The Mysterious Nature of Almighty God!

In general, the JWs are very uncomfortable with mystery.  In many respects, if there is something about the nature of God that is hard to understand or difficult to explain using mainly human reason, it makes the average JW very uncomfortable.  I will demonstrate this with a couple of examples from my own JW experience.

I can remember, as a JW, attending five meetings a week.  One of those meetings was usually on Tuesday evening where we met in the home of one of our fellow JWs and one of the local congregation elders lead us in a study of the Bible using one of the books published by the Watchtower Society as a guide.

Many of the topics that we discussed at these meetings dealt with the end of the world, as JWs saw it, and how Bible prophecy was being fulfilled in the world, as JWs saw it, at this very moment.  Much was made about the sovereignty of Jehovah, as Almighty God, and the inherent right that Jehovah had to rule over man.  During these studies we often discussed the great power and might of Jehovah as Almighty God.  I can remember reading the following scripture fairly often when a discussion of the greatness of Jehovah was the topic for that evening’s study:

“O, Jehovah, you yourself have proved to be a real dwelling for us. During generation after generation. Before the mountains themselves were born.  Or you proceeded to bring forth as with labor pains the earth and the productive land.  Even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.”-Psalms 90: 1, 2 New World Translation [Bold added]

This scripture and in particular the bolded part was emphasized to indicate that Jehovah, as Almighty God, had no beginning and no ending.  I remember trying to get my mind around the fact that as a JW we believed that Jehovah never had a beginning and never will have an ending and that Jehovah has and will always just exist.  I remember trying to discuss this attribute of Jehovah with my father and asking him about it.

He told me not to think about it too much because it would make me go crazy and there was really nothing good that could come of thinking about it.  Here was a mystery about God that the JWs accepted and that I could in some sense explain and understand on an intellectual level to some degree but it was beyond my human reason and experience to totally grasp. And, obviously my father was rather uncomfortable with this mystery about God.

Years later when I was in college, I had the opportunity to take a couple of classes in World History and World Literature.  In these classes, we were exposed to much of the classical history and literature of Western Civilization.  It was here that I was exposed to many different views on the nature of God throughout history, and I was also exposed to a somewhat systematic view of the Catholic and Protestant views on the nature of God which is vastly different from the JWs’ view on the nature of God.

In particularly, I remember for the first time realizing that for the mainstream Catholic and Protestant, God existed outside of time.  This was something rather new to me.  As a JW, I believed that God had always existed but that He had always existed within the bounds of space and time and I had never really considered the idea that Jehovah existed outside of the bounds of space and time.

One day while I was eating dinner with my parents and my siblings, I asked them for their opinion on whether or not we, as JWs, believed that Jehovah existed beyond the bounds of space and time.  When I asked the question my father had already left the dinner table and while he may have been in the room he did not really actively engage in the discussion.  My mother was starting to clear the table and was not really engaged in the discussion either but was listening as my brothers and I had this really interesting discussion on the topic with each of us giving our opinion.

After the discussion went on for about an hour or so, my mother, who must have been listening to our discussion, turned around from the kitchen sink where she had been washing dishes and with tears in her eyes and ran into her bedroom and slammed the door.  In a matter of minutes, my father entered the dining room and gave us all a good scolding for engaging in such an unprofitable discussion that had obviously upset my mother.

It was these experiences along with other things published in Watchtower literature that helped me to realize that the JWs, in general, are very uncomfortable with mystery and will do what they can to get rid of mystery in their own religion.

The JWs’ and the Christian’s view of Mystery

In the JWs’ booklet entitled Should You Believe In the Trinity? one of the main arguments they make against the Trinity doctrine is that it is considered to be a mystery and, for the JWs, mystery is equivalent to mental confusion.  Notice what they say in this on-line booklet:

“However, contending that since the Trinity is such a confusing mystery, it must have come from divine revelation creates another major problem. Why? Because divine revelation itself does not allow for such a view of God: “God is not a God of confusion.”—1 Corinthians 14:33Revised Standard Version (RS). http://www.watchtower.org/e/ti/article_02.htm

Their reasoning is that since the Trinity doctrine is mysterious and confusing and difficult to understand that this means it is not a trustworthy revelation about the nature of God since God is “not a God of confusion.” So, for the JW, when a Christian refers to the Trinity as a profound mystery it is, in the JW’s mind, the Christian’s way of admitting that they are confused and do not understand the Trinity doctrine.  However, this is not what a Christian means when they say that the Trinity is a profound mystery.

First of all, the doctrine of the Trinity has been stated and re-stated in numerous official Church documents throughout history.  Therefore, anyone who has the ability to read can discover for themselves what it is the Catholic Church teaches about the Triune nature of God.  For example, here is what is said about the Trinity doctrine in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 253:

“The Trinity is one.  We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity.” The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God.” In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215):  “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.”

For an excellent explanation of the Trinity written by a Protestant Theologian, I recommend the book The Trinity: Evidence and Issues by Dr. Robert Morey.

These writings give a very clear explanation of what a Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, believes when they confess their understanding of the nature of God as being Triune.  Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, believe that God is multi-personal.  With each person of the Blessed Trinity- Father, Son, and Spirit- having all of the qualities of God.

However, Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, will admit that this understanding of the nature of God is beyond our complete grasp using human reason and experience alone.  Therefore, because of this, God’s very nature is mysterious to us.  We can explain the nature of God to some extent by analogy but we have difficulty totally understanding the nature of God using our human reason and human experience alone and because of this, it is a mystery.

Similarly, as a JW, I was taught that Jehovah has just always existed and that he never had a beginning and will never have an ending.  This statement of belief about the nature of God is very clearly stated by the JWs as something that we believed as JWs.  It was not confusing per se, but it was beyond my ability as a JW to grasp completely using my human reason and experience alone.  It was a belief that we as JWs accepted about Jehovah but it was and is very mysterious to JWs, not unlike the way in which the Triune nature of God is mysterious to Christians.  The JWs even admit this in their book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth page 44:

“Although it may be hard for our minds to understand, Jehovah never had a beginning and will never have an end.  He is the “King of eternity.” (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17)

Once I realized that the JWs, in their own way, accept certain mysteries about God’s nature, such as Jehovah’s having always existed, in a similar way that Christians accept certain mysteries about God’s nature, like the Tri-unity of persons, I realized that just because a certain doctrine might be difficult to understand completely based on human reason and experience alone that this was not a good reason to reject a doctrine as false.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tom Cabeen on September 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Great post, Jeff!

    Two comments: First, the NWT rendering “time indefinite” does not even do justice to the real meaning of eternity, which means “outside of time” rather than just “not too sure how much time is passed” which is communicated by the WT rendering.

    Second, regarding mystery: As a JW, I understood the concept of mystery to have more in common with a detective story than a profound statement about the nature of reality. I found a wonderful explanation of mystery in Frank Sheed’s A Map of Life (Full text here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/SPIRIT/MAPLIF.TXT). Here is what Sheed says:

    “As used by theologians the word [mystery] does not mean a truth of which we cannot know anything; it means a truth of which we cannot know everything. Mystery there must be once we touch the nature of God. He is the Infinite, the Immeasurable, the Limitless. We are finite, measured, limited on all sides. It is impossible that we should totally contain God in our minds so as totally to comprehend Him. But by His loving kindness we are endowed with a nature that can know something of Him—some little by its own powers, vastly more by what He tells us of Himself in the mysteries He has revealed.”

    Sheed goes on to give a wonderful concise definition of the Trinity. I highly recommend that all Catholics read at least one of Sheed’s works on theology, either A Map of Life, Theology for Beginners, or Theology and Sanity.

    Tom

    Reply

  2. Posted by Nicholas on October 11, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Indeed, the Witnesses conflate, “the church is hiding it from me,” with, “I am mortal and won’t get everything,” when they use mystery. What’s ironic is the idea of “new light” is dependent on the limits of the human mind.

    Reply

    • As usual, Nick, you make a great point about the JWs views on “new light” and their contradictory views on the limits of the human mind and their distaste for mystery.

      Reply

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