"I never thought I'd ever be this old." The circuit overseer was addressing a circuit assembly. He looked at his hands "I didn't think I'd have wrinkles or my hair would turn gray. I thought this present system of things would long have passed, but isn't it fine that many people have come into God's organization over the last decades?" The notion went over well. People clapped.
It doesn't always go over so well, not with everyone. If there's one thing we know about life today, it is that people are restless. In turmoil. Uneasy. Society has broken down in many areas, be it family life, finances, public health and safety, integrity and trust. People are unsettled. And where is the master? Wasn't he supposed to be here by now?
The master, of course, is the one referred to at Matt 24:48-9. Matt 24 and 25 are the apocalyptic chapters of Matthew. They're concerned with the "last days" of human rule on earth. Matt 25:13, for instance, advises Christians to "keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour."
If the day and the hour are out-of-bounds, Jehovah's Witnesses have nonetheless tried to nail the year more than once, most recently in 1975. It's not just them, either. Isaac Newton, the grandpa of science, who wrote more about spiritual matters than math and science combined (to the annoyance of Richard Dawkins, I suspect), decided 2060 was the final year. And even outside Christian circles, didn't the Mayans come up with some date - 2011 - a date rapidly approaching?
And why should people not wonder about such things? Give us a few decades, and we'll all be senile and in diapers. And that amidst an ever-decaying world. Who is so dull as to not be curious about what lies after our 80 years?
We Witnesses learned our "date" lesson for awhile (perhaps) and for some time Armageddon has merely been "soon," even "just around the corner." Armageddon, remember, is not the earth's destruction, but the wiping clean of rebellious society that accompanies Kingdom rule coming to power. Still, that is one heckuva corner.
So some do what Jesus said in 24:48-9:
"But if ever that evil slave should say in his heart, ‘My master is delaying,’ and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect and in an hour that he does not know...." and will not be pleased.
The "master" seems to be "delaying," and so some of his slaves start to beat up on the other slaves, apparently the ones not so concerned about timing. . "I was misled! It's mind control! They're false prophets!" You hear people say such things about the Witness organization.
No question about it. There are older JWs who literally never thought they'd see old age in this system. Because of that, some have found themselves "out of sync" with practical life, sometimes seriously so. Undeniably - a great inconvenience for anyone in that boat. (though there's the other type of person who adapts to anything - nothing inconveniences them! Ah. I wish I were more like that. Tom Whitepebble, for example, who's never worried a day in his life. His goal, he tells me, is to take his last dime out of the bank two minutes before he has his final heart attack. Then he will die with a smile on his face!)
But some are like the "evil" slave, beating up their fellows. Other slaves, who may also have gone out on a limb, simply suck it up and move on. That is not necessarily easy and some opportunities, when they pass, never return. Life in this system is smoother, certainly more predictable, if you do things in a certain order. But the Christian faith, after all, holds that this is not the "real life."
Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life. 1 Tim 6:17-19
Faithful ones can expect to be a bit like Abraham, an alien in a foreign land.
By faith he resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise. For he was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which [city] is God. Heb 11:9-10
Have some Witnesses been disappointed with aspects of their personal life? Probably. But only in matters relevant to this system of things, which is not the real life. After all, it's not as if a botched end prophesy is the only grounds for disappointment today. This system of things disappoints people all the time. Ask them about that in Iraq.
Are not our times, at least compared with recent centuries, the most materialistic, individualistic, and self-centered ever? That's not to criticize anyone coming under their spell. It's the world we're born into and it permeates our being. It's harder on the younger generation because the backdrop has become more and more pronounced.
When all is said and done, the real question may be the one Jesus raised in Luke 18:8:
"....when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?”
Frankly, you cannot but have great respect for the JW governing organization. They alone are unafraid to go out on a limb. Everyone else hedges their bets. Everyone else covers their rear end. Everyone else tries to have it both ways. They don't.
It's not as if they personally benefit when timing doesn't turn out. They live in dormitories, for crying out loud! Nice dormitories, to be sure. But dormitories, all the same. Should they decide to leave, they don't walk away with a pension or 401K.
Yes, in hindsight, it might be well if dates had never been given. But they're the watchman. Conditions Jesus foretold have long been upon us. So they peer all the harder for details. Mist and fog can mess up a watchman, interfere with his vision. But what good is a watchman who sounds the alarm only when the bow of the approaching ship is scraping your toes?
Son of man, a watchman is what I have made you to the house of Israel, and you must hear from my mouth speech and you must warn them from me. Ezek 3:17