WHY ANY OF THIS MATTERS
After the first few months of meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I revealed to my neighbor that I honestly thought the Witnesses were Christians and good people, only a bit misguided. He was surprised and rightly told me that they were outside of the truth and not in a good place spiritually.
Those were my pre-Orthodox days and I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian. My thoughts were that there are so many thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, how can we possibly say that one group is better than another? If someone is trying to live a godly life, what does it matter if they are a mess doctrinally? Aren’t we all a mess?
I was unconsciously wrapped up in our culture’s philosophy of relativism, which states that it is audacious to make claims of absolute truth. But it is a new philosophy among mankind, and one that opposes God because Jesus Christ is not relative but absolute truth revealed.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” His life and teachings show us that Truth is not a concept to grasp, but a Person to know. Granted, Jesus is God and God is mostly a mystery to us. However, God has chosen to partially reveal Himself to us. These revelations are indisputable truths to which we must hold; they are the only solid things in this world of mist and vapor.
With that said, let us contrast the truth regarding the incarnation of God with the Watchtower idea that Jesus was just an angel, or a demigod wrapped in flesh.
DIFFICULTIES AT THE OUTSET
People have wrestled for nearly two thousand years with the revelation that God wrapped himself in flesh and dwelt among us. To pagan Greeks, this was foolishness.
Many ancient pagans had no problem with Jesus being God, but they did not believe that the spirit realm could mix with the material world. To them, the material world was inferior or downright evil. Therefore, many of them believed that Jesus was an apparition that merely appeared to be human. Others developed an entire system of gods and demigods to separate divinity from humanity.
In Orthodox Christianity, however, we are gifted with the revelation that in His great love for mankind, God became incarnate, was born of the Virgin Mary, died upon a cross, and rose bodily on the third day. But why did He do all of that?
WHY DID GOD BECOME MAN?
Made in the image of God Himself, mankind was the pinnacle of creation. However, in the Garden of Eden, we fell into sin, which led our race into death. The creatures whom God had created to have eternal communion with Him were now dying from the disease of sin that plagued humanity.
Like a good artisan who does not want to see his work fall into decay and ruin, and in order to reconcile man to Himself, God gave us the internal moral law (our conscience), revealed Himself through His creation, gifted the Hebrews with the Law of Moses, and even sent prophets to speak his truth. However, none of these things could complete the task. Something greater was needed.
When the time was right, God became one of us. In divine condescension, He wrapped Himself in flesh and submitted His holy body to all of our frailty: He hungered and thirsted, He was tempted by Satan, His body was in need of sleep, He submitted His human will to God the Father, and walked in complete oneness with Him. In a brief lifetime, God showed us face-to-face the fullness and epitome of being human in this present life.
WHY DID JESUS DIE ON THE CROSS?
When all of that was completed, He willingly entered into death in order to fully join humanity in every aspect of our suffering. However, He needed to die in such a way that was public so no one could deny his resurrection; in a way that stretched out his arms to embrace all of humanity; in a manner that would place him in the air as one who is the mediator between the heavens (God) and the earth (mankind); and in a way that would allow him to share in the harshest and darkest suffering known to mankind.
Therefore, the cross was chosen by Him to be transformed from an instrument of torture to a symbol of victory. Dying upon the cross, He willingly stretched out His arms and embraced the disease of sin that plagues every human. Though never knowing sin through experience, He became sin and nailed that sin upon the cross.
He breathed a prayer of forgiveness for His persecutors and gave up His life of His own accord. In death, Jesus entered Hades (Hebrew Sheol) – the realm of the dead – and set free the captives in death, beginning with Adam up to John the Baptist. On the third day, He brought life back into His pure and beautiful body and stepped out of the tomb in triumph, having trampled down death by death and liberating all of humanity from the bondage of the grave and sin.
In this manner, Jesus Christ led all of creation in death and resurrection. Our life is completely in Christ. We die with Him on the cross — our sins are nailed to it; and we begin anew this life in His Body, the Church. This flesh will die, but our spirit will live with Him until He resurrects all and unites us to a new body.
God could not sit back and watch His creation fall into death. By His assumption of every part of our broken lives except sin, He united Himself to us completely and reconciled us to the Father. Everything He took upon Himself, He redeemed.
His incarnation united divinity to humanity; His baptism cleansed the Jordan River and all of creation from the curse of sin; His teachings instructed us how to walk daily in the path of Life; His body on the cross nailed the disease of sin and death to the cross; His death conquered death; His resurrection paved the way for our resurrection in Him; and His glorious ascension deified the flesh and honored it with a seat at the right hand of the Father.
Through grace, we are made like unto Him who is God by nature. None of this could have been completed by a created being: no matter how pure and favored that being was. God became man so that man through grace could partake of the divine nature of God (2 Peter 1:4). This partaking begins even now as we receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. “You are what you eat” and those who do so in a worthy manner are being transformed into the image of His likeness.
AN UN-DIVINE EVENT
Contrast the inspiring Orthodox account of the economy of our salvation above with the heretical teachings of the Watchtower below:
According to this group, Jehovah sent his favorite angel child to become a man in order to be a final sacrifice for the sins of mankind and to set aright injustice. Adam* was made perfect and lost that perfection when he fell into sin and death. Therefore, in their understanding, a perfect man needed to die in order to balance the scales of justice. But I would ask is not the sacrifice of our Lord even more an act of mercy and love? How does condemning an innocent man in place of a guilty one balance any imaginary scales of justice? I do not deny God’s justice playing a role in the economy of salvation, but I do not think the death of Christ can be first and foremost an act of justice.
Rather than doing the “dirty work” of suffering and taking upon himself man’s sins, Jehovah supposedly sent a separate being to enter into the brokenness of mankind. In this way, Jehovah remains completely divided from humanity and does not have to be too intimately involved with us. The ancient Greek pagans would have strongly approved of this type of gospel, since they believed matter to be abhorrent and that a supreme god would not want to soil himself by touching anything relating to us.
My neighbor asked the Witnesses about Jesus’ teaching that “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) If Jesus was willing to do that, why wasn’t God? According to the Bible, Jesus must be more loving than Jehovah. What does that say about their Jehovah?
They claim that Jehovah’s willingness to send someone else to do his dirty work is the sign of his great love for humanity. But compared to the Orthodox view of the incarnation that I outlined above, this concept is quite insignificant. When one studies the beauty of the ancient Orthodox faith that has been handed down from generation to generation, they see there is nothing special or beautiful about the Watchtower’s propaganda. Rather it is a distorting and twisting of truth that results in nothing but a bland and inferior faith.
That is why all of this matters. That is why I have posted four blogs about this heresy that distorts and destroys the beauty that God has revealed to us, and attempts to make people settle for a mediocre lie.
WRAPPING IT UP
One thousand years ago, the Arian heresy finally seemed to disappear, which is one of many evidences that it was not of God. The true faith and Church will never disappear from the earth. The heresy persisted for several hundred years because it was consistent with Greek philosophy that kept God and matter distant from one another. The idea that God would wrap himself in flesh and die in a humiliating fashion upon a cross was a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness unto the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23).
I called this series Assaulting God because that is the ancient Christian understanding of the result of Arianism and the Neo-Arianism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jesus Christ is God and equal in divinity to the Father. To slander Christ and call him anything less is to insult both the Father and His Son.
Most of what I wrote regarding the truth of the incarnation, the cross, the death and resurrection comes from a short but brilliant book called On The Incarnation, written some 1,700 years ago by St Athansius the Great. I would highly recommend it to all Christians, whether Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, etc.
I found Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse to be a good read and the books by the author Ray Franz (a former member of the Watchtower’s Governing Body) are supposed to be even better.
*The Watchtower also teaches that Adam will never be resurrected. Jehovah will leave him dead forever. Essentially, Jehovah will never forgive him for what he did to humanity. This stands in stark contrast to the Orthodox understanding of a loving God who wants to rescue both Adam and Eve from the bondage of death. Our Resurrection (Pascha) Icon even depicts Christ pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs.