There are some days that are just harder than others to wrap ones mind around. As of last night, we received word that we passed another merchant account risk review (praise God); we’re still in our million dollar short-term rental; and with the big fancy kitchen we’re eating better than we have in a long-time. Its been nice to have space to spread-out, cook, it just feels like home – even if we are moving again today or tomorrow, the temporary luxury has been a nice reprieve from our daily struggles.
Today, the heaviness in my heart is not the struggles/uncertainties we bear with but rather as a distant spectator to the potential end of someone else’s life – my sister-in-law. Over the course of the past year, Karen has shared bits and pieces of God’s truth, his love, his forgiveness, and once again, a couple nights ago she laid down an impassioned gospel presentation through tears and pleading; Chrissy dismissed it and simply continued to articulate her feelings of an inevitable despair and what sounds like hopelessness. It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to watch my wife wrestle with a situation outside her control that carries such enormous significance; it’s heartbreaking to watch someone close to you reject the truth that saves; it’s heartbreaking to watch someone so enclosed in darkness they can’t even imagine light.
It’s heartbreaking to watch someone give up in their suffering and hopelessness when hope and joy is so close. Yet, mixed with the feeling of heartbreak is frustration with the insidious and poisonous theology presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses that leads a person like Chrissy into despair, confusion, and unless by the Grace of God, death. Watching this situation unfold has put the evil genius of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization on full display and has made me realize that it is a purposefully designed religion of death and not one of simple error. A few days ago, Chrissy told Karen that her doctors want her to consider a liver transplant which would improve her quality of life and extend her life; to which, Chrissy’s first hesitation is the issue that she will need a blood transfusion for a successful operation. You see, JWs will not accept a blood transfusion, it’s a huge deal to members, and entire families have been shamed and removed from the organization over it. But, let’s set aside for a moment the issue of blood and the potential medical solution available to Chrissy; let’s focus on the spiritual side of this issue where you’ll see there is no hope there either.
Ask any Jehovah’s Witness if they’re sure they will be saved and you will be met with immediate disappointment. They have no sure hope. To them, God’s promise is conditional not on the saving works of Christ, but on their ability to somehow satisfy God through obedience, works, and a hope in themselves that they’ve done enough. This is a false gospel; a different gospel. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has laid down so many lies, half-truths, and deceptive stories to reframe biblical truth to fit their own narrative that when speaking with a Jehovah’s Witness you’ll quickly realize that they have been purposefully inoculated from the truth of God. For every bit of biblical truth you share with a Jehovah’s Witness you can faintly hear the words of the devil being whispered in their other ear, “Hath God said?” I’m not describing the types of adiaphora conversations that divide denominations or even cause occasional local debates between pew rows; if the discussion is about Christ you should know that a JW isn’t going to agree – and of course, if they have a different Christ it’s only natural they would have a different Gospel.
The immediate fear with Chrissy is that because she adheres to an annihilationist view of God’s punishment, she, like other annihilationists embrace this punishment. In fact, when you talk to Chrissy, you realize that annihilationism isn’t punishment at all, rather it’s almost a desirable conclusion to her exhaustion, pain, and hopelessness. Which sadly, is a common conclusion among Jehovah’s Witnesses who have committed suicide due to organization lead shaming, ostracizing, and their systematically taught hopelessness. You could hear the surprise in Chrissy’s voice when Karen said, “Chrissy, nobody spoke more about hell than Jesus…it’s a real place.” The idea of punishment, described as a lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15) and eternally separated from a Holy God is vile to annihilationists and simply isn’t compatible with their view of God and irreconcilable to their concept of God’s love. In their view, God’s punishment isn’t all that bad, and that is exactly the motivation of the rejection of scripture that describes an unimaginable punishment replaced with a less severe annihilation leading to non-existence.
Of course, because of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view of God’s punishment it has given them a reckless liberty to tinker with salvation too. Like all religions that swim in the same pool as Pelagius and embrace some form of semi-Pelagianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses are heavy into a works-based righteousness. Tell a Jehovah’s Witness that they are, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) And the knee-jerk response you’ll hear the abridged, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) To this day, I don’t think a single Jehovah’s Witness has read Chapter 2 of James let alone the other 4 chapters. The problem with accepting a works-based soteriology that it doesn’t leave room for the sick to find salvation. You can hear it in Chrissy’s resignation that even if she could pursue Christ there is nothing she can do… I don’t know who many times I’ve heard Karen tell Chrissy, “Chrissy, you don’t need to get right with God first, you can’t get right with God first! God will meet you right where you are!”
Soteriology is a mess with Jehovah’s Witnesses because they’ve regulated Jesus as a footnote, memorialized annually for a brief period, then set back on the shelf in place of a God they’ve named Jehovah. So, as you might imagine, when you tell Chrissy,”Jesus will save you, he loves you, he did this for you…” It’s like you’re speaking a different language. In her mind, Jehovah made (in all sense of that word) Jesus save some people who through obedience deserve salvation. Every time you tell a Jehovah’s Witness that, “it is by grace we are saved,” they hear, “it is by grace/obedience/luck that we are saved.”