Sunday, August 2, 2009

An Evangelical Report from a JW District Convention - Day Three

4This morning I began to read "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom on the way there and after I arrived. We left later (6:40 AM--I really prefer not knowing that there is such a time...) and so didn't have to wait quite as long for the seating areas to open up. I had another conversation with Zedekiah, this one mostly dealing with intelligent design. My role was chiefly to smile and nod politely. He talked about the golden ratio in nature first, and then about a discussion he'd had with a biologist in which, instead of talking science where he knew he'd be out of his field, he argued that evolution couldn't be true because if humanity were biologically connected to animals, then they would in some sense be our sinless peers and equals; but if this were the case, then animal sacrifices would suffice to take away sin, thereby rendering Christ's ransom sacrifice pointless. Yet from the Scriptures (Hebrews 9:12-14) that animal sacrifices did not suffice, and so evolution cannot be true. This line of reasoning struck me as very interesting. As a theistic evolutionist, I think it's flawed at several points, of course, because no theistic evolutionist is bound to believe that animals are in any sense the peers of mankind or equal in value to mankind. But, still, an interesting approach, and one I'll probably remember for quite some time to come. Next he related a conversation with an archaeologist neighbor about design. Basically, Zedekiah mentioned that he was a believer, and the archaeologist--who'd recently uncovered hundreds of arrowheads in an excavation, gave a rant about how silly religion is. Zedekiah responded with, basically, "Okay, now here's what I don't like about you people"--that got the guy's attention!--and then said that the neighbor would be willing to put his life on the line for the belief that the few notches in a stone constituted it as an artifact rather than a natural formation, and yet the human body, showing vastly more reason to infer design, is dismissed without a second thought. The neighbor's sole response was, "Well, you have a point there." Zedekiah also related something purportedly taught him by a geology student about Proverbs 2:4 ("If you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it"--NWT), to the effect that whereas gold ingots were easily discovered beneath the ground at that time, silver, being an alloy, had to be mined with painstaking difficulty beneath the surface in veins. In much the same way, while some treasures of God's Word are easily gained at the surface like gold ingots, other riches require deep searching beneath the surface. Also, before the morning sessions began, I managed to finish the first sixteen chapters of "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom.

After some morning music at 9:20 AM, the audience was invited to rise for song #6 ("Declare the Everlasting Good News", cf. Revelation 14:6-8), with the following second verse, which always seems to be the interesting one:

And then what does a second angel loud declare
That we, Jehovah's Witnesses, therein may share?
He tells about the fall of Babylon the Great,
That soon destruction by our God will be her fate.
And so Jehovah God commands that we proclaim
His vengeance and the vindication of his name.
The field in which we preach and teach is great indeed;
But God's own angel in midheaven takes the lead.

After a corporate prayer, the first ten-minute talk, "Keeping in Expectation Day by Day", was delivered by Brother Dorsey at 9:40 AM. It started off with an exhortation to "keep our Bible-based expectations foremost in mind", after which Proverbs 4:19 ("The way of the wicked ones is like the gloom; they have not known at what they keep stumbling"--NWT) was cited to show how non-JWs are clueless as to what comes. Many have anxiety and anticipate a dismal future, he said, but after citing 2 Timothy 3:1 ("But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here"--NWT) he stated that "we live in joyful expectation of the fulfillment of Jehovah's promises soon to come". Next referencing Habakkuk 2:2-3 ("And Jehovah proceeded to answer me and to say: 'Write down [the] vision, and set [it] out plainly upon tablets, in order that the one reading aloud from it may do so fluently. For [the] vision is yet for the appointed time, and it keeps painting on to the end, and it wil not tell a lie. Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late"--NWT), Br. Dorsey assured the audience that "Jehovah's fulfillment will be on time". After that came Ephesians 6:11 ("Put on the complete suit of armor from God that YOU may be able to stand firm against the machinations of the Devil"--NWT) and the claim that "Bible-based expectation is part of our spiritual armor". Br. Dorsey said that Examine the Scriptures Daily is an invaluable aid in daily worship for Jehovah's Witnesses. After referencing Mark 13:33 ("Keep looking, keep awake, for YOU do not know when the appointed time is"--NWT), he noted that with Examining the Scriptures Daily, the text is not dealt with in a "perfunctory way", but rather attention is given to an application. A demonstration was then done on stage, using Isaiah 54:17 ("'Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in judgment you will condemn. This is the hereditary possession of the servants of Jehovah, and heir righteousness is from me,' is the utterance of Jehovah"--NWT). Returning to the talk, Br. Dorsey quoted Isaiah 64:4 ("And from time long ago none have heard, nor have any given ear, nor has an eye itself seen a God, except you, that acts for the one that keeps in expectation of him"--NWT) to the effect that Jehovah acts on behalf of the expectant; and he concluded by urging the audience to keep on the watch for the "fast-approaching end of this system of things".

That was a fairly short talk, but what came next... was not. Time for the morning symposium, "Keep Your Eyes on the Things Unseen", this one in nine parts! Very eschatological in subject matter, too. I just wish they'd started with some earlier examples, but perhaps given their theology, that might not have been possible. Anyway, the first section was "The Ten Horns ... Will Hate the Harlot", and was delivered by a fellow whose last name might've been Greek, and I'm sure I didn't spell it correctly in my notes. After citing 2 Corinthians 4:18 ("While we keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting"--NWT), he said that the things unseen pertain to "everlasting life", whether in heaven for the anointed class or on earth for the great crowd. The symposium was thus going to consider a pivotal set of "nine still-unseen future events". After citing Romans 13:13 ("As in the daytime let us walk decently, not in revelries and drunken bouts, not in illicit intercourse and loose conduct, not in strife and jealousy"--NWT), he said that the first unseen event was the "attack against the harlot". His first assertion was that "Babylon the Great" signifies the "world empire of false religion". Turning to Revelation 17:16 ("And then the ten horns that you saw, and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire"--NWT), he stated very confidently that the "wild beast" is none other than the United Nations and that the "ten horns" are "all present political powers that support the wild beast", evidently regardless of number. I wondered how exactly the U.N. thesis squares with verse 8, in which "the wild beast that you saw was, and is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss"; he didn't deign to cover that, but it's covered in Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, which cleverly asserts on page 247 that the beast "was" in the sense that it took the earlier form of the League of Nations--earlier from the prophetic perspective of the present day, not from John's own perspective in history. The speaker next took us to verse 17 ("For God put [it] into their hearts to carry out his thought, even to carry out [their] one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God will have been accomplished"--NWT), noting that their assault on the harlot is God's plan. Thus, the political rulers "will be tools of God for the destruction of all false religion". Next came a brief demonstration of a Witness talking about false religion being very prominent in the news; he said that September 11th really packed the Kingdom Halls, but that eventually the crowds subsided. Witnesses are, rather, to serve out of godly devotion. The speaker claimed that already a partial fulfillment is visible in the decline of religion. Citing Revelation 16:12 ("And the sixth one poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun"--NWT), he explained that these "waters" are the "millions of people that are supporting Babylon the Great", in keeping with Revelation 17:15 ("And he says to me: 'The waters that you saw, where the harlot is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues'"--NWT). "World War I, that's when false religion lost its firm grip," he noted, and then asked the audience to consider the fall of ancient Babylon, which involved the diversion of its protecting waters. The waters did not totally dry up, but they were insufficient to provide protection for Babylon when the attack came. So, too, will it be at the end of this system of things. In Revelation 18:7-8 ("To the extent that she glorified herself and lived in shameless luxury, to that extent give her torment and mourning. For in her heart she keeps saying, "I sit a queen, and am no widow, and I shall never see mourning.' That is why in one day her plagues will come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be completely burned with fire, because Jehovah God, who judged her, is strong"--NWT), the harlot feels lofty but will be abandoned at the proper time, and thus Jehovah's Witnesses are told that "by keeping on the watch, we will be ready when the great tribulation strikes".

The second talk of the symposium, again by a speaker whose name I didn't even try to jot down, was entitled "The Nations Will Have to Acknowledge Jehovah". It began by asserting that when false religion falls, Satan will be enraged at Jehovah's Witnesses' security, and so will launch an assault against them in particular. This, he explained, is the conflict described in Ezekiel 38, in which the political powers persecute JWs. He made particular reference to verses 2 and 15-16 ("Son of man, set your face against Gog [of] the land of Magog, the head chieftain of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him. . . . And you will certainly come from your place, from the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great congregation, even a numerous military force. And you will be bound to come up against my people Israel, like clouds to cover the land. In the final part of the days it will occur, and I shall certainly bring you against my land, for the purpose that the nations may know me when I sanctify myself in you before their eyes, O Gog"--NWT), explaining that the "Gog" of this passage is none other than "Satan the devil after he was ousted from heaven", which took place in 1914 C.E. as described in Revelation 12. Magog, then, is where "Satan is now confined", namely the nations of the earth. The "peoples" of this chapter are the "militarized nations under Gog's control", and the fulfillment of these prophetic words are "immanent". Jehovah's Witnesses must then focus not on their own salvation, but on Jehovah's name and sovereignty, as shown in verse 23 ("And I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah"--NWT). The "primary concern is the sanctification of Jehovah's holy name and the vindication of his righteous sovereignty", and "our spiritual anchor is the hope of everlasting life", he explained, citing Hebrews 6:19 ("This [hope] we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm, and it enters within the curtain"--NWT). The speaker asked the audience, "Do you see yourself there?", and urged them to have "crystal-clear spiritual vision of Jehovah's promises". Loyalty is rewarded by everlasting life, which--as the speaker cleverly remarked--is "a real stimulus package!" "In the future, the message that we preach may become stronger," he noted. Just what we need--Jehovah's Witnesses getting even more aggressive. He explained that in Revelation 16:21 ("And a great hail with every stone about the weight of a talent descended out of heaven upon the men, and the men blasphemed God due to the plague of hail, because the plague of it was unusually great"--NWT), the "hailstones" are the preaching activity of Jehovah's Witnesses. (Would it be inappropriate for me to highlight that they just compared their own preaching to an unusually great plague? *cough*... thou hast said it.) Anyway, the speaker then referenced the Pharaoh of the Exodus, saying that many would likewise harden their hearts. In Exodus 14:25 ("And he kept taking wheels off their chariots so that they were driving them with difficulty; and the Egyptians began to say: 'Let us flee from any contact with Israel, because Jehovah certainly fights for them against the Egyptians.'"--NWT), the Egyptians acknowledge Jehovah's power, and just three verses later ("And the waters kept coming back. Finally they covered the war chariots and the cavalrymen belonging to all of Pharaoh's military forces and who had gone into the sea after them. Not so much as one among them was let remain"--NWT), the Bible describes the utter destruction of all opposition. Thus, the nations who attack the anointed "will be forced to acknowledge Jehovah", and will then be wiped off the face of the earth.

The third talk, delivered by another Brother Newton, was "'All Those Nations' Will Be Crushed", dealing with Armageddon. Br. Newton started off by exclaiming that "the great tribulation is rapidly approaching", when all governments would launch an all-out attack on Jehovah's Witnesses. Zechariah 2:8 ("For this is what Jehovah of armies has said, 'Following after [the] glory he has sent me to the nations that were despoiling YOU people; for he that is touching YOU is touching my eyeball.'"--NWT) was cited as Jehovah's opinion of this action, and the speaker then turned to Daniel 2:44 ("And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite"--NWT), which describes the "Battle of Armageddon" as the "climax of the great tribulation" in Matthew 24. Br. Newton then went into greater detail on the image, saying that "all these kingdoms" were the governments of the image. The four metals represent "successive world powers". The "head of gold" is the "Babylonian Empire", while the "arms of silver" are the "Medo-Persian Empire", which is lesser because it was less significantly used by Jehovah. The copper thighs are Greece under Alexander the Great, while the "legs of iron" are the "Roman Empire", which developed into the British Empire and joined with the United States to form the "Anglo-American dual power". The clay mingled with iron, then, signifies "all co-existing governments at the time of the end". All of these, then, have "already made their appearance", indicating that the stage is set for the final showdown. The "mountain" from which the stone is cut, is "Jehovah's universal sovereignty", while the stone is the kingdom that was established in 1914 C.E. Satan is aware of the impending end and so wishes to distract Jehovah's people. Br. Newton had the audience turn to Revelation 16:13-14 ("And I saw three unclean inspired expressions [that looked] like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the wild beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are, in fact, expressions inspired by demons and perform signs, and they go forth to the kings of the entire inhabited earth, to gather them together to the war of the great day of God the Almighty"--NWT), stating that the "frog-like expressions" are "political propaganda", citing "nationalism" and "charismatic politicians" as examples. Jehovah's Witnesses, to avoid these unclean things, must "keep neutral with respect to the world's affairs". Finally, the talk concluded with a consideration of a paradise earth without national boundaries.

Brother Geiger kicked off the fourth talk, "The Devil Will Be Bound for a Thousand Years", by stating that we presently live in the time for Satan to be judged, and so "Satan's demise is rapidly approaching". Turning us to Revelation 20:1-3 ("And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. And he hurled him into the abyss and shut [it] and sealed [it] over him, that he might not mislead the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After these things he must be let loose for a little while"--NWT), Br. Geiger claimed that the angel with the key is none other than Jesus Christ, the Deity Formerly Known as Michael the Archangel. The "abyss" is out of the reach of all except Jehovah God. Luke 8:31 ("And they kept entreating him not to order them to go away into the abyss"--NWT) shows how demons know the abyss to be their eventual fate. Br. Geiger then took the crowd to 1 Peter 5:8 ("Keep YOUR senses, be watchful. YOUR adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour [someone]"--NWT) yet again, stating that Witnesses face "tremendous pressure" from "[the roaring lion's] system". Still, do not lose heart, because "relief is very close". Although Ephesians 2:2 ("In which YOU at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience"--NWT) shows that Satan controls the entire world today, 1 John 2:16 ("Because everything in the world--the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one's means of life--does not originate with the Father but originates with the world"--NWT) shows that the sinful desires will one day be gone. I assume that the speaker was supposed to reference the next verse as well, which talks of the world and its desires "passing away". But he didn't. After a quick interview with Br. Watkins, who cited Isaiah 32:18 ("And my people must dwell in a peaceful abiding place and in residences of full confident and in undisturbed resting-places"--NWT), Br. Geiger concluded the talk with a reference to Psalm 37:10-11 ("And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more; and you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace"--NWT) as the future to which Jehovah's Witnesses may look forward.

The fifth talk, "They Will Build Houses and Plant Vineyards", was delivered by Brother Bauer--no, not Jack Bauer from 24, although if Jack Bauer became a Jehovah's Witness, I'm pretty sure their conversion rate would skyrocket--who began by noting the natural human desire for a home, yet also the prevalence of housing crises in many lands, including the United States. Isaiah 65:21 ("And they will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat [their] fruitage"--NWT) shows Jehovah's promise of a paradise with homes for each and every person, and Micah 4:4 ("And they will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making [them] tremble; for the very mouth of Jehovah of armies has spoken [it]"--NWT) shows the abundance of peace and security in that new world. Yet "we must do God's will now" in order to qualify. First Peter 2:11 ("Beloved, I exhort YOU as aliens and temporary residents to keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict against the soul"--NWT) show the temporary nature of our residence in this system of things, while Matthew 6:22, 33-34 ("The lamp of the body is the eye. If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright ... Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to YOU. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each days is its own badness"--NWT) urges simple living and seeking God's kingdom first and foremost. "We must control the urge to have what is beyond our means materially," Br. Bauer said, "not seeking higher education" so as to seek material pleasures, since there's "little time left". The present system is a "sinking ship", and Revelation 14:6-7 ("And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, and he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying in a loud voice: 'FEAR God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived, and so worship the One who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.'"--NWT) shows why Jehovah's Witnesses must not seek glory for themselves. After a brief interview with Sis. Davenport, Br. Geiger concluded the talk by looking forward to our home in the new world.

Brother Hill delivered the sixth of the symposium talks, "The Wolf and the Lamb . . . Will Feed as One", by stating that most of us love animals, but would be reluctant to walk up to a wild tiger and pet it, because in today's system the animal world is full of hostility. In Genesis 1:28 ("Further, God blessed them and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.'"--NWT) animals are all subject to mankind, and so the restoration will bring Isaiah 65:25 ("'The wolf and the lamb themselves will feed as one, and the lion will eat straw just like the bull; and as for the serpent, his food will be dust. They will do no harm nor cause any ruin in all my holy mountain,' Jehovah has said"--NWT) to pass. This passage, Br. Hill declares, has already seen both partial and figurative fulfillments. The partial fulfillment is how, in the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian Exile in 537 B.C.E., they were protected from wild animals. The figurative fulfillment is how, since 1919 C.E., God's people have inhabited a spiritual paradise, and Jehovah's Witnesses, no matter how wild before they came to the truth, tame their undesirable traits to worship together in unity. After an interview with a Br. Gonzales and his 11-year-old daughter Sis. Gonzales--the former of whom cited Isaiah 55:10-11 ("For just as the pouring rain descends, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater, so my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it"--NWT) and the latter of whom made reference to Titus 1:2 ("Upon the basis of a hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting"--NWT)--the talk ended on the familiar note of keeping watch. That is, after all, the theme of the entire convention.

I couldn't spell the next speaker's name if my life depended on it, but the seventh talk, "God . . . Will Wipe Out Every Tear", began with citations of Revelation 21:4 ("And he will wipe out every year from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away"--NWT) and Psalm 147:3 ("He is healing the broken-hearted ones, and is binding up their painful spots"--NWT) as illustrations of Jehovah's healing power. Next came a litany of heartbroken people in the Bible. First was Hannah in 1 Samuel, who turned to Jehovah for healing. Second came David (cf. 1 Samuel 30:4, NWT--"And David and the people that were with him began to raise their voice and weep, until there was in them no power to weep [anymore]"), and third was Hezekiah who turned to Jehovah in Isaiah 38. Peter, too, denied Christ and then wept bitterly. Jehovah's Witnesses must maintain integrity and keep busy in their preaching work. Then followed three more verse citations: Psalm 126:5 ("Those sowing seed with tears will reap even with a joyful cry"--NWT); Psalm 56:8 ("My being a fugitive you yourself have reported. Do put my tears in your skin bottle. Are they not in your book?"--NWT); and Psalm 34:18 ("Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves"--NWT). There followed an interview that was actually, for once, rather meaningful. Sis. Weaver and her husband had been in a very nasty plane crash years ago. She was rather badly injured and took some time to recover, but her husband died. Hers was a touching story of recovery and reliance on God. The talk ended on the note that God will fulfill his promises.

The eighth talk, "All Those in the Memorial Tombs Will ... Come Out", began by picturing reunion with lost loved ones in the resurrection. The speaker cited Job 14:14-15 ("If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? All the days of my compulsory service I shall wait, until my relief comes. You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning"--NWT) as evidence that Jehovah yearns to resurrect the righteous, and John 5:28-29 ("Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment"--NWT) to the effect that all such persons would be resurrected. (Never mind that Jehovah's Witnesses are among the few 'Christian' groups that explicitly deny that all will be resurrected!) The speaker said that the resurrection accounts in the Bible can strengthen our faith, and I thought he planned to go through several examples, but there was only one, the widow's son whom Elijah restored to life. The speaker mused whether Elijah had received special revelation to do so, but no answer was forthcoming. Someday, he said, we'll meet these heroes of faith and get our answers. This was deemed the ideal juncture for a few interviews with Witnesses as to whom they'd like to meet and what questions they'd ask. All I noted was that one woman said she'd like to meet Abraham's wife Sarah, who serves as an image of "Jehovah's heavenly wife-like organization". At any rate, the talk ended on the note that we can learn more about our relatives and extended family in the resurrection. (And as an avid genealogy buff, frankly that makes me quite happy.)

The ninth talk, the final one in this 90-minute symposium, was entitled "God Will Be 'All Things to Everyone'". After declaring that "our spiritual vision has been sharpened by what we have just heard", the speaker ran through a brief recap of the preceding eight talks and said that all this "will surely take place in the very near future". Finally getting to his own assigned topic, the speaker directed the audience to consider 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, 28 ("Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power. For he must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing. . . . But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone"--NWT), drawing three fundamental points from it for which the time is soon: (1) all God's enemies will be subjected to Christ; (2) Christ will hand over the kingdom to his Father; and (3) "God will be all things to everyone". Elaborating on this third point, it was explained that before sin had entered the world, Adam and Eve were part of "Jehovah's universal organization" and that Jehovah was the sole government. Since 1914 C.E., the kingdom has been posed to restore perfect peace and harmony under Christ and his "144,000 co-rulers". Jesus is humble, because the "Son himself will subject himself to God". After citing Matthew 28:18 ("And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: 'All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth'"--NWT), the speaker said that the "144,000 gladly subject themselves to Jehovah God also", with appropriate reference to Revelation 4:10-11 ("The twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated upon the throne and worship the One that lives forever and ever, and they cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 'You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.'"--NWT). Mankind will have attained perfection by the end of the millennium and will, for the first time, have direct access to Jehovah God without any need for Christ's priestly mediation. The symposium ended on the note that, after the last test of mankind described in Revelation 20:7-10 ("Now as soon as the thousand years have been ended, Satan will be let loose out of his prison, and he will go out to mislead those nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war. The number of these is as the sand of the sea. And they advanced over the breadth of the earth and encircled the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down out of heaven and devoured them. And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the lake of fire and sulphur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet [already were]; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever"--NWT), "all rebel humans and spirits will be wiped out of existence forever". Sadly, neither in this talk nor in Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand! is it explained how, if Satan is Gog as stated in the symposium's second talk, the nations are identified as "Gog and Magog". That book explains:

The Bible calls these rebels "nations in the four corners of the earth." This does not mean that mankind will have been divided once again into mutually exclusive national entities. It merely indicates that these will separate themselves from Jehovah's righteous, loyal ones and manifest the same bad spirit that the nations show today. They will "think up an injurious scheme," as did the Gog of Magog in Ezekiel's prophecy, with a goal of destroying theocratic government on earth. (Ezekiel 38:3, 10-12) Hence, they are called "Gog and Magog." (Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, p. 292, par. 22)

But lest it be thought that the teaching of Satan as Gog is newer than this publication, an earlier quote:

The Devil's vicious assault is vividly described in Ezekiel chapter 38. There, the debased Satan is called "Gog of the land of Magog." Jehovah puts figurative hooks in Gog's jaws, drawing him and his numerous military force to the attack. (Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, p. 279, par. 2)

I suppose their answer would be to state that the term "Gog" in Ezekiel 38 and at Armageddon denotes Satan and "Magog" are his forces, whereas Revelation later distinguishes Gog and Satan, with "Gog" now being, like "Magog", a term for the forces under Satan. But, no matter. At least the symposium was over! The crowd rose to sing song #122 ("Keep Your Eyes on the Prize", cf. 2 Corinthians 4:18), which was thoroughly unobjectionable in content, and remained standing for yet another installment of announcements. By the way, maybe its just me, but it seems like an announcement such as, 'Baby strollers aren't permitted in the stadium" should come earlier than two hours after the start of the day's program. I'm just sayin', seems like its rather late at that point. Although, in fairness, the purported reason is that some people continue to come throughout the morning.

Before lunch, however, we'd all have to sit through the half-hour-long public Bible discourse, "How Can You Survive the End of the World?", delivered by Brother Peters. First came a catalog of conception of the 'end of the world'--some think of elderly doomsday prophets with signs, others think of a nuclear holocaust, while others think of a cataclysm such as an asteroid impact, a solar expansion, or a new ice age. (But hey, at least the first one was close. Jehovah's Witnesses use tracts instead of signs and aren't all elderly...) All of these leave an impression of hopelessness and helplessness. But the audience must consider: "Will the world be destroyed? If so, by whom? If so, by what means? And if so, simply can we survive?" True Christians, he said, should rejoice at the end of the world, which is the phrase used in the King James Version's rendering of Matthew 24:3 ("While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: 'Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?'"--NWT). The planet will not be destroyed, however. The world, after all, had been destroyed previously at the Flood (cf. 2 Peter 3:6-7, NWT--"And by those [means] the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the heavens and the earth that are now are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men"), showing that the "end of the world" means that God will destroy the ungodly but spare the righteous. So too with Psalm 37:29 ("The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it"--NWT), Psalm 104:5 ("He has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever"--NWT), and Ecclesiastes 1:4 ("A generation is going, and a generation is coming; but the earth is standing even to time indefinite"--NWT), which show that while the world of wicked mankind will be destroyed, the planet will survive. Br. Peters then offered a clever story of a fox infested with fleas. The fox found a sheep or something like that and gradually chewed off a substantial amount of wool in a cylindrical shape, which he clutched in his front teeth. The fox then proceeded to go to the river and submerge himself completely except for the tip of his snout with the wool. After some time, the fox released the wool and left the river; the wool carried away to destruction all the fleas that had sought to escape the river's water. So, too, are the wicked an infestation that shall be destroyed by God.

Br. Peters next enunciated three ways by which God has destroyed his enemies in the past. The first is through inducing a state of confusion as in Zechariah 14:13 ("And it must occur in that day [that] confusion from Jehovah will become widespread among them; and they will actually grab hold, each one of the hand of his companion, and his hand will actually come up against the hand of his companion"--NWT), wherein the earthly enemies of God kill one another. An example cited was the story of Gideon's small band against the Midianite armies (see Judges 7), as well as the more modern illustration of the Gurkhas, Nepalese soldiers who (as tradition would have it) never drew their knives without drawing blood and who used slaughter of random targets within the enemy camp to cause panic. The second method is through forces of nature. The flood of Noah's day was cited as a prime example, with hail, locusts, and earthquakes among other past selections. Exodus 9:26 ("Only in the land of Goshen, where the sons of Israel were, there occurred no hail"--NWT) shows how God can carefully control this weapon to strike the unrighteous. A couple more modern illustrations were again cited, such as German soldiers invading Russia succumbing to cold and the failure of an American mission in the Iranian desert because of a sandstorm. (I assume that the latter was a reference to Operation Eagle Claw, though the speaker didn't specify it by name. And can I just say that I would really hate to be caught outside in a haboob?) The third method mentioned is Jesus and the angels, with reference to 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ("But, to YOU who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus"--NWT). After some musing on the vast numbers of angels and the scene in which one angel wreaks utter havoc on God's foes (cf. 2 Kings 19:35, NWT--"And it came about on that night that the angel of Jehovah proceeded to go out and strike down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. When people rose up early in the morning, why, there all of them were dead carcasses"), Br. Peters noted that God needs no human assistance, citing 2 Chronicles 20:17 ("YOU will not need to fight in this instance. Take YOUR position, stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah in YOUR behalf. O Judah and Jerusalem, do not be afraid or be terrified. Tomorrow go out against them, and Jehovah will be with YOU"--NWT). Ezekiel 38:21-23 ("'And I will call forth against him throughout all my mountainous region a sword,' is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. 'Against his own brother the sword of each one will come to be. And I will bring myself into judgment with him, with pestilence and with blood; and a flooding downpour and hailstones, fire and sulphur I shall rain down upon him and upon his bands and upon the many peoples that will be with him. And I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.'"--NWT) was cited as a case in which all three methods are used against Gog's hordes, and that the wicked will, while dying, recognize Jehovah's power. This will all happen "in our day, during the presence of Jesus Christ", and the righteous will be saved like Lot and his daughters and like Daniel's three friends when Jehovah destroys the wicked world--and no one, Br. Peters emphasized, can hide from Jehovah. Only the godly will survive, as shown in Amos 9:1 ("I saw Jehovah stationed above the altar, and he proceeded to say: 'Strike the pillar head, so that the thresholds will rock. And cut them off at the head, all of them. And the last part of them I shall kill with the sword itself. No one fleeing of them will make good his flight, and no one escaping of them will make his getaway'"--NWT) and 2 Peter 2:9 ("Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off"--NWT). I thought especially clever the question he then asked: "The end of the world will happen--but will it happen to us, or will it happen for us?"

As much as one might have hoped that the talk would end on that note, with all that had come before it, no. Still more. Br. Peters next noted that Noah, through righteousness, gained preservation in his day. Since Jehovah's standard is constant, it stands to reason that imitating Noah will serve as a guide to how to be preserved ourselves, and in this we find a list of seven characteristics. First, Noah didn't succumb to worldly pressures to conform. Despite the ridicule that must have surely plagued Noah and his family, they persisted, and so we, too, "must remain no part of the world, in order to escape passing away with it". Jehovah's Witnesses will stand out and be ridiculed, but as 1 John 2 states, the world will pass away but JWs will endure. Second, Noah resisted the influence of wicked spirit-creatures. Evil angels had in his day materialized and fathered the Nephilim, and so filled the world with violence. The fallen angels had to dematerialize to the spirit-realm in order to escape the Flood, and so Jehovah's Witnesses must likewise resist demonic influence in their lives. (Don't see any explicit example here of Noah resisting demonic influence? Yeah, there wasn't much effort at this point to link the moral lesson in with the narrative.) Third, Noah was blameless as a family head, and so his family was "united in sacred service". The family must be safeguarded against the world and its ways, and family heads must be exemplary in leading spiritual discussion. Fourth, Noah had a close relationship with Jehovah himself. He walked with God and knew Jehovah as a "personal friend", joyfully obeying God. In like manner, our relationship with God is our most precious possession and should be esteemed and valued as such. Fifth, Noah preached righteousness, and here Br. Peters cited 2 Peter 2:5 ("And he did not hold back from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people"--NWT). Jehovah's Witnesses, like Noah, must face opposition boldly; have courage even when preaching in dangerous territory; maintain faith in Jehovah's protection; and know that success consists, not in the response of others to the message, but in our obedience to God. Sixth, Noah kept his faith strong, and by this faith condemned the wicked world. Others could have followed suit, since it really was "possible to live a life that pleased God". Likewise, Jehovah's Witnesses must avail themselves in God's provision through the Bible, conventions, meetings, the door-to-door ministry, and prayer; and they must stave off doubt at any cost, since doubt is the enemy of faith. And seventh, Noah maintained strict obedience to God. As shown in Genesis 6:22 ("And Noah proceeded to do according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so"--NWT), Noah took no shortcuts but followed directions to the letter, constructing from thousands of trees with great effort an ark with a volume in excess of 1.5 million cubic feet. He didn't procrastinate, as he didn't know the day or hour when the flood would come, but instead kept watch. The same holds true for Jehovah's Witnesses, who must keep watch for the end, Br. Peters said. We must remain in Jehovah's favor to survive the end of the world, because once the tribulation begins, it will be too late for anyone to be saved. After referencing Matthew 24:33 ("Likewise also YOU, when YOU see all these things, know that he is truly near at the doors"--NWT), Br. Peters proclaimed that "we see all these things", not just in glimpses, but "globally, in clusters, frequently", and thus the end is extremely close at hand, as if plummeting towards us in freefall. The great crowd coming out of the tribulation, then will emerge, just like Noah, into a "clean, new world"--one that, unlike Noah's, will last forever.

The symposium being thus ended, the 5,805 attendees all rose at noon to sing song #125 ("Extending Mercy to Others", cf. Luke 6:36), and as is customary I quote the second verse:

Now again an old order is ending,
And in mercy our God has decreed
That the news of its ending be given
So that whoever will may give heed.
Have you said, "I cannot preach the good news;
I am weak and untrained in my speech?"
But if you have received of God's mercy,
Then his spirit can help you to preach.

At long last the crowd was released for an 80-minute intermission, during which I got a bit more reading done, ate lunch, relaxed outside, and had some good chats with a few Witnesses. It was a pleasant time, although it was either somewhere in here or earlier that Atarah had to be taken home due to a nasty migraine, and I was a bit saddened when the program resumed at 1:30 PM with song #139 ("Listen to the News of the Kingdom", cf. Isaiah 55:7), from which I simply have to quote the first and second verses:

O listen to the news of the Kingdom today
And hear Jesus say: "O'er earth I hold sway.
Your Adversary soon will be taken away;
So flee from his old system and do not delay."

Jehovah, through his Witnesses, calls men today:
"You meek ones who pray, rejoice now you may.
Soon Christ, who is enthroned, will his power display
And cause want, pain, and sorrow to vanish for aye."

At 1:35 PM, they began a much more enjoyable segment of the program: the annual drama. "Your Brother Was Dead and Came to Life" lasted a full hour, was announced by Brother King, and was a modern reworking of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. After putting us first through an audio drama rooted in the text itself, the modern dramatization began on stage. You can see the drama, though from a different date and location, here. I was somewhat disappointed to see that it was being lipsynched (not to mention the hackneyed dialogue, especially near the beginning), and for the first time in my experience, the Prodigal Son came across as the relatively sensible one! In this retelling, the prodigal son figure, David, was part of a Witness family whose sole rebellion was--horror of horrors, oh the horror!--wanting to get a job outside the family business. Throughout the entire performance, the rest of the family (father John, mother, and older brother James) all came across as controlling, self-righteous, and invasive. They did everything within their power to badger David into staying in the family business. The father was controlling, the mother was whiny and easily upset, and the older brother was quite self-righteous and refused to stop meddling in his brother's affairs or offering unsolicited advice with a heapin' helping of judgment. Unlike the biblical parable, David didn't demand any money, and he didn't try to dishonor his father in any way. His sole wish was to live a life slightly more independent from his family, and they jumped all over him for it. Eventually, confronted with the ridiculousness of his family and the persuasion of a friend, he opted to move out and squander the money that had been originally set aside for witnessing endeavors. One of David's biggest initial 'sins' was daring to accept overtime that would cause him to miss just one of his numerous weekly Jehovah's Witness meetings, just one time. Oh no! The plot as a whole definitely showed an overemphasis on works. One has to attend every single meeting, every single time, or one isn't living up to what they're supposed to. At one point, there was a car crash, and for a moment I thought maybe they'd use it as an opportunity to bring the blood transfusion issue to bear. But no. Also, basically all non-Witness characters, as well as the backslidden Witness friend Al, were portrayed as uncaring people who'll betray their dearest friends at the first instance. While David made an increasing number of mistakes under Al's influence, throughout the drama he generally attempted to be the voice of reason and do the right thing, and so was clearly the most sympathetic character.

Anyway, after the drama came the summary of that day's study article from the Watchtower. This may have been the most abysmally boring event of the entire convention. The article was "Why Follow 'The Christ'?", pages 28-32 of one of the May 2009 issues of the Watchtower. I followed along in Zibiah's copy, and the summary/study was led by Brother Taylor from Bethel. It was, in fact, so insipid that I can scarcely bear to look at my notes pertaining to that portion, and so I'll just say that the five reasons offered were: (1) to increase one's intimacy with Jehovah, who is accessed through the twin books of creation and special revelation; (2) to imitate Jehovah more fully, since Jesus reflects him perfectly; (3) because Jesus is the anointed one of Jehovah; (4) because Jesus is the only way to eternal life; and (5) because Jehovah commands it. Noteworthy is the treatment of John 14:6 ("Jesus said to him: 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'"--NWT), in which Jesus is the 'way' by virtue of being the sole means of approaching God as well as the sole means of being reconciled to God; Jesus is the 'truth' by virtue of being the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy; and Jesus is the 'life' because of the ransom sacrifice, the resurrection, and his millennial priesthood. Also, we evidently listen to God through the Bible, through publications of the faithful and discreet slave, and through "Christian meetings", by which is meant meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses. After this particular dullness ran its course, we rose to sing song #29 ("Forward, You Witnesses!", cf. Luke 16:16), which--despite its actual sectarianism--contained relatively little that couldn't be adapted by many other Christian groups, although the song as it stands has a high emphasis on the divine name. We remained standing through the last set of pointless announcements and took our seats for the very last talk.

And that concluding talk was entitled "Keep in Expectation, Watching for Jehovah's Day!" and was delivered by Brother Hendrickson. He started off by talking about the transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:2-4, NWT--"And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light. And, look! there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, conversing with him. Responsively Peter said to Jesus: 'Lord, it is fine for us to be here. If you wish, I will erect three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.'"), noting that as transfiguration is a "change to another form", the audience has been spiritually transfigured by the "spiritual feast" of the convention. After exclaiming that "Jehovah's day will come at his appointed time", he cited 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 4 ("Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, YOU need nothing to be written to YOU. For YOU yourselves know quite well that Jehovah's day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. . . . But YOU, brothers, YOU are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake YOU as it would thieves"--NWT) and explained that the Thessalonians were convinced that the end of the system was coming soon. And for them it did come, in 70 C.E., but ours is yet future and so we must continue expecting. This convention, he said, had been "another milestone in theocratic history", featuring the "most realistic drama we have ever seen", which frankly casts serious aspersions on all previous drama, no matter the tremendous hype.

Next came a serious of anecdotes regarding the conventions. First was the story of a Witness who was staying at a hotel for a convention and, after the first day, noticed that someone had been looking at the book she'd left sitting out. So she set out more literature and a note, and got a nice reply note from the housekeeper. At the end of the convention, the Witness set out a bunch of literature with a note for the housekeeper to take whatever she pleases. The next anecdote involved Best Western, the hotel chain; the local one said that Jehovah's Witnesses are the most orderly, clean, and peaceable large group they'd ever hosted, and that they love having them. Another tale involved a young Bible student who poured his international coin collection with currency from 18 countries into the donation box, reasoning that an international organization deserves international money. As for the international conventions, we heard a story about how some inconvenient flight rescheduling allowed a Filipino Witness to have a long spiritual conversation with a Vietnamese businessman, and we also heard how a man invited to the Mandarin section of the conference on the first day was so impacted that he wept and promptly quit his job in order to be able to attend the remainder of the convention. This was held up as a good thing. Not really so sure I agree. After a review of the new releases, including a 17-song vocal disc available 1 September 2009 that will feature music from the new songbook, Br. Hendrickson gave the announcement as to how many baptisms had transpired during the "mass burial yesterday". This convention featured twenty volunteer departments comprising over 300 volunteers. The speaker warmly basked in Jehovah's Witnesses' "friendship with the city of Reading" and the lack of any need for the extra police that would customarily be assigned to any large gathering like this. Next came some discussion of press coverage. In the 26 July 2009 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, there had appeared an article that discussed how standardized all the conventions were. Br. Hendrickson praised this as being "orderly", though in fact its an obsessive need for absolute conformity. I don't deny that the convention was very orderly... but I've never been to a church service that wasn't, and they had no need to impose unwavering conformity in all things. Also, some website had commented on 17 June 2009 about the clean-up efforts of JW volunteers. After a big thank-you to the place for hosting the convention, Br. Hendrickson noted that there'd been three consecutive peaks in Bible studies here in the USA. This portion of the talk then ended with notes to stay alert and keep on the watch--as always--and to not rely on man-disseminated news, but rather on the updates that JWs get directly from Jehovah himself through, you guessed it, the faithful and discreet slave class.

Then followed the last segment of the talk, a curious review of JW history. Br. Hendrickson began with the latter portion of the 19th century, when the International Bible Students pointed forward to 1914 as the critical time for all mankind. Then came 2 October 1914 C.E., when Charles T. Russell had announced that the "Gentile times have ended". Subsequently, Br. Hendrickson explained, we've seen the fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:3 ("Having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness"--NWT). The next event was the 1922 convention in Cedar Point, OH, in which Joseph F. Rutherford delivered on 8 September his famous talk "The Kingdom", which featured a line that has reverberated through JW history ever since: "Advertise, advertise, advertise the King and his Kingdom." Three years later, there appeared in the Watchtower an article called "The Birth of the Nation", dealing with Revelation 12. It deemed Psalm 110:1-2 as pivotal in understanding the chapter. The article saw the "male child" as being God's kingdom, and the article claimed that the horsemen of Revelation 6 had begun to ride in World War I. The event after that was a 1942 talk by Nathan H. Knorr called "Peace: Can It Last?", dealing with the beast of Revelation 7, the seven kings, and the period of peace instigated in 1945 by the United Nations. Citing Acts 9:31 ("Then, indeed, the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit, it kept on multiplying"--NWT), Br. Hendrickson noted that in their time of peace after dreadful persecution, the first-century Christians had kept "busy fulfilling their preaching commission", with the result that they grew in number. The same must hold true for Jehovah's Witnesses in the present day. In 1953, Frederick W. Franz delivered a famed talk on Ezekiel 38-39 at an international convention held in Yankee Stadium. In it, he explained the new Jehovah's Witness teaching on Gog and Magog. As Br. Hendrickson further explained after citing Ezekiel 38:12 ("It will be to get a big spoil and to do much plundering, in order to turn your hand back upon devastated places reinhabited and upon a people gathered together out of the nations, [one] that is accumulating wealth and property, [those] who are dwelling in the center of the earth"--NWT) that "Gog would come after the material assets of God's people", and so today's Jehovah's Witnesses--being, after all, obviously the ones who will certainly experience Ezekiel 38's fulfillment--must avoid being attached to their possessions. He said that today is reminiscent of Ezekiel 7:19 ("Into the streets they will throw their very silver, and an abhorrent thing their own gold will become. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah's fury. Their souls they will not satisfy, and their intestines they will not fill, for it has become a stumbling block causing their error"--NWT). Turning finally to 1963 with the release of Babylon the Great Has Fallen--God's Kingdom Rules!, we see the identification of Babylon as all false religion instead of just Christendom. This can be seen in the widespread contemporary call for religion to become more involved in political affairs, yet the waters are clearly drying up. "There should be no uncertainty in our minds" about expectations of the soon-to-arrive end of all things. There followed some references to foreign missionaries coming home for an international convention, as per a 10 March 2008 letter from the Governing Body; a statement about Jehovah's Witnesses' "urgent message [...] proclaimed for decades"; and then a declaration prepared for the current convention about rededication to the ministry task. It was loudly affirmed by the whole crowd, but the only quote I jotted down regarded their promised "relative subjection to the existing governmental authorities". After excitedly noting that the nation of Georgia had officially recognized Jehovah's Witnesses on 24 December 2008, Br. Hendrickson brought the talk to an end by quoting Isaiah 30:18 ("And therefore Jehovah will keep in expectation of showing YOU favor, and therefore he will rise up to show YOU mercy. For Jehovah is a God of judgment. Happy are all those keeping in expectation of him"--NWT), saying that Jehovah has already set a date and time for the end and yearns to bring it to pass.

The crowd of 5,846 attendees then rose to sing song #129 ("Now's the Time!", cf. Mark 13:10), from which for once I'll quote just the first verse:

Now's the time to preach God's Word,
Time to let the truth be heard.
Never be by threats deterred;
Show why God's rule is to be preferred.
Let's warn men before it is too late.
Help them flee from Babylon the Great
And escape in sharing in her fate.
Zeal for God's house let them demonstrate.
Now's the time our zeal to demonstrate!

Eh, makes more sense with the music. The convention as a whole concluded with a closing prayer, as could be expected for basically any religious assembly. Uriah had to stay to help tear everything down and clean up, so Zibiah and I caught a ride back to our area with Ham and his wife. I spent most of the trip reading, although I did take some time to try to convince Ham that Jehovah's Witnesses really do have a publication on the Letter of James--and they do, the 1979 book Commentary on the Letter of James. I was surprised he wasn't familiar with it. The trip was largely uneventful, save for a long pause while waiting for a train to finish passing, and I finished the last two chapters of "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom shortly after I got through the door to my house.

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