Lesson 7 in the Jehovah’s Witness study book Enjoy Life Forever! is titled “What is Jehovah Like?” I approached my meeting with “Craig,” my JW friend, with some nervousness. I knew we would run into some disagreements with this topic. If found myself trying to straddle a great gulf between speaking my views and risking Craig breaking things off, or compromising and having no influence on him. The governing bully (oops, I mean governing body) of Jehovah’s Witnesses leave little room (or none) for any sailing in between those two docks. The rhetoric is strong for JW’s to have no dealings, and thus no conversations, with those who disagree with their views. Unless a candidate shows signs of teachability (that is, complete acceptance of everything they teach), they are admonished to cut off the relationship. My nervousness was compounded when I saw that again Craig had invited another of his elders to join us.
So how would I walk the tightrope? (And can I mix in any more metaphors?) Well, I decided to express my views in the form of questions. It’s a good practice with JW’s. Rather than coming across as “No, you’re wrong,” it says, “Can you help me understand your view?”
The first section asks “Why are we unable to see God?” They are right to teach that God is a spirit, without a physical body. I used that as an opportunity to ask a question, saying, “I was talking with an old-school JW, and he still believes that God has a body, but he called it a ‘spirit-body.’ Has the view on that changed? Does God have a spirit-body, and how is that different from a physical body?” That question stumped both of my JW friends. They hemmed and hawed, sometimes sounding like their answer was yes, and sometimes no. There was no consistency. They both said that more research would be needed to adequately answer that question. “Yeah, get back to me on that,” I responded, giving them an out for now.
Sections 2 and 3 had no content that I strongly disagreed with, so we just went through it without any drama.
Section 4 was “Holy spirit–God’s active force.” Oh my Lord, help! How do I express my STRONG disagreement with this, without alienating them? Craig read to me the question, “So do you think holy spirit is a person, or is it God’s active force? Why do you say that?” and he waited for my response. I paused, thinking and praying, trying not to panic. I began with “Well, I don’t think you’ll agree with my response.” In the silence that followed, the tension was real. “Because,” I added, “As I read Paul’s letters, the Holy Spirit can be grieved, and as I read the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit speaks to the believers, guiding and directing them. I believe the Holy Spirit is the presence of God himself.”
“Interesting,” said the elder. I give him credit for not undergoing the expected Jekyll and Hyde transformation. I think what saved the conversation was that I did not claim that the Holy Spirit is the third member of the triune God (aka trinity), which is what I do believe, but did not want to go there, at least not yet. I merely described the Holy Spirit as the presence of God. I’m thankful that they didn’t press me to see if my inner trinitarian would come out. Thankfully, Craig went on to the next paragraph, which talked about how Jehovah used the Holy Spirit to accomplish two amazing things: Creation and inspiration of scripture. I picked up inspiration and ran with it, mentioning that it wasn’t talking about biblical interpretation (which some groups claim), but that the Holy Spirit inspired the original writing of scripture. Scripture didn’t come about from the writers’ own understanding or ideas, but were directed to write what Jehovah wanted them to, even though their own style and personality comes through. Craig and Elder seemed content with my understanding and enthusiasm about the material.
We went through the rest of the study in a friendly and pleasant manner. When we got to the end and Craig again asked me the question “What is the Holy Spirit,” I simply reiterated what I had said before, but with understated simplicity: “The presence of God.” Period. Nothing more. Sometimes short answers are best–it can avoid confrontation, while giving the JW’s something to remember and think about.
Next week will be about becoming Jehovah’s friend. Just wait until you hear what I did with that. (Unashamed teaser!)