[While the example I use here relates to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the situation is by no means limited to that religious group; nor is it restricted to matters involving religious beliefs.]
Having now spent a few years trying to get my friends in the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses to reason on the Scriptures, a pattern has emerged. Those who have known me for years, who perhaps looked up to me as an elder, and who are aware of my “accomplishments” within the Organization, are perplexed by my new attitude. I no longer fit the mold in which they have cast me. Try as I might to convince them that I’m the same person I’ve always been, that I’ve always loved truth, and that it is the love of truth that is moving me to share what I’ve learned, they insist on seeing something else; something either demeaning or sinister. The reaction I continue to see is consistent, involving one or more of the following:
- I’ve been stumbled.
- I’ve been influenced by the poisonous reasoning of apostates.
- I’ve given in to pride and independent thinking.
No matter how much I insist that my new attitude is a result of Bible research, my words have the same impact as raindrops on a windshield. I’ve tried to put the ball in their court to no avail. For example, using the Other Sheep doctrine—a belief wholly unsupported in Scripture—I’ve asked them to please show me even one scripture to support it. The response has been to ignore that request and go back to one of the three aforementioned points while reciting a WT mantra about loyalty.
For example, my wife and I were visiting the home of a couple who share our newfound freedom. A mutual friend from years back dropped in with his family. He’s a nice brother, an elder, but he tends to pontificate. One can only put up with so much of this, so at one point during one of his unsolicited monologues about the wondrous work the Organization is doing, I brought up the issue that the doctrine of the other sheep cannot be supported in Scripture. He disagreed of course, and when I asked him for the Scriptures to support it, he just said dismissively, “I know there’s proof for it,” and then went on without drawing breath to talk about other things he “knows” such as the “fact” that we are the only ones doing the preaching of the good news and that the end is very near. When I pressed him again for even a single proof scripture, he quoted John 10:16. I countered that verse 16 only proves there are other sheep, a fact I was not disputing. I asked for proof that the other sheep are not children of God and have an earthly hope. He assured me that he knew there was proof, then went right back in to the standard catch-all about being loyal to Jehovah and His Organization.
One can always keep pressing for Bible proof, essentially backing the person into a corner, but that isn’t the way of the Christ, and besides, it only results in hurt feelings or angry outbursts; so I desisted. A couple of days later, he called the wife of the couple we were visiting, because he views her as his little sister, to warn her about me. She tried to reason with him, but he just talked over her, falling back to the aforementioned mantra. In his mind, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the one true religion. To him, this is not a belief, but a fact; something beyond questioning.
I would say from recent evidence that resistance to the truth is just as common among Jehovah’s Witnesses as it is with people of any other religion I’ve encountered in my preaching work over the past 60 years. What is it that closes off a person’s mind so that they will give no consideration to the evidence, dismissing it out of hand?
I’m sure there are many reasons for this, and I won’t try to get into them all, but the one that stands out to me now is that of confusing belief with knowledge.
To illustrate, how would you react if someone you know well were to tell you that he has found proof that the earth is flat and rides on the back of a giant turtle? You’d probably think he was joking. If you saw that he was not, your next thought would be that he’d lost his mind. You might look for other reasons to explain his actions, but it is highly unlikely that you’d consider for even a moment the possibility that he’d actually found proof.
The reason for this attitude of yours is not that you are closed-minded, but rather that you know for a certainly that the earth is a sphere orbiting the Sun. Things we know are stored in a place in the mind where they are not examined. We might think of this as a room were files are kept. The door to this room only admits files moving in. There is no exit door. To get files out, one has to break down walls. This is the filing room where we store facts.
Things we believe go elsewhere in the mind, and the door to that filing room swings both ways, allowing free ingress and egress.
Jesus’ promise that ‘the truth shall set you free’ is predicated on the premise that at least some truth is attainable. But the pursuit of truth naturally involves being able to discern the difference between facts and beliefs. In our search for truth, then, it follows that we should be hesitant to move things from the Beliefs room to the Facts room, unless it has been clearly proven to be such. The mind of the true follower of Christ should never allow for a black-and-white, fact-or-fiction dichotomy, where the Beliefs room is small to non-existent.
Unfortunately, for many who claim to follow Christ, this is not the case. Often, the Facts room of the brain is very large, dwarfing the Beliefs room. In fact, a good number of people are very uncomfortable with the Beliefs room’s existence. They like to keep it empty. It’s more of a way-station where items remain only temporarily, awaiting transport to and permanent storage in the filing cabinets of the Facts room. These people love a well-stocked Facts room. It gives them a warm, fuzzy feeling.
For most Jehovah’s Witnesses—not to mention the vast majority of members of every other religion I’ve known—almost all their religious beliefs are stored in the Facts filing room. Even when they talk of one of their teachings as a belief, their mind knows that is just another word for fact. The only time when a fact file folder gets removed from the Facts room is when they get authorization from upper management to do so. In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this authorization comes from the Governing Body.
To tell a Jehovah’s Witness that the Bible teaches the other sheep are children of God with the reward of serving in the Kingdom of the heavens as kings is like telling him that the earth is flat. It cannot be true, because he knows for a fact that the other sheep will live under the kingdom on a paradise earth. He won’t examine the evidence any more than you would contemplate the possibility that the earth is actually flat and supported by a slow-moving reptile with a shell.
I am not trying to oversimplify the process. More is involved. We are complex creatures. Nevertheless, the human brain has been designed by our Creator as an engine of self-evaluation. We have a built-in conscience made for that purpose. With that in view, there must be a part of the brain that takes in the statement that, for instance, there is no scriptural proof for a particular doctrine. That part will access the brain’s filing system and if it comes up empty, the character of the person takes over—what the Bible would refer to as the “spirit of man” within us.[i] We are motivated by love. However, is that love facing inward or outward? Pride is self-love. Love of truth is selfless. If we do not love truth, then we cannot allow our minds to countenance even the possibility that what we know as fact might, in reality, be mere belief—and false belief at that.
So the brain is commanded by the ego not to open that file folder. A diversion is needed. Hence, the person presenting inconvenient truths to us has to be dismissed in some way. We reason:
- He is only saying these things because he is a weak person who has allowed himself to be stumbled. He’s just out to get back at those who offended him. Thus, we can dismiss what he says without having to examine it.
- Or he is a weak-minded individual whose reasoning ability has been poisoned by the lies and slander of apostates. Therefore, we should distance ourselves from him and not even listen to his reasoning so that we don’t become poisoned as well.
- Or, he is a prideful individual full of his own importance, merely trying to get us to follow him by abandoning our loyalty to Jehovah, and of course, his one true organization.
Such facile reasoning comes easily and instantly to a mind thoroughly convinced of its own knowledge of truth. There are methods to overcome this, but these are not the methods which the spirit employs. The spirit of God does not force nor coerce belief. We are not looking to convert the world at this time. Right now, we are only looking to find those whom the spirit of God is drawing out. Jesus only had three and a half years for his ministry, so he minimized the time he spent with people with hardened hearts. I’m approaching 70, and I might have less time left to me than Jesus had at the start of his ministry. Or I could live another 20 years. I have no way of knowing, but I do know that my time is finite and precious. Therefore—borrowing an analogy from Paul—“the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air.” I find it wise to follow the attitude Jesus had when his words fell on deaf years.
“Therefore they began to say to him: “Who are you?” Jesus said to them: “Why am I even speaking to YOU at all?” (John 8:25)
We are only human. We are naturally distressed when those with whom we have a special relationship do not accept the truth. It can cause us considerable vexation, pain and suffering. Paul felt this way concerning those with whom he shared a special kinship.
“I am telling the truth in Christ; I am not lying, since my conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit, 2 that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were separated as the cursed one from the Christ in behalf of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh, 4 who, as such, are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the sacred service and the promises; 5 to whom the forefathers belong and from whom the Christ [sprang] according to the flesh. . .” (Ro 9:1-5)
While Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Catholics, or Baptists, or whatever denomination of Christendom you care to mention, are not special in the way the Jews were, nevertheless, they are special to us if we have labored with them for a lifetime. So as Paul felt toward his own, we will often feel toward ours.
That being said, we must also recognize that while we can lead a man to reason, we cannot make him think. There will come a time when the Lord will reveal himself and remove all doubt. When all the deception and self-deception of men will be exposed irrefutably.
“. . .For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest, neither anything carefully concealed that will never become known and never come into the open.” (Lu 8:17)
However, for now our concern is to be used by the Lord in assisting those chosen by God to make up the body of Christ. Each of us brings a gift to the table. Let us use it to support, encourage, and love those who make up the temple. (1Pe 4:10; 1Co 3:16-17) The salvation of the rest of the world must wait on the revealing of the children of God. (Ro 8:19) Only when all of us have had our own obedience fully carried out by being tested and refined even to death, can we take a role in the Kingdom of God. Then we can look to the rest.
“. . .we are holding ourselves in readiness to inflict punishment for every disobedience, as soon as YOUR own obedience has been fully carried out.” (2Co 10:6)