick to my stomach. Our last marathon meeting had taken a huge toll on me. I wondered what was going to happen in this meeting. I planned on taking it slow and finding as much common ground as possible. I also wanted to avoid some issues I knew could possibly cause more tension. The good thing is, the chapter we were going to start today in the “Teach” book, chapter three, is pretty tame compared to other chapters.
When I got inside the restaurant, my friend was already eating a full breakfast. He usually eats something small, but not today.
KW: Going all out this morning at eating breakfast, huh?
JW: (Grinning) Oh, yeah. You had to say something about that, huh?
KW: A special day today or something? Is this your rebellious way of celebrating Thanksgiving a day early?
It was good to see my friend laugh. I have a dry, slightly twisted, irreverent sense of humor and can usually get away with joking about things that most people can’t. He seemed a bit guarded, but that softened him up a bit. I no longer felt sick. We chatted for roughly a half hour before my friend asked;
JW: So do you want to check out the next chapter?
My Witness friend began explaining the chapter which is titled, “What Is God’s Purpose for the Earth?” He read the first paragraph and then asked the corresponding question;
JW: What is God’s purpose for the earth?
I never have liked that question. In the past I have focused on what I agree on with the Watchtower when it comes to this topic, but something struck me as my friend was reading the first paragraph of the book.
KW: I think that is an interesting question because I never would have thought to ask it this way. This makes it seem like God is more concerned about the earth than He is about Man. You know what Jesus said about the Sabbath? Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for Man. That is kind of what I think about the earth. I don’t think that Man was made for the earth, but that the earth was made for Man. So, I believe that God’s purposes would be more directed towards Man and not towards a planet. Does that make sense?
My Witness friend began talking about an aquarium he used to have. He said he studied about how to set one up, make sure the fish would have enough air supply and then add the fish last. It is the same thing God did with us in preparing the earth for our needs. Essentially, he agreed with my observation. I actually think he appreciated my view.
KW: Then to answer that question, I would have to say that the purpose for the earth is to give Man a suitable place to live for our enjoyment.
We spoke at length about how amazing this earth is, the value of recycling and about a bunch of other unrelated topics. My friend was enjoying our conversation. There was nothing confrontational, just pleasant conversation. It wasn’t easy for me to listen to him talk about a bunch of irrelevant things because I want to maximize my time and get him to think about hard things, but at the same time, I wanted him to feel as comfortable as possible. It is a delicate balance. I know that times like this are valuable because they make it possible for use to get into the hard things and stay awhile. I am confident that one of the reasons we have been able to discuss such heavy topics is because of the relational investment of times like this. It is difficult for people like me none the less.
Once we got back into the Teach book I read the second paragraph and he read the corresponding question.
KW: (Pausing) Again, that is such a weird way to ask the question. I believe God’s purpose for Man will be fulfilled and the earth is part of that. I’ve told you in the past, I am not in the majority of Christians who believe this view. Most Christians believe that when you die and go to heaven, that’s it. I believe that I’ll be coming back. I take it literally when the Bible says that Jesus is going to come back… literally. He is going to set up His kingdom here on earth and this earth will one day be what God originally intended for us to enjoy.
This is a secondary issue when it comes to Christian doctrine. It is an in-house debate. Some Christians believe it and some of them don’t. It is not an issue that I believe affects your standing before God.
We then talked about some Old Testament verses that my Witness friend believes makes it clear that the Kingdom will one day be on earth. I think he brought it up because he wanted to know how I can allow other Christians to believe in something completely different than I do about the end times. I explained how some Christians spiritualize those passages that I take literally. As a Jehovah’s Witness he is no stranger to having passages spiritualized for him so he should not have any trouble accepting that others do the same thing.
We continued to talk as we read through more paragraphs in the book than we ever have before in probably two or three meetings. By the end of our meeting, we had covered 10 paragraphs. This was both good and bad news at the same time. It was good because we were covering a lot of material and we weren’t arguing with each other, but it was also bad because chapter four deals with the person of Jesus Christ. My friend gets upset whenever we talk about the Deity of Christ.
At one point my friend went to the bathroom so I took the opportunity to read ahead and refresh my memory on what was coming up in the chapter. I saw an issue that I have spoken to Jehovah’s Witnesses about before with some success and I knew it would be a good topic to get him to think about things from a completely different perspective. I also knew it could potentially pose a problem. I didn’t think it was a good idea to get into another disagreement so soon after he almost bailed on me twice the previous week. I asked a quick question about it and then dropped it once he informed me that the topic is dealt with in greater detail later in the chapter.
After we read paragraph 10 together, I didn’t want to go any further in the book. I thought it was a good time to share a completely different view of reality than what is presented in the book. Paragraph 10 states, “It is good to think about these questions because each of us faces similar issues today. Yes, you have the opportunity to support Jehovah’s side in answer to Satan’s challenge. You can accept Jehovah as your Ruler and help to show that Satan is a liar. (Psalm 73:28; Proverbs 27:11) Sadly, only a few among the billions of people in this world make such a choice. This raises an important question, Does the Bible really teach that Satan rules this world?”
KW: I don’t look at it from that mindset. I don’t see it as, “Satan has given me a challenge and I am going to choose God over Satan.” I see it from the perspective of, “I am lost, I am damned, and I need a Savior.” In my mind, Satan has very little to do with that choice.
Here is the way I see it. If we are all sinners from the time that Adam and Eve sinned, Satan doesn’t have to do anything else, nothing else because I am already a pretty good sinner on my own. I can continue to screw things up. Satan really doesn’t have anything to do with my problem. My problem is me and my continual choice to sin against God.
What I need is salvation from that situation. I keep screwing things up. I keep making things worse for myself. It is kind of like a drug addict who is so lost in their sin that they need someone to help them. They don’t even have the strength to go to a rehab place. They need an advocate, someone to come along side them and help them out of their situation. It doesn’t have anything to do with Satan. It has everything to do with me and my sin problem.
JW: Earlier we said that Satan was an accuser, right? If we want to have a relationship with God, where do we stand? On God’s side or on Satan’s? If we are not on God’s side, then we are on the other side.
KW: Right, and I need salvation from that side. What the book seems to do is put us in a neutral position. Am I going to choose good or am I going to choose evil? I don’t think I am in a neutral position. I think I am already on Satan’s side and I need to be rescued from it. Does that make sense what I am saying?
My friend spoke at length about how Satan is our enemy and how he tries to pull us away from God. I assured him that although I agree with that, there is more to the story.
KW: I agree that Satan is definitely my enemy, but I don’t see it as me trying to fight Satan off so that I can follow God. I see it as, I am a captive of his doing his will and I need to be rescued. Let’s look at 2 Timothy 2:25-26. “Instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed. Perhaps God may give them repentance leading to an accurate knowledge of truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the Devil, seeing that they have been caught alive by him to do his will.” My translation says they are held captive by Satan.
I don’t see it as me fighting him off so that I can join God’s side. I see it me being a prisoner of war. I am already his captive and I need to be rescued.
JW: On the other hand, there are numerous references in the Bible about how we can fight off Satan.
KW: Yes, but those are directed towards Christians who have already entered into a relationship with God. Those passages do not refer to people who are already held captive by Satan. This passage does.
My Witness friend mentioned that Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days and then waited for an opportune time to do it again. He was getting at the fact that Jesus engaged Satan more than once as do we in our Christian walk. I pointed out that Jesus is a completely different story because He was never a sinner in need of a Savior. He agreed. My Witness friend brought up James 4:8 the first part of which reads in the RNWT, “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”
KW: I see this as applied to Christians, not non Christians.
He got a confused look on his face, stared at the text for about 10 seconds then asked;
JW: Why not?
KW: Because James was written to Christians.
KW: He wrote it with a Christian audience in mind, not a non-Christian audience.
My Witness friend was trying to apply passages to non Christians which only refer to Christians. As Christians we can draw close to God and strengthen our relationship, but non-Christians can’t because they need to be rescued by Him before they can have a relationship with Him. I explained that as a non Christian the only petition I could make to God is, “Save me!” After that, I can draw close to God, but until I am rescued, I can’t draw near to Him. He again brought up our differences in salvation.
JW: I know we have talked about it before, being saved or being rescued, but we see it as a path that leads to salvation. We need to walk that path and it will take you there, but if you walk off the path, you will not get there.
I did not want to get into another discussion about salvation for a number of reasons. First, I almost lost him twice last week and I wasn’t sure our relationship could take another confrontational conversation so soon after our last one. 2) It was close to the two hour mark of our meeting. 3) I suspect that our next meeting will be more, uh, shall I say “interesting” because we will be talking about who rules this world. I was glad that this conversation was not as intense as last week’s as we both needed a break. Instead of engaging his last comment, I just said;
KW: I understand that is what you believe.
He smiled and got the hint that I did not want to get into another heavy discussion about salvation. We sat there smiling at eat other for a few seconds, then I stated;
KW: We should probably stop here, I’m getting hungry.
Even though he got the hint, he pressed on for one more last attempt. He gave an illustration about one company buying out another company and deciding what to do with the employees. He said that it was only right for the company to set some sort of expectations for those employees to follow if they wanted to keep their jobs.
KW: I just don’t see it that way. I don’t see a lifeguard asking me what conditions I am willing to follow as he is bringing me up out of the deep end.
I don’t know why he brought this up, but he brought up a movie called, “The Guardian.” Kevin Costner is a coast guard instructor who is teaching a protégé how to be a good rescue swimmer. My friend mentioned that there are some realistic scenes where the rescuer has to fight the person he is trying to rescue. In their panic, victims can actually drown the person trying to rescue them. My friend said that sometimes they need to get punched in the nose. I laughed and said;
KW: That’s what God did to me!
I love it when he brings up things that perfectly fit my view. We both laughed and then started joking around about random things. He was in a pretty jovial mood when a man came up to our table and handed each of us a small card which had a beaded key chain attached to it. The card was for the “Deaf Educational System” which requested a two dollar donation. The card was full of pictures explaining sign language.
I was surprised that my friend quickly got out his wallet and gave him two dollars. I did the same. I don’t know if Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to give donations out to people who are panhandling or not, but it was something I would not have expected from him. I did the sign for “thank-you” as the man left.
KW: I know that one. It is “thank-you.”
JW: It is?
KW: Yes, my wife and I taught our children some sign language so they could communicate with us before they could speak. I don’t know all these, but we taught them simple things like food, drink, more, please and thank-you. Just easy things.
We agreed to stop studying and ate lunch together. I surprised him by paying for his meal. I thought it would be a good gesture and he was very appreciative. We had more pleasant conversation and talked about the differences in our smart phones, our pets, and random other topics.
What I did not realize was that my Witness friend was testing me during this whole conversation. After we both left the restaurant and sat down in our cars, my friend drove over in front of my car and rolled down his window. I rolled mine down too so that I could hear what he was going to say. Instead, he held up a new, shrink-wrapped copy of the Revised New World Translation.
I quickly got out of my car to go get it. He was about as excited as I was as he handed the Bible to me, smiled and said, “See you next week.” As he drove off, I couldn’t help but recognize that I had passed a test I didn’t realize I was taking. I think he purposefully took the Bible out of his book bag and left it in the car because he wanted to see how our meeting turned out. I don’t think he would have given it to me if we got into a difficult discussion and that is why he didn’t bring the Bible with him into the restaurant. This confirms how important it is to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit during our conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness elder friend and his family.