(WDGR Lesson 11: “Beliefs and Customs That Displease God”)
(CONTINUED FROM A PREVIOUS DIALOGUE)
KAREN: Cindy, last week in our study of the Watchtower brochure What Does God Require of Us?, we discussed “Beliefs and Customs That Displease God” and talked about the Jehovah’s Witness belief that God will annihilate the wicked instead of tormenting them in a fiery hell. You asked how I could believe in a loving God who would torment people forever, and I explained that God would neither be loving or righteous to give a viciously wicked person like Hitler the exact same punishment of annihilation that He would give to someone who never murdered a single person but simply rejected Christ’s sacrifice for eternal life.
CINDY: Yes, Karen, you made a good point that for God to be righteous, He would have to have some type of punishment that could be administered in degrees of torment rather than treat all unworthy people with the exact same judgment of annihilation. However, I still want to know what you think about 2 Thessalonians 1:9 where it says: “These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength”?1. Since wicked will undergo “everlasting destruction,” doesn’t this mean they will be annihilated?
KAREN: Cindy, are you sure that the phrase “everlasting destruction” means annihilation? Would you read 1 Corinthians 5:5 in your New World Translation Bible?
CINDY: OK. 1 Corinthians 5:5 says: “You hand such a man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
KAREN: Cindy, did you notice how this verse specifically says that when this person’s flesh undergoes “destruction,” his “spirit” is saved? If the Greek word “olethros” translated “destruction” in both of these Scriptures means total annihilation, how would it be possible for the person’s spirit to be saved? Doesn’t it make more sense to interpret this Greek word as indicating a situation of utter “ruin”2. of the person’s flesh, instead of annihilation?
CINDY: Well, I guess so. But what about the verses in the Bible that seem to indicate that a person is unconscious when he dies? Don’t these Scriptures prove that: Not even one part of us survives the death of the body”? “We do not possess an immortal soul or spirit.”3.
KAREN: Cindy, let’s look at these verses that the Watchtower uses to try to prove that human souls and spirits do not survive death. The first ones the Watchtower Society lists in this brochure are Psalm 146:4 which says: “His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish,” and Ecclesiastes 9:5,10 which reads: “For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. … Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” Cindy, I thought you said that you believe in a resurrection of the dead, but these verses say that the dead will not have “any longer a reward.” So, do you believe there is no reward after you die?
CINDY: Yes, I believe there is a reward for the righteous at the resurrection, but these verses say that the dead, while they are still dead, do not have any thoughts because they are unconscious. So these verses are not talking about the future resurrection. Remember the other Scripture on this subject that the Watchtower Society references is Ezekiel 18:4 and it says: “…The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.”4. Since the soul dies when the human person dies, it can’t survive death.
KAREN: Are you sure about that, Cindy? While it is true that sometimes the Bible uses the words “soul” and “spirit” to refer to the physical person, like it does here at Ezekiel 18:4, that is not always the case. Let’s look at another Scripture and see what Jesus taught on this subject. Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”5. Doesn’t this seem to indicate that the human soul can survive death?
CINDY: No, Karen. Jesus wasn’t claiming that the soul can survive the death of the body. The Watchtower Society explains: “By referring to the ‘soul’ separately, Jesus here emphasizes that God can destroy all of a person’s life prospects; thus there is no hope of resurrection for him. So, the references to the ‘fiery Gehenna’ have the same meaning as the ‘lake of fire’ of Revelation 21:8, namely, destruction, ‘second death.’”6.
KAREN: Cindy, if you were reading these verses without the Watchtower Society’s literature, would you come up with the Society’s interpretation of these verses or would you get the impression that Jesus was indeed teaching that the soul can survive the death of the body?
CINDY: Hum… OK, Karen. I guess, I’d have to admit that if I were reading these verses without Watchtower literature, I would get the impression that the soul can survive death. But I – I can’t accept that interpretation. That’s the Devil’s lie! Didn’t Satan say to Eve, “You will not die”?7.When you claim that the soul or the spirit of a person survives death, aren’t you believing Satan’s lie that we will not completely die?
KAREN: No, I’m not. Cindy, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the people who are destined for eternal life in heaven, will live in heaven without their physical bodies?
KAREN: Cindy, my point is that you believe something similar to what I believe. Even you believe that for the people going to heaven, a certain part of them lives on without the body, whether you call it a “soul” or “spirit” or “life-force” or “spirit-creature,” the point remains the same. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe a certain part of a person that is not connected with their fleshly body will survive to be resurrected to live in heaven. So, even you accept the idea that some type of a life-force or spirit-essence survives outside of the body, even if you do not call it a soul or a spirit.
CINDY: Karen, we don’t believe that! I think you are misunderstanding what we believe. Regarding the resurrection, the Watchtower Society says: “Is the resurrection a reuniting of an immaterial soul with the physical body? For this to be possible, of course, humans would have to have an immaterial soul that could separate from the physical body. The Bible does not teach such a thing.”10.
KAREN: I know the Watchtower Society claims that it does not teach this, but just think about their doctrine a moment. If resurrection means “rising up from death,”11.what exactly is being raised from death to heavenly life if the person’s physical body is not being raised? Wouldn’t it have to be some type of spirit-essence or life-force directly from the person that can be raised to survive in heaven, separate from the physical body? Otherwise, how can you call it a resurrection?
CINDY: I don’t know. I guess I’d have to agree with you that for the people going to heaven, some part of them will exist that can live apart from their fleshly body. I’ve never thought of it this way before.
KAREN: So, since we both agree that it is possible for a part of a person to live in heaven without a fleshly body, the belief in an immaterial soul can’t be Satan’s lie, now can it? In fact, let’s look at more Scripture verses that prove that at the moment when a Christian dies, his soul or spirit is immediately present with Christ. Cindy, will you read 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 in your Bible?
CINDY: Sure. “We are therefore always of good courage and know that, while we have our home in the body, we are absent from the Lord, for we are walking by faith, not by sight. But we are of good courage and are well pleased rather to become absent from the body and to make our home with the Lord. Therefore we are also making it our aim that, whether having our home with him or being absent from him, we may be acceptable to him.”12.
KAREN: If the Apostle Paul’s spirit or soul was to become unconscious in the grave when his physical body died, why would he be “well pleased” to leave his body and be “at home with the Lord”? That doesn’t sound like someone who thought he would cease to exist after he died. And consider this Scripture here at 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” If the spirit and soul are nothing but terms to describe the physical body of a person, why would Paul utter his wish that each of these parts of a person be “preserved complete, without blame.” Don’t you think this would be a strange thing to say if he taught that the spirit and soul of a person ceased to exist at death?
CINDY: Karen, I agree that these verses do not make a lot of sense with the Jehovah’s Witness position that no part of the body exists after death, but I’m sure I can come up with some way to explain them if I research hard enough. For example, John 5:28-29 is another Scripture that seems to indicate that the dead are conscious when Jesus says that those in the “memorial tombs”13. will “hear” his voice and “come out,” but the Watchtower Society explains that this terminology does not prove the dead are conscious, but rather that it: “lays stress on preserving memory of the deceased person.”14.
KAREN: Excuse me, Cindy! Are you saying that you actually believe the Watchtower Society’s strange interpretation for these verses, instead of accepting what the texts plainly say? In other words, are you saying that Scripture doesn’t mean what it says? Again, I have to ask you, if you just read these verses in the Bible without Watchtower literature, would you come up with the Society’s conclusions or would you conclude that these verses are indeed teaching what most Christian’s believe concerning life after death?
CINDY: Yes, you’re right. It does sound like the Bible agrees with the popular Christian position on this subject. You certainly have given me something to think about.
Friends, the idea that wicked souls will spend eternity in a fiery hell or lake of fire makes many people uncomfortable. It is far easier to believe in the Jehovah’s Witness idea of annihilation than to accept what the Scriptures plainly teach on this difficult subject. Yet, Jesus spoke of hell more than He spoke of heaven because this place is as real as heaven is real. If hell is merely the grave where unconscious human souls rest in peace, why would Jesus warn people over and over about the dangers of going to this awful place? At Luke 16, Jesus told a parable about a poor man named Lazarus who went to a blissful place at death while a rich man went to the eternal torments of a fiery hell. Although this story probably did not occur in real life, all of Jesus’ other parables resembled real-life situations. There is no reason to think that this story was any different. Revelation 20:15 says: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”15. Do you know if your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life?
1. New World Translation
2. See The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance and Lexicon by Jay P. Green, Sr., 1982 edition, p. 606
3. What Does the Bible Really Teach, 2005, 2006 edition, p. 58
4. New World Translation
5. New American Standard Bible
6. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, p. 174
7. See Genesis 3:4
8. See Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989ed, p. 336
9. 1 Corinthians 15:50
10. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989ed, p. 333
11. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989ed, p. 333
12. New World Translation
13. The New World Translation is the only translation that adds the word “memorial” to the word “tombs” in this verse to try to justify the Jehovah’s Witness belief that the dead are only existing in Jehovah God’s memory instead of existing as immaterial souls or spirits.
14. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989ed, p. 339
15. New American Standard Bible