Counting the Costs
April 17, 2010
When Roger the retired C. O. gave the public talk, we invited him to the house for lunch afterward. Also a few twenty-somethings. Mutual encouragement, you know, copy a fine example, one 'face sharpens another,' and so forth. Young Solomon approached the fellow after lunch.
“So, how long were you in the Circuit work?”
“Thirty years!” came the reply.
“Wow. You must really miss it.”
“Nope!” the C.O. shot back.
“Well...um...I mean....that is..(this was not the answer he'd expected) it must have been a big adjustment.”
“I adjusted that afternoon.”
“Look, I don't want to sound unappreciative,” he told a friend on another occasion. “It's just that a lot of the job is not my cup of tea. You know me...I'm an outdoors guy. [in his younger days, he'd worked on the railroad] And so what am I doing all day? I'm sitting in meetings! Still, Jehovah apparently has a purpose for me, so I've stayed the course.”
It's called 'counting the costs.' It's a good thing to do. You get emotional control of your circumstances. Aren't 'mid-life crises' caused when people don't count the costs, then are suddenly floored when the 'bill' hits them all at once? Be it family, job, responsibilities, goals in life...people go haywire all the time for never having counted the costs. But if you blow off steam as you go....acknowledge this part is good, though that part is not so good....and adjust accordingly, either deciding to stay the present course or make modifications....well, I'll trust those folks a lot quicker than those who've never made introspection.
And Jehovah did have a purpose for him, apparently. In one of those training schools, where the traveling ministers instruct all the assembled elders and servants, I noticed that the weightiest parts were invariably assigned to Roger. A favorite among C.O's, he was a man of real empathy, who's trademark expression, “just do the best you can,” (as opposed to measuring yourself by the standards of others) is still recalled by all in these parts. I groused once about servants who'd leave the city congregations so as to raise their growing families in the rurals or suburbs, [“Don't worry, Jehovah will provide. Besides, I'm outta here.”] but Roger didn't agree. 'You always do what's best for your family' he observed. When he retired, he settled in a nearly congregation, where he continues in full-time service to this day.
The Christian life itself calls for counting the costs. 'What if it's not true, Tom Sheepandgoats, what then?' taunts a certain character, trying to get me going. What if the whole Universal Court Case and Armageddon and all of it is just a story? What if there is no God? What if there is no purpose? What then? Won't all your preaching and all your meeting-going and all your Bible reading be just wasted time?
He's convinced his point is original. In fact, Paul also made it at 1 Cor 15:17-19:
"Further, if Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless; you are yet in your sins. In fact, also, those who fell asleep [in death] in union with Christ perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied."
Is this a weak point for Christianity? Or a strong one? There's no question that the JW organization doesn't hedge its bets, and it stands for a life that amounts to not hedging bets. Jehovah's Witnesses are a serious religion that maintain today's world is fundamentally out of harmony with God's will. Not merely on the surface, fixable by just a bit of tweaking, but fundamentally. So we don't try to put a smiley face on it. We take positions involving goals, lifestyle, employment, associations, which are in harmony with Christianity, but diametrically opposed to today's prevalent thinking. So much so that if someone reassesses years later and leaves the faith, he finds himself out of sync with the mindset he repudiated years ago. So he strives to readjust. It's a rougher transition than, say, changing brands of cars. Some simply conclude that they made a decision that did not work for them and move on. People being what they are, however, many prefer to find a scapegoat, and what better scapegoat than the faith they left? They were "mislead," "lied to," "bullied," etc. Sheesh! Isn't it a lot like the “slave” of Matt 24:48 who is upset that “my master is delaying,” and who therefore starts “beating his fellow slaves?”
Back when I spoke with Frank Mulicotti, years ago, I and my younger chums were inclined to view the Christian life so refreshing...enjoyable activity surrounded by good people and all....that even if it turned out to be not true, it was still worth pursuing. But older Frank would have none of it, and he stood his ground. The older you get, the more the costs become apparent. Activities and goals you pursue, that you wouldn't otherwise. Activities and goals you don't pursue, that you might otherwise, because of the ones you do. It's not to say the costs aren't worth paying, just as people pay costs in all areas of life. But it's well to always 'count them,' so they don't sneak up on you unawares.
On the internet somewhere is a person who frankly acknowledged he left the faith because he wanted to advance professionally. To really advance, he pointed out, you have to be clubby, you have to hang out socially with your work colleagues, and Jehovah's Witnesses don't do that; they hang out with each other. With distance behind him, he'd come to think of other Witness things he disagreed with, but at the time, it was professional considerations alone that appeared to have moved him. Some commenters commiserated with him....one has to keep religion in it's place, after all......but I think Paul would have looked at matters differently, if 2 Tim 4:10 is anything to go by:
“Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.”
Sigh....whenever people start carrying on about keeping religion in it's place, invariably they mean last place.
As I get older, I also side with Frank, though at the same time one must concede that the youngsters had a point, too. I mean, considering how some lives consist of just one disastrous move after another, lives spiraling ever downward to all manner of decadence, a religion that transforms them into honest, clean, productive persons, even if it turned out to be untrue, would be a significant step up. One detractor carries on about how, when one dies after a lifetime propagating Witness beliefs, it is far more than a waste of time....it is a tragedy. Give me a break! Don't tell me about wasted lives! Just look at all the “fulfilled” people rioting or starving, raped or butchered, as portrayed on TV news! How many embittered and disillusioned people are there today? How many who feel betrayed by their goals? How many knocked about by one setback after another? How many once-respected and prominent people broken, succumbing to various temptations, then gleefully busted in the media? How many groping through life with closets packed full of skeletons in their wake? And if some have found fulfillment in self-directed God-free life, (as some have) it's always with the caveat that, just as you begin to feel you've figured things out, your health starts to give out and off to the grave you go. Let's face it – there's a certain 'futility' built into this life. One may escape it for a time, but it eventually catches up with you.
But this is merely an answer to those who'd assert the Christian life is a waste of time. We don't take such a fall-back position...we look to the fulfillment of all things God has promised. No one would ever assert, as regards the faith, that every 'i' is dotted nor 't' crossed. But there's enough to go on. It's like that definition of faith found at Heb 11:1: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” It's not like that strong feeling one may get that “this time, for sure, my lottery number will come up.” There's substance to it. A bit like (to oversimplify) one has little doubt the sun will arise next day, knowing the mechanics behind it.
Alas, there is much to work against faith today. Atheists parade a no-God gospel almost with the zeal of, well....Jehovah's Witnesses, as if their message, too, was good news for all, and not just sawing off the branch upon which their sitting. Religious nutjobs blow up buildings, people and airplanes. The Pope evades arrest from grousers, for crying out loud, accused of shielding pedophile clergy. 'If this is God, I want no part of it!' say more and more people. Now....the prevalence of counterfeit money does not prove there's no such thing as real money, but many lump it all together anyway. Doesn't it add timeliness to Jesus question: “when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Ah well. The work progresses. It speeds up a bit in the last year or two, perhaps as colossal failure of human economics causes some to reassess human rule. It's absolutely astounding that JWs buy out increasing time for the ministry, given the squeeze this system puts on everyone.