Earning Salvation and Playing Chess with God
August 28, 2007
Some stories you just don't forget.
Like this one from Isaac Bashevis Singer (the title of which I forgot) about a man who viewed life as a chess game with God. Accordingly, he knew he'd always be the loser in any situation, eternally in check, and after being toyed with an adequate time, checkmated without mercy. And yet there was an upside. It was a great honor, after all, to play such a worthy opponent; no one wants to waste their time on a third-rate foe. So even as our man got stomped upon time after time, he could reflect in awe on the ingenious tactics of the Master Player.
For example, (the precise details may be slightly off - it was a long time ago that I read it) our main character, a repairman or messenger or whatever, enters the apartment of an absolutely drop-dead beautiful woman. But he falls ill, so the kind woman lets him lie down on her couch. The blazing sunlight is pouring into the room, so she leans over the couch to pull the shade. But she loses her footing and falls on top of our hero! Of course, belt buckles or something lock, and they can not separate! At that very moment, the footsteps of her huge, mean, jealous husband are heard in the hall, the key turning in the door.
Even as our hero thinks of how he's about to be pounded into mush, he can not help but marvel: "Masterful move, God! Awesome!"
What is the nature of a person's relationship to God? Might it even differ from person to person, since God, who is described as having humility (as opposed to modesty, they are not the same) adapts himself to each one, taking into account each unique personality?
Detractors of Jehovah's Witnesses delight in the accusation that Witnesses are trying to earn salvation; that's the reason for their door-to-door activity, they say. The truly uninformed portray them competing with each other for one of the limited (144,000) heavenly slots! The truth of the matter is very different. And yet not so different that it can't be misinterpreted, not just by the casual observer, but even by some Witnesses themselves, who may know and say one thing, but act as if another were true.
The everlasting life that Jehovah's Witnesses look forward to, made possible by Christ's death is described biblically as a gift.
For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23
A free gift, of course, is just that. It is a gift. You can't earn it. Yet you can show appreciation for it. Indeed, anyone who provides a really fine gift, perhaps at great cost to themselves, has to be sorely disappointed if the recipient merely grabs the gift matter-of-factly, without sign of gratitude.
So Jehovah's Witnesses love the giver of this gift, and they show appreciation for it. That's different than trying to earn the gift, and yet the outward manifestations of both attitudes are similar. It is easy to mistake one for another.
My favorite circuit overseer, who we'll call Roger, was known for the expression "just do the best you can." Guys in the organization who like to push, and who, more or less, imply that whatever you are doing is not enough, didn't always appreciate Roger. The Watchtower Society did, however. I noted at the elder training school, where traveling overseers rotated all the teaching parts, that Roger was invariably assigned the really weighty segments. When he "retired" from the circuit work, and settled in one congregation, not everyone welcomed his "just do the best you can" message. They fretted. Would not some start dogging it, they feared? Maybe they would slow down! And sure enough, some did. For a time. But only for a time.
With such a well-known person espousing "just do the best you can," people who were pushing themselves, maybe some out of a sense of guilt or obligation or even "earning," did back off, relieved. But the congregation readjusted. Soon, new ones, and many of the old, were stepping up to the plate, "doing the best they could," and doing so with a purer love of God. The congregation's field service exceeded anything that had come prior.
Matthew 24:14 states that "this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come." Who, if not those who believe in it, would one expect to do this preaching?
With regard to earning, a pertinent thought is found at James 5:19-20:
My brothers, if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
The question might be asked: Whose soul is saved and whose multitude of sins covered? The "turner" or the "turnee?" If it is the "turner," well....that's a lot like earning one's salvation, isn't it? Has the Watchtower Society ever interpreted the verse that way?
It has not. It has consistently pointed to the "turnee" who's soul is saved and sins covered, not the "turner."
"The person who reproved him has thus worked toward the covering over, or pardoning, of the erring one’s sins." (Wt 3/1/83 page 15)
Publishers of the Watchtower, and all of Jehovah's Witnesses, are well aware that life is a free gift, a gift that can be appreciated, but not earned.