Posts Tagged ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’

God’s Extraordinarily Ordinary Means of Salvation

My wife and I attended the Mass at Holy Hill again this Sunday (www.holyhill.com).  The Old Testament Mass reading for the day was taken from 2 Kings 5:14-17.  It recounts the story of Naaman, a great military commander, who was a leper.  He had captured a little girl in a raid on Israel and this little girl became a servant to Naaman’s wife.

The little girl told Naaman’s wife that the prophet in Samaria, Elisha, could cure Naaman of his leprosy.  Naaman with his King’s permission sought out Elisha and Elisha told Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan River and he would be healed.

Naaman was furious.  It was well known that the waters of the Jordan River were not as pristine and healing as the rivers of Damascus and, besides, why would Elisha not come out and just call down the power of God over his skin and heal him?  Naaman wanted lots of flash and fanfare.  He wanted something extraordinary to happen to him.

Naaman’s servants reasoned with him and said that if Elisha had asked him to perform some extraordinary feat, that he would have done it without question and that it did not makes sense for Naaman to refuse to do something quite ordinary such as bathe in the Jordan just because it seemed to be beneath him.  After all, there was a chance that he would be healed of his leprosy.

Naaman bathed in the Jordan seven times and was healed.  He was quite thankful and begged Elisha to take his gifts of great wealth and when Elisha refused, Naaman promised to worship the True God.

I love this story in that it always reminds me of how God can make us Great Saints through ordinary means.  Like Naaman we expect God to ask us to do extraordinary things and sometimes the Lord does ask us to do those things.  However, for the vast majority of us we work out our salvation and grow in holiness by doing those ordinary things that God has called us to do depending on our vocation.

For parents, it is providing for their families not only materially but spiritually as well.  It is through wiping the noses of sick children, saying the family rosary, attending Mass regularly, and teaching the faith to those young ones.  For some this may seem all rather ordinary and somewhat tedious.  We may even ask, “How can I become a Great Saint if all I do all day is clean the house, cook the meals, and answer the same questions over and over again?”

This is not unlike Naaman’s reaction to Elisha’s request to bathe seven times in the muddy Jordan River of all places.  And yet, through this extraordinarily ordinary action of bathing, the Lord made Naaman clean.  Likewise, the Lord can remove the leprosy of sin from our souls through our faithfully performing the extraordinarily ordinary daily tasks as determined by the vocation to which Our Lord has called us.

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Placing God In A Box

Having come to the conclusion that God’s nature is infinitely above our nature as humans and that it should be expected that we would have difficulty completely grasping the nature of God based on our human reason and experience alone, I became open to the possibility that the doctrine of the Trinity could be the best explanation of the divine nature of Almighty God.

What still troubled me, however, was the question as to whether the JWs’ view of God was consistent with the understanding that God operated outside the confines of space and time as Catholic and Protestant Christians seemed to believe.  So, I looked for evidence of this in Watchtower publications and was somewhat surprised at what I found.

In the Watchtower publication entitled You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth there is a chapter entitled “God-Who Is He?”  In this chapter the JWs describe Jehovah, whom they consider to be Almighty God, as a single person, in contrast to the Catholic and Protestant views of Almighty God as multi-personal.  In addition, to saying that Almighty God, Jehovah, is a single person, they also say that Jehovah has a brain and a body.  Notice the following:

“While most people say they believe in God, many do not think of him as a real person.  Is he? Well, it can be seen that where there is intelligence there is a mind.  For example, we may say, ‘I cannot make up my mind.’ And we know where there is a mind there is a brain in a body of a definite shape. So, then, the great mind responsible for all creation belongs to the great Person, Almighty God.  Although he does not have a material body, he has a spiritual one.  A spirit person has a body?  Yes, the Bible says: “If there is a physical body, there is a spiritual one.” -1 Corinthians 15:44; John 4:24 page 36

What are the ramifications of the belief that God has a mind, with a brain, and a “spirit body” of some definite shape?  Notice the JWs’ answer:

“Since God is a person with a spiritual body, he must have a place to live.  The Bible tells us that the heavens are God’s “established place of dwelling.” (1 Kings 8:43)  Also, we are told that “Christ entered…into the heavens itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24) Some humans will be rewarded with life in heaven with God, at which time they will receive spirit bodies.  They will see God, the Bible says, and also be like him. (1 John 3:2) This, too shows that God is a person, and that he has a body.”-You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth pages 36, 37

So, according to the reasoning of the JWs, since God is a person, he must have a mind, and, therefore, he must have a brain in a “spirit body” of some definite shape.  Since God has a body with a definite shape, this means that God needs a place somewhere in the universe to live.  Now, in this book, the JWs simply say that God lives in the heavens.  However, in years past they were much more specific.  Notice the following:

“Some, however, believe that they have found the direction of it to be the Pleiades, and particularly Alcyone, the central one of the renowned Pleiadic stars. To the distinguished German astronomer, Prof. J. H. Maedler, belongs the honor of having made this discovery. Alcyone, then, as far as science has been able to perceive, would seem to be the ‘midnight throne’ in which the whole system of gravitation has its central seat, and from which the Almighty governs his universe.”- Thy Kingdom Come published by the Watchtower Society 1903 Edition page 327.

“The constellation of the Pleiades is a small one compared with others which scientific instruments disclose to the wondering eyes of man.  But the greatness in size of other stars or planets is small when compared with Pleiades in importance, because the Pleiades is the place of the eternal throne of God.”-Reconcilation published by the Watchtower Society in 1928 on page 14.

So, at one point in their history, the JWs believed that Jehovah actually lived on the star Alcyone in the Pleiades constellation.  However, in the November 15th, 1953 issue of The Watchtower they said the following:

“Incidentally, Pleiades can no longer be considered the center of the universe and it would be unwise for us to try to fix God’s throne as being at a particular spot in the universe.”-page 703

So, while JWs no longer teach that Jehovah the person who has a brain in a ‘spirit body of a definite shape’ lives on the star known as Alcyone in the Pleiades constellation they do believe that Jehovah lives someplace within the created universe.  This, to me, seems to indicate that JWs believe that God lives within the bounds of the created universe and, therefore, within the bounds of space and time.  The JWs recognize the box into which they have placed Jehovah when they say the following:

“But someone may ask: ‘If God is a real person who lives at a certain place in heaven, how can he see everything that happens everywhere? And how can his power be felt in every part of the universe?’ (2 Chronicles 16:9)  The fact that God is a person in no way limits his power or greatness.  Nor should it lessen our respect for Him. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13) To help us to understand this, consider the far-reaching effects of an electric power plant.

A power plant has a certain location in or near a city.  But its electricity is distributed over all that area, providing light and power.  It is similar with God.  He is in the heavens. (Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 123:1) Yet his holy spirit, which is his invisible active force, can be felt everywhere, over all the universe.  By means of his holy spirit God created the heavens, the earth and all living things. (Psalm 33:6; Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:30) To create these things, God did not need to be present in body.  He can send out his spirit, his active force, to do whatever he wants even though he is far away.  What a marvelous God!-Jeremiah 10:12; Daniel 4:35.”-You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth page 37

So, for the JW, God is truly far away and only interacts with us via his impersonal active force which is what the JWs consider to be the holy spirit.  In addition, for the JWs, God is not omnipresent but is confined to some place in the heavens but his power his merely felt by us via this impersonal active force much like electricity is felt from a local power plant.  This view of God is very different from what Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, believe about the nature of God.  For Catholic and Protestant Christians, God is immanent in that He is everywhere and transcendent in that He cannot be confined to space and time like finite human beings can.

At this point, I was unsure as to what view of God to accept.  However, I was now realizing that the extreme difference in understanding about the nature of God results in some very different understandings of how God acts toward his creatures as well.  And, I was curious to see what scriptures might support the Catholic and Protestant view that the holy spirit is a person.

Humbly Doing What We Ought to Have Done

Today, my wife and I attended the ordinary form of the Mass at the The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill (www.holyhill.com).

It is a wonderful place for meditation and renewal.  It was most fitting that today’s Gospel reading for the Mass was taken from Luke 17:5-10.  In today’s Gospel, the Apostles asked the Lord to “increase our faith”.  The Lord said to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

This comment is a rather impressive description of how powerful faith can be.  Our Lord tells us that if we have faith that is as small in size as a mustard seed that it can uproot a tree and replant it in the sea of all places.  However, we are so weak in faith in most cases that we are not even able to develop faith even of this small size-the size of a mustard seed- on our own.  After all, how many of us have accomplished this feat lately?

Prior to His comments on the size of one’s faith, Our Lord reminds us that we are weak and subject to great temptations and that if we were to give ourselves over to our temptations so as to create such scandal that it would stumble others, it would be better for us if a millstone were hung around our neck and we were cast into the sea.

After his comments on the size of our faith, we are reminded how we treat our servants and those who work for us.  We really do not reward someone for something that they should have done in their role as servants anyway.  Likewise, the things that Our Lord commands us to do are really things that we should be doing anyway if we are to live out our lives as good Christians.  And, how often do we feel as though we are wonderful people when we do something good for others?  How often do we feel as though we are superior to those individuals who we believe may not be living the life of Christ as well as we think we are?  How often have we forgotten that there, but for the grace of God, go I, when we see others fall into temptation and sin?

Since becoming Catholic, I am always amazed at Our Lord’s generosity and love towards us.  He commands us to do good things toward others and yet He gives us the power through the Sacraments to actually fulfill those commands because on our own we would surely fail.  And, here He reminds us that we must cooperate with the grace that He gives us in order to even do those things that we ought to do as faithful servants of His.   Let us remain humble in the sight of God and pray for ourselves and others that we may all grow in our faith through the generosity of Our Lord.

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.

Prisoners of His Divine Love

In today’s Epistle reading for the Extraordinary form of the Mass from Ephesians 4:1-6, St. Paul exhorts us to live out the vocation to which we have been called.  What is this vocation?  It is to be a Prisoner of the Lord and, therefore, a Prisoner of His Divine Love.

St. Paul lists how we ought to behave toward one another because of our one baptism into the life of Christ.  We are to be humble and mild, peaceful and caring, towards others- including our enemies.

The Gospel reading for today in Matthew 22:34-46 gives us the words of Christ Himself, the very one who through His life, death, and resurrection has captured us as Prisoners of His Divine Love.

In response to a question from the Pharisees about which commandment of God is the greatest, He tells us it is the commandment to love the Lord, our God, completely with our whole soul and mind and our neighbor as ourself.  A task that is impossible for us without the help of God’s grace.

It is through our baptism and our willingness to be lead captive by Our Lord into His Life and His Love that we are able to show genuine love for others. We receive the ability to love as Our Lord loves by receiving the graces He gives us through our experiences in life and ultimately through the Sacraments.

The Pharisees, like us if left to our own devices, liked to follow rules for the purpose of making themselves right before God which is why they asked our Lord the question about the greatest of all the commandments.  They had, as it is so easy for us humans to do, forgotten that the Law is not an end in and of itself that somehow makes someone righteous but it is a teacher leading us to discover our need to be captured by the Divine Lawgiver who is also our Divine Lover.

Our Divine Captor, Jesus Christ  took on human nature and emptied out Himself completely in love to the point of dying on the Cross and this excruciating and most cursed way of dying has, ironically, become a blessing to all.  And, we, as His followers through our baptism, enter into His Life and Death which becomes not only an example of a Life of Love to follow but also the source of the grace and power we receive from God to actually love others unconditionally.

For those who are willing, the graces we receive from Our Lord through the Sacraments that He provides to us through His Church, can take us captive and make us Prisoners of His Love which compels and aids us to love others as Jesus loves us.  This helps us to become better priests, religious, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, employers, employees, citizens and rulers.  It reminds us that as Christians we owe it to others to love them as Christ first loved us……and remember Christ loved us so much that he stretched out His arms upon a cross.  Just think how different the world would be if we all lived out our vocations as Prisoners of His Divine Love.