Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Do You Allow God to Speak to You Every Day?
Reading the Bible can be likened to peering into a mirror. (James 1:23-25) The message recorded in God’s Word has the power to allow us to see ourselves as we really are. It “pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit.” (Hebrews 4:12) In other words, it divides what we appear to be on the outside from what we really are on the inside. It shows us where adjustments are needed, just as a mirror does.
The Bible not only reveals where adjustments need to be made but also helps us to make those adjustments. The apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Notice, of the four benefits highlighted, three of them—reproving, setting things straight, and disciplining—involve adjustments in our attitude and actions. If we need to look regularly in a mirror to ensure that our appearance is acceptable, how much more so must we read God’s Word, the Bible, on a regular basis!
Upon appointing Joshua to lead the nation of Israel, Jehovah God told him: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Joshua 1:8) Yes, to be successful, Joshua needed to read God’s Word “day and night,” on a regular basis.
The first psalm likewise extols the benefits of regular Bible reading when it states: “Happy is the man that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked ones, and in the way of sinners has not stood, and in the seat of ridiculers has not sat. But his delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night. And he will certainly become like a tree planted by streams of water, that gives its own fruit in its season and the foliage of which does not wither, and everything he does will succeed.” (Psalm 1:1-3) Surely we want to be like such a man.
Many people make it a daily habit to read the Bible. When asked why he reads the Bible every day, one Christian replied: “If I repeatedly pray to God during the day and expect him to hear me, why shouldn’t I also listen to God by reading his Word every day? If we want to be a good friend, why would we do all the talking?” He has a point. Reading the Bible is just like listening to God because we thereby get his viewpoint on matters.
Meeting the Challenge
Perhaps you have already tried to start a Bible reading program. Have you read the entire Bible from cover to cover? That is an excellent way to become more familiar with its contents. However, some have started many times to read the entire Bible, only to find that their program gets interrupted. Have you faced this challenge? What can you do to reach the goal of reading the entire Bible? Why not try the following two suggestions?
Can you set aside time each day for Bible reading?
Schedule Bible reading into your daily routine. Select a time each day when you will most likely be able to do your Bible reading. Also plan a backup strategy. If for some reason you are unable to do your Bible reading at your preferred time, have another time selected so that you never let a day go by without reading God’s Word. In this way you will imitate the example of the ancient Beroeans. Of them, we are told: “They received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”−Acts 17:11.
Have a specific goal in mind. For example, if you read from three to five chapters of the Bible every day, you can read the entire Bible in just one year. The chart on the following page shows how this can be done. Why not make it your resolve to try this program? Under the heading “Date,” plan out when you will read each set of chapters. Then, in the box provided, check off the sections as you read them. Doing so will help you keep track of your progress.
Once you have read the entire Bible, why stop there? You can use the same schedule to read the entire Bible every year, perhaps starting each time from a different section. Or if you would like to complete your reading of the Bible at a slower pace, you can take two or three days to read each of the scheduled readings.
Each time you read the Bible, you will find new things that apply to your life—things that you have never noticed before. Why? “The scene of this world is changing,” and our lives and circumstances are changing constantly too. (1 Corinthians 7:31) Make it your firm determination, then, to look daily in the mirror of God’s Word, the Bible. In this way, you can be sure that you allow God to speak to you every day.—Psalm 16:8.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Is There Anything Wrong
In this series:
What Do You Know About Witchcraft?
What You Should Know About Witchcraft
Dabbling in the Occult—What's the Harm?
Is There Really a Devil?
What You Should Know About Witchcraft
MODERN-DAY witchcraft is hard to define. This is because those who practice it vary so greatly. They recognize no central authority or doctrine or holy book to unify belief. They also differ in tradition, organization, ritual, and opinion as to what gods to honor. Remarks one writer: "The occult world offers to the individual a 'free marketplace' of ideas." Says another: "Most Neo-Pagans disagree on almost everything."
For many, the contradictions are not a problem. One guidebook for aspiring witches states: "When you're challenged with seemingly contradictory information, examine this information and make a decision as to which to follow. Listen to your intuition. In other words, feel free to pick and choose among the published rituals and ritual textbooks to decide what feels right."
For those who recognize the nature of truth, such contradictions are a problem. Truth is fact, that which is real. Things are not true simply because a person feels or hopes or believes that they are true. For example, at one time doctors believed that they could cure pneumonia by cutting a live chicken in two and laying the pieces on the patient's chest. Doubtless, many patients sincerely believed that this treatment would cure them. Their beliefs and hopes, however, were not in harmony with fact—such a procedure does not cure pneumonia. People do not create truth; they reach out to comprehend it.
The Bible claims to contain the truth about spiritual matters. Jesus Christ, when on earth, said to his Father in prayer: "Your word is truth." (John 17:17) The apostle Paul wrote: "All Scripture is inspired of God." (2 Timothy 3:16) Many who practice witchcraft do not agree. Instead, they look for inspiration and guidance in myth, ancient religions, and even science fiction. Is it not reasonable, though, at least to consider what the Bible says? After all, it is almost universally recognized as a holy book. It is also one of the oldest religious texts that has survived. The Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years, yet it is consistent throughout in its teachings. Let us compare the Bible's teachings with some common beliefs currently expressed by those who promote witchcraft.
Many today view witchcraft as a harmless nature religion
Who Dwell in the Spirit Realm?
A basic question in the quest for spiritual understanding is this, Who inhabit the spirit realm? While most modern witches are followers of a nature-oriented, polytheistic faith, some worship a great mother-goddess, viewed in a triple role of maiden, mother, and crone, representing the basic stages of life. Her lover is a god with horns. Other witches worship a god and goddess together. One writer says: "The Goddess and God are seen as a manifestation of the feminine and masculine forces of nature. Each [having] unique characteristics that when combined result in the harmonious creation of life." Another authority writes: "One of the most pivotal choices in Witchcraft is your choice of the deities (Gods/Goddesses) you will work with. . . . The Craft gives you the freedom to pick and subsequently honor your own forms of the Divine."
The Bible supports none of these ideas. Jesus Christ devoted his entire ministry to teaching others about Jehovah, "the only true God." (John 17:3) The Bible states: "Jehovah is great and very much to be praised, and he is to be feared more than all other gods. For all the gods of the peoples are valueless gods."—1 Chronicles 16:25, 26.
What about the Devil? Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines witchcraft as "communication with the devil." It would be hard to find a witch today who would agree with this definition, for many do not accept even the existence of Satan the Devil. One young woman, described in The Irish Times as a "high-ranking witch and leader of one of Ireland's most significant covens," reasons this way: "Belief in the Devil implies acceptance of Christianity . . . [The Devil] cannot inhabit a universe where there is no God."
The Bible confirms the existence of the Devil and charges him with much of the suffering and turmoil on earth. (Revelation 12:12) Jesus not only taught that the Devil exists but also showed that it is possible unwittingly to do the will of the Devil. For example, self-righteous religious leaders of the first century asserted that they were, in a way, sons of God and believed that they were doing the will of God. Jesus, who could discern what was in their hearts, knew differently. He told them forthright: "You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father." (John 8:44) Further, the Bible book of Revelation states that the Devil "is misleading the entire inhabited earth."—Revelation 12:9.
Is Some Magic Good?
Magic, of course, has always been associated with the occult.* Many people in both ancient and modern times believe that the magic practiced by witches is performed to bring harm to others. Witches are credited with the power to inflict severe pain and even death by means of magic. Traditionally, witches have been blamed for an almost limitless array of misfortunes, including illness, death, and crop failure.
Witches today strongly deny such charges. While acknowledging the existence of the occasional rogue witch who pursues evil, most maintain that their magic is used to bring benefits, not harm. Wiccans teach that the effects of magic will return threefold to the person practicing it and say that this is a major deterrent to the pronouncing of curses. Examples of this so-called benevolent magic include spells to protect yourself, to purify your home from negative energy left behind by former tenants, to make a person fall in love with you, to promote healing and health, to prevent the loss of your job, and to acquire money. With such sweeping powers being attributed to witchcraft, it is not surprising that it has become so popular.
Magic has always been associated with the occult
The Bible, however, makes no distinction between magic that is good and magic that is evil. In the Law given to Moses, God made his position quite clear. He said: "You must not practice magic." (Leviticus 19:26) We also read: "There should not be found in you . . . a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, or one who binds others with a spell or anyone who consults a spirit medium."—Deuteronomy 18:10, 11.
Why did God say that? It is not because he intends to deny us what is beneficial. Jehovah gave these laws to his people because he loved them and did not want them to become enslaved by fear and superstition. Instead, he invites his servants to approach him for the things they need. He is the Giver of "every good gift and every perfect present." (James 1:17) The apostle John assured fellow believers: "Whatever we ask we receive from [God], because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes."—1 John 3:22.
Are practicers of witchcraft unknowingly doing the will of the Devil?
What About Evil Spirits?
Many witches agree with the Bible on this point: Evil spirits do exist. In one essay a promoter of witchcraft warns: "The Shadows are out there: They exist, in the invisible world that parallels our own, living creatures. . . . The terms 'Imp', 'Evil Spirit' and 'Demon' are fairly accurate. They are very strong. . . . The most intelligent variety . . . are capable (if someone is helpful enough to open a doorway for them) of entering our world. . . . They can enter your body . . . , even asserting a degree of control over you. Yes, this is exactly like the old stories of Demon possession."
In Bible times, demon possession afflicted people in various ways. Some of those affected were unable to speak, some were blind, some acted insane, and some possessed superhuman strength. (Matthew 9:32; 12:22; 17:15, 18; Mark 5:2-5; Luke 8:29; 9:42; 11:14; Acts 19:16) At times the agony was compounded when many demons gained possession of a person simultaneously. (Luke 8:2, 30) Surely, then, there is good reason why Jehovah warns people to stay away from witchcraft and other occult practices.
Religion Based on Truth
Many are drawn to witchcraft today because it seems to be a harmless, benign, nature religion. In some communities it has become accepted. It is not feared. Rather, it has often become trivialized. In a climate where religious tolerance leads many to embrace even the bizarre, witchcraft has gained considerable respectability.
The Bible reveals the way of truth
Indeed, the world of religions has become a marketplace from which people are free to choose one that fits their needs, much as one would buy a pair of shoes. In contrast, Jesus spoke of only two choices. He said: "Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it." (Matthew 7:13, 14) Naturally, we are free to choose which path to take. But since our eternal welfare is at stake, that choice is vitally important. To achieve spiritual enlightenment, we must pursue the way of truth—the way that is found only in God's Word, the Bible.
* In English, some use the spelling "magick" to distinguish the difference between the occult variety and stage illusions. See Awake!, September 8, 1993, page 26, "Is There Danger in Practicing Magic?
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Does the Bible
Foretell the Future?
In this series:
Who Can Know the Future?
Foretelling the Messiah
Events Foretold for Our Day
Foretelling Our Immediate Future
Is Your Future Predestined?
Are We Living in the Last Days?
Do You View the Future with Fear or Hope?
Who Can Know the Future?
“I am the Divine One . . . , the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.”—Isaiah 46:9, 10.
IN THESE unstable times, political, financial, and social analysts study history and modern trends in an effort to predict the future. Others, desperate to know what the future holds for them personally, look to astrology or spiritism for answers. Such people are often disappointed with the results. Is it utterly impossible to know what will happen to this world, our families, and us as individuals? In the end, can anyone really foresee the future?
In his words to the prophet Isaiah, quoted above, Almighty God, Jehovah, described his own ability to foretell the future. Through Isaiah, God foretold the release of the ancient Israelites from Babylonian captivity and their return to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. How precise was this prophecy? About 200 years in advance, Isaiah correctly named Babylon’s future conqueror, Cyrus. Furthermore, Isaiah accurately described Cyrus’ strategy—that of diverting the Euphrates River, which served to protect the city. He even foresaw that Cyrus would find the massive two-leaved doors in the city wall carelessly left open, contributing to Cyrus’ easy victory.—Isaiah 44:24–45:7.
Compared with God, man is powerless to peer into the future. “Do not make your boast about the next day,” wrote wise King Solomon, “for you do not know what a day will give birth to.” (Proverbs 27:1) That observation is still true. No human can foresee even his own future. What makes God different? He completely understands everything he has created, including the nature and inclination of man. When he chooses to do so, God can foresee exactly how individuals and entire nations will act. Further, he has unlimited ability to control the outcome of events. When he foretells through his prophets that something will occur, he becomes “the One making the word of his servant come true, and the One that carries out completely the counsel of his own messengers.” (Isaiah 44:26) Only Jehovah God can truthfully make that statement.
Isaiah lived more than 700 years before Jesus, the Messiah. Yet, Isaiah prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. Particularly from the 18th century on, however, critics of the Bible have attacked the authenticity of the book of Isaiah. They have claimed that Isaiah’s prophecies were not truly predictive but were written after the fact, a later writer merely recording what had already happened. Is that true? In 1947 a copy of the book of Isaiah was discovered, along with other ancient scrolls, in a cave near the Dead Sea. Scholars determined that this copy was made more than a hundred years before the birth of the foretold Messiah, or Christ. Yes, the Bible revealed the future!
Isaiah and other Bible writers could not have foretold future events based solely on their own insight. Rather, they “spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) In the following articles, we will focus on some details of Jesus’ life that were foretold through Isaiah. Then we will consider events that Jesus and his disciples foretold for our day and beyond.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Who Is the Devil?
Satan the Devil—where did he come from? (1, 2)
How does Satan mislead people? (3-7)
Why should you resist the Devil? (7)
1. The word "devil" means someone who tells wicked lies about another person. "Satan" means an enemy or an opposer. These are terms given to God's chief enemy. At first, he was a perfect angel in heaven with God. However, he later thought too much of himself and wanted the worship that rightly belongs to God.—Matthew 4:8-10.
2. This angel, Satan, spoke to Eve by means of a snake. By telling her lies, he got her to disobey God. Satan thus attacked what is called God's "sovereignty," or position as the Most High. Satan questioned whether God rules in a worthy way and in the best interests of His subjects. Satan also brought into question whether any human would remain loyal to God. By doing this, Satan made himself God's enemy. That is why he came to be called Satan the Devil.—Genesis 3:1-5; Job 1:8-11; Revelation 12:9.
3. Satan tries to trick people into worshiping him. (2 Corinthians 11:3, 14) One way he misleads people is through false religion. If a religion teaches lies about God, it really serves the purpose of Satan. (John 8:44) People who are members of false religions may sincerely believe that they are worshiping the true God. But they are really serving Satan. He is 'the god of this world.'—2 Corinthians 4:4.
False religion, spiritism,
and nationalism mislead people
4. Spiritism is another way Satan brings people under his power. They may call upon spirits to protect them, to harm others, to foretell the future, or to perform miracles. Satan is the wicked force behind all these practices. To please God, we must have nothing to do with spiritism.—Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Acts 19:18, 19.
5. Satan also misleads people through extreme pride of race and the worship of political organizations. Some feel that their nation or race is better than others. But this is not true. (Acts 10:34, 35) Other people look to political organizations to solve man's problems. By doing this, they are rejecting God's Kingdom. It is the only solution for our problems.—Daniel 2:44.
Resist Satan by continuing to learn about Jehovah
6. Another way Satan misleads people is by tempting them with sinful desires. Jehovah tells us to avoid sinful practices because he knows they will harm us. (Galatians 6:7, 8) Some people may want you to join them in such practices. Remember, though, it is really Satan who wants you to do these things.—1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 15:33.
7. Satan may use persecution or opposition to get you to leave Jehovah. Some of your loved ones may become very angry because you are studying the Bible. Others may make fun of you. But to whom do you owe your life? Satan wants to frighten you so that you will stop learning about Jehovah. Do not let Satan win! (Matthew 10:34-39; 1 Peter 5:8, 9) By resisting the Devil, you can make Jehovah happy and show that you uphold His sovereignty.—Proverbs 27:11.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Should You Believe in the Trinity?
Should You Believe It?
DO YOU believe in the Trinity? Most people in Christendom do. After all, it has been the central doctrine of the churches for centuries.
In view of this, you would think that there could be no question about it. But there is, and lately even some of its supporters have added fuel to the controversy.
Why should a subject like this be of any more than passing interest? Because Jesus himself said: "Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." So our entire future hinges on our knowing the true nature of God, and that means getting to the root of the Trinity controversy. Therefore, why not examine it for yourself?—John 17:3, Catholic Jerusalem Bible (JB).
Various Trinitarian concepts exist. But generally the Trinity teaching is that in the Godhead there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; yet, together they are but one God. The doctrine says that the three are coequal, almighty, and uncreated, having existed eternally in the Godhead.
Others, however, say that the Trinity doctrine is false, that Almighty God stands alone as a separate, eternal, and all-powerful being. They say that Jesus in his prehuman existence was, like the angels, a separate spirit person created by God, and for this reason he must have had a beginning. They teach that Jesus has never been Almighty God's equal in any sense; he has always been subject to God and still is. They also believe that the holy ghost is not a person but God's spirit, his active force.
Supporters of the Trinity say that it is founded not only on religious tradition but also on the Bible. Critics of the doctrine say that it is not a Bible teaching, one history source even declaring: "The origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan."—The Paganism in Our Christianity.
If the Trinity is true, it is degrading to Jesus to say that he was never equal to God as part of a Godhead. But if the Trinity is false, it is degrading to Almighty God to call anyone his equal, and even worse to call Mary the "Mother of God." If the Trinity is false, it dishonors God to say, as noted in the book Catholicism: "Unless [people] keep this Faith whole and undefiled, without doubt [they] shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: we worship one God in Trinity."
There are good reasons, then, why you should want to know the truth about the Trinity. But before examining its origin and its claim of truthfulness, it would be helpful to define this doctrine more specifically. What, exactly, is the Trinity? How do supporters of it explain it?
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
What Has Happened to
In this series:
What Has Happened to Hellfire?
What Really Is Hell?
Is the Devil Real?
Is There Life After Death?
What Really Is Hell?
WHATEVER image the word "hell" brings to your mind, hell is generally thought of as a place of punishment for sin. Concerning sin and its effect, the Bible says: "Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned." (Romans 5:12) The Scriptures also state: "The wages sin pays is death." (Romans 6:23) Since the punishment for sin is death, the fundamental question in determining the true nature of hell is: What happens to us when we die?
Does life of some kind, in some form, continue after death? What is hell, and what kind of people go there? Is there any hope for those in hell? The Bible gives truthful and satisfying answers to these questions.
Life After Death?
Does something inside us, like a soul or a spirit, survive the death of the body? Consider how the first man, Adam, came to have life. The Bible states: "Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life." (Genesis 2:7) Though breathing sustained his life, putting "the breath of life" into his nostrils involved much more than simply blowing air into his lungs. It meant that God put into Adam's lifeless body the spark of life—"the force of life," which is active in all earthly creatures. (Genesis 6:17; 7:22) The Bible refers to this animating force as "spirit." (James 2:26) That spirit can be compared to the electric current that activates a machine or an appliance and enables it to perform its function. Just as the current never takes on the features of the equipment it activates, the life-force does not take on any of the characteristics of the creatures it animates. It has no personality and no thinking ability.
What happens to the spirit when a person dies? Psalm 146:4 says: "His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish." When a person dies, his impersonal spirit does not go on existing in another realm as a spirit creature. It "returns to the true God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7) This means that any hope of future life for that person now rests entirely with God.
The ancient Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato held that a soul inside a person survives death and never dies. What does the Bible teach about the soul? Adam "came to be a living soul," says Genesis 2:7. He did not receive a soul; he was a soul—a whole person. The Scriptures speak of a soul's doing work, craving food, being kidnapped, experiencing sleeplessness, and so forth. (Leviticus 23:30; Deuteronomy 12:20; 24:7; Psalm 119:28) Yes, man himself is a soul. When a person dies, that soul dies.—Ezekiel 18:4.
What, then, is the condition of the dead? When pronouncing sentence upon Adam, Jehovah stated: "Dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:19) Where was Adam before God formed him from the dust of the ground and gave him life? Why, he simply did not exist! When he died, Adam returned to that state of complete absence of life. The condition of the dead is made clear at Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10, where we read: "The dead know nothing . . . In the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." (New International Version) Scripturally, death is a state of nonexistence. The dead have no awareness, no feelings, no thoughts.
Unending Torment or Common Grave?
Since the dead have no conscious existence, hell cannot be a fiery place of torment where the wicked suffer after death. What, then, is hell? Examining what happened to Jesus after he died helps to answer that question. The Bible writer Luke recounts: "Neither was [Jesus] forsaken in Hades [hell, King James Version] nor did his flesh see corruption."* (Acts 2:31) Where was the hell to which even Jesus went? The apostle Paul wrote: "I handed on to you . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, yes, that he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4) So Jesus was in hell, the grave, but he was not abandoned there, for he was raised up, or resurrected.
Job prayed for protection in hell
Consider also the case of the righteous man Job, who suffered much. Wishing to escape his plight, he pleaded: "Who will grant me this, that thou mayest protect me in hell [Sheol], and hide me till thy wrath pass?"# (Job 14:13, Douay Version) How unreasonable to think that Job desired to go to a fiery-hot place for protection! To Job, "hell" was simply the grave, where his suffering would end. The Bible hell, then, is the common grave of mankind where good people as well as bad ones go.
Could it be that the fire of hell is symbolic of all-consuming, or thorough, destruction? Separating fire from Hades, or hell, the Scriptures say: "Death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire." "The lake" mentioned here is symbolic, since death and hell (Hades) that are thrown into it cannot literally be burned. "This [lake of fire] means the second death"—death from which there is no hope of coming back to life.—Revelation 20:14.
Fiery Gehenna—a symbol of eternal destruction
The lake of fire has a meaning similar to that of "the fiery Gehenna [hell fire, King James Version]" that Jesus spoke of. (Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:47, 48) Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and it refers to the valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem. When Jesus was on earth, this valley was used as a garbage dump, "where the dead bodies of criminals, and the carcasses of animals, and every other kind of filth was cast." (Smith's Dictionary of the Bible) The fires were kept burning by adding sulfur to burn up the refuse. Jesus used that valley as a proper symbol of everlasting destruction.
As does Gehenna, the lake of fire symbolizes eternal destruction. Death and Hades are "hurled into" it in that they will be done away with when mankind is freed from sin and the condemnation of death. Willful, unrepentant sinners will also have their "portion" in that lake. (Revelation 21:8) They too will be annihilated forever. On the other hand, those in God's memory who are in hell—the common grave of mankind—have a marvelous future.
Revelation 20:13 states: "The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them." Yes, the Bible hell will be emptied. As Jesus promised, "the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [Jesus'] voice and come out." (John 5:28, 29) Although no longer presently existing in any form, millions of dead ones who are in Jehovah God's memory will be resurrected, or brought back to life, in a restored earthly paradise.—Luke 23:43; Acts 24:15.
In the new world of God's making, resurrected humans who comply with his righteous laws will never need to die again. (Isaiah 25:8) Jehovah "will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore." In fact, "the former things [will] have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) What a blessing is in store for those in hell—"the memorial tombs"! This blessing indeed is reason enough for us to take in more knowledge of Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ.—John 17:3.
'Those in the memorial tombs will come out'
* In the King James Version, the Greek word Hades is rendered "hell" in each of its ten occurrences in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The rendering at Luke 16:19-31 mentions torment, but the entire account is symbolic in meaning. See chapter 88 of The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, published by Jehovah's Witnesses.
# The Hebrew word Sheol occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and is rendered "hell," "grave," and "pit" in the King James Version.
His Message and You
“I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance.”—JOHN 10:10.
How Jesus Can Change Your Life
What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?
JESUS CHRIST came to the earth primarily to give, not to receive. By means of his ministry, he gave a priceless gift to humankind—a message that revealed the truth about God and His will. Those who respond to that message can enjoy a better life now, as millions of true Christians can testify.* But at the core of the message Jesus preached is the most precious gift of all—the perfect life that he gave in our behalf. Our eternal welfare depends upon our response to this key aspect of his message.
What God and Christ gave Jesus knew that he was to die a painful death at the hands of his enemies. (Matthew 20:17-19) Yet, in his well-known words found at John 3:16, he said: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” Jesus also said that he came “to give his soul [or, life] a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Why did he say that his life would be given rather than taken?
Motivated by unsurpassed love, God made provision for humans to be rescued from inherited sin and its consequences—imperfection and death. God did this by sending his only-begotten Son to the earth to die a sacrificial death. Jesus willingly complied, giving his perfect human life in our behalf. This provision, called the ransom, is God’s greatest gift to humankind.# It is a gift that can lead to everlasting life.
What you need to do Is the ransom a gift to you personally? That is up to you. To illustrate: Imagine that someone holds out to you a gift-wrapped box. Really, it does not become your gift until you reach out and accept it. Similarly, Jehovah extends the ransom to you, but this gift is not yours personally unless you reach out and accept it. How?
Jesus said that it is those “exercising faith” in him who will receive everlasting life. Faith involves the way you live your life. (James 2:26) Exercising faith in Jesus means bringing your life into harmony with the things he said and did. To do that, you must know Jesus and his Father well. “This means everlasting life,” Jesus said, “their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ shared a message that has changed the lives of millions of people the world over. Would you like to know more about that message and how you and your loved ones can benefit from it, not just now, but forever? Jehovah’s Witnesses would be happy to help you.
* Not everyone who claims to be Christian is a genuine follower of Christ. Jesus’ true followers are those who live in harmony with the truths he taught about God and His will.—Matthew 7:21-23.
# For more information about the Scriptural teaching of the ransom, see chapter 5, “The Ransom—God’s Greatest Gift,” of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Monday, May 16, 2011
IS GOD RESPONSIBLE FOR NATURAL DISASTERS?
In this series:
Broken Hearts, Shattered Faith
Is God Responsible?
Disasters Are Nearing Their End
Are We Living in “the Last Days”?
Natural Disasters—Are They Getting Worse?
Is God Responsible?
“GOD is love,” states the Bible. (1 John 4:8) He is also just and merciful. “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.”—Deuteronomy 32:4.
As Creator, Jehovah God has the ability to foresee all potential causes of harm, and he has the power to intercede. In view of these facts and the qualities attributed to God in the Bible, many rightly ask, “Why does God allow natural disasters to occur?”* As millions of sincere inquirers have found, God himself has provided a most reasonable answer in his written Word. (2 Timothy 3:16) Please consider the following.
They Rejected God’s Love
The Bible tells us that God gave our original parents all they needed to enjoy a happy and safe life. Furthermore, as they and their offspring obeyed God’s command to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth,” the growing human family could count on God’s ongoing care.—Genesis 1:28.
Sadly, though, Adam and Eve deliberately turned their backs on their Creator by willfully disobeying him and choosing a course of independence from him. (Genesis 1:28; 3:1-6) By far the majority of their descendants have followed in their footsteps. (Genesis 6:5, 6, 11, 12) In short, humankind as a whole have chosen to be masters of themselves and of their home, the earth, without any guidance from God. Being a God of love who respects the principle of free will, Jehovah does not force his sovereignty on humans, even though their course may lead to harm.#
Nevertheless, Jehovah did not abandon the human family. To this day “he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) Additionally, God gave mankind the ability to learn about the earth and its cycles, and to varying degrees this knowledge has enabled humans to predict extreme weather and other potential dangers, such as volcanic eruptions.
Humans have also discovered which parts of the earth are more prone to seismic or atmospheric extremes. In some lands this knowledge has helped to save lives through education as well as the development of better construction methods and warning systems. Still, the number of natural disasters reported annually has been rising steadily. The reasons for this are many and complex.
Living in High-Risk Areas
The severity of a disaster does not always relate to the power of the natural forces involved. The concentration of humans in the affected area is often of greater consequence. According to a report published by the World Bank, in more than 160 countries, over a quarter of the population live in areas of high mortality risk from natural disasters. “As you put more and more people in [harm’s] way, you make a disaster out of something that before was just a natural event,” says scientist Klaus Jacob of Columbia University in the United States.
Other exacerbating factors are rapid, unplanned urbanization, deforestation, and the extensive use of concrete to cover ground that would normally absorb runoff. Particularly the latter two can cause destructive mud slides and excessive flooding.
The human factor can also turn an earthquake into a major disaster, for it is not the shock wave of energy that causes most deaths and injuries but collapsing buildings. For good reason seismologists have the saying: “Earthquakes don’t kill people. Buildings kill people.”
Political incompetence can add to the death toll. In one South American land, earthquakes have demolished the capital city three times in the past 400 years. And since the last quake, which took place in 1967, the population has doubled to five million. “But building codes that could protect the population are either lacking or not enforced,” says New Scientist magazine.
That last statement well applies to the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A., which was built in a low-lying, flood-prone area. Despite the existence of levees and pumps, the disaster that many had feared finally occurred in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. “Longstanding warnings” were either ignored or “met with a halfhearted response,” said a report in USA Today.
A similar halfhearted response has been manifested toward global warming, which many scientists believe may intensify weather-related disasters and raise sea levels. Clearly, political, social, and economic factors—things that are not of God’s making—must be taken into account. These human factors call to mind the Biblical truth that man is unable “even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Another human element is the attitude of people toward warnings—natural and official.
Learn to Recognize Warning Signs
At the outset it must be acknowledged that natural disasters can strike without warning. “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall [us] all,” says Ecclesiastes 9:11. Often, though, there is some indication—natural or official—that trouble is looming. Hence, when people know the signs, they can improve their prospects of survival.
When a tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Simeulue in 2004, seven people out of a population of many thousands died. Knowing that abnormally receding tides can precede tsunamis, most people fled when the sea retreated. Likewise, people have escaped violent storms and volcanic eruptions by heeding warnings. Because nature’s warnings sometimes precede official warnings, it is wise to be familiar with both, especially if you live in a disaster-prone area.
Sadly, however, there is a “tendency for people to deny danger even when it is obvious,” said a volcanologist. This is particularly true where false alarms are common or where a previous disaster occurred a long time ago. And sometimes people just do not want to abandon their possessions, even when disaster is staring them in the face.
In many regions people are simply too poor to move to a safer area. But instead of reflecting badly on our Creator, the realities of poverty point to human failings. Governments, for example, often pour vast sums of money into armaments but do little to help the needy.
Nevertheless, a measure of help is available to most people, no matter what their situation may be. How is that so? In that God, by means of his written Word, the Holy Bible, has given us many fine principles, which when applied can save lives.
Principles That Save Lives
Do not put God to the test. “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test,” says Deuteronomy 6:16. True Christians do not have a superstitious outlook on life, thinking that God will always protect them from physical harm. Hence, when danger threatens, they heed the inspired advice: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.”—Proverbs 22:3.
Value life more than material possessions. “Even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) Yes, material things have their place, but they are of no value to the dead. Therefore, those who love life and who cherish the privilege of serving God do not take needless risks in order to protect property.—Psalm 115:17.
In 2004, Tadashi, who lives in Japan, evacuated his home immediately after an earthquake hit and before official direction was given. His life meant more to him than his home and belongings. Akira, who lives in the same area, wrote that “the real degree of damage depends, not on the material loss, but on one’s viewpoint. I viewed this disaster as a good opportunity to simplify my life.”
Listen to governmental warnings. “Be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1) When an official order is given to evacuate or to follow some other safety procedure, it is wise to take heed. Tadashi stayed away from the danger zone in obedience to an evacuation order and thus avoided injury or death from aftershocks.
When there are no official warnings of a threatening disaster, people have to decide personally when and how to respond, taking into account all the available facts. In some areas local governments may provide helpful guidelines on disaster survival. If such information is available in your area, are you familiar with it? And have you discussed it with your family? (See the accompanying box.) In many parts of the world, under the direction of the local branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, congregations of Witnesses have in place emergency procedures to follow should a disaster threaten or occur, and these procedures have proved to be extremely helpful.
ARE YOU EQUIPPED TO FLEE?
The New York City Office of Emergency Management recommends that households plan for evacuation by assembling a “go bag”—a durable, accessible, easy-to-transport bag containing important emergency items. The following may be included:%
Copies of important documents in a waterproof container
An extra set of car and house keys
Credit or debit cards and cash
Bottled water and nonperishable food
Flashlight(s), AM/FM radio, cell phone (if you have one), extra batteries
Medication for at least one week, a list of dosages, prescription slips, and doctors’ names and phone numbers. (Be sure to replace medications before their expiration date)
Sturdy, comfortable shoes and rainwear
Contact and meeting place information for your household, as well as a regional map
% Although based on the official list, the above includes minor changes. Not every item listed may be suitable in your case or in your part of the world, and some items may have to be added. For example, seniors and the disabled have their own special needs.
Show Christian love. “I am giving you a new commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another . . . as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) People who show self-sacrificing, Christlike love do all that is humanly possible to help one another prepare for or survive a natural disaster. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, congregation elders work tirelessly to make contact with all members of the congregation to ensure that they are safe or can get to a safe place. Also, the elders check to be sure that each one has life’s necessities, such as clean drinking water, food, clothing, and essential medication. Meanwhile, Witness families in safe areas open their homes to fellow Witnesses among the evacuees. Such love truly is “a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:14.
Will natural disasters get worse, as some predict? Perhaps, but only for a time. Why? Because mankind’s tragic era of independence from God is about to end. Thereafter, the entire earth and all its inhabitants will be fully under the loving sovereignty of Jehovah, with wonderful results, as we shall now see.
* Earthquakes, extreme weather, volcanic eruptions, and so on are not disasters in themselves. They only become such when they adversely affect human life and property.
# For a more detailed discussion of God’s temporary permission of suffering and evil, please see the series of articles entitled “‘Why?’—Answering the Hardest of Questions,” in the November 2006 issue of this magazine, as well as chapter 11 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.