Saturday, July 16, 2016

Reply to commenter on Matthew 8

I actually appreciate when I am challenged by those not having the same viewpoint as I do. It helps me to strengthen my beliefs while attempting to make a defense with “a mild spirit and deep respect.” So just within the last 24 hours I received a comment on my recent commentary on Matthew 8:29. Due to my health struggles, I haven’t posted an article in several months, so I was surprised that the commenter was still reading my blog. The commenter mentioned so many things, that the only way to address it is with yet another blog article.

I will put the commenter’s words in blue to differentiate them from my reply. You can read the entirety of his comment at the end of the aforementioned article on Matthew 8.

There’s some rather simplistic reasoning going on here, some of it based on conjecture on your part (spoken as though fact), and you probably shouldn’t presume to know God’s thoughts, i.e. “God knew”.

“Rather simplistic reasoning:” Simple and clear, yes. Simplistic, no. There is no reason to convolute the Bible. While there are things that do require a great deal of deep, contemplative research, that is not the case with the passage under consideration. Clear, accurate and concise is what I aim for. I consider brevity is a sign of intelligence.

Conjecture: Since you didn’t qualify/specify which reasoning was at fault, it is a bit difficult to address your charge of it being personal conjecture. However, I’ll take a stab at it: The crux of my article was that demons cannot be tortured in the sense that we humans understand it. Since they are spirit creatures, they cannot be restrained with shackles and chains; they cannot be burned; they cannot be drowned. My background on this, which I failed to mention, was that someone who was a relatively new student of the Bible asked me how demons could be tortured. The passage confused him because he knew demons are not bound to the limitations we humans are. For those that believe in a “hell fire,” even they note that the demons are torturing the humans sent there. According to their beliefs, the demons are immune to the fires of hell, instead, they are guardians of it. If you have a belief different than this, make the effort to define and explain your own. Do you want to teach me? I’m listening. Teach by use of scripture and reasoning that makes sense. Allow me to question you. In that regard, that is one thing I have always appreciated about Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I started studying with them, I was adamant that they were wrong. But they never resorted to personal attacks. Instead, they would always say, “But Bart, what does the Bible say?” When I still wouldn’t agree, they would ask me to read my own Bible and attempt to find scriptural grounds for my claims. Since becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, no other religion has treated me with the same dignity. Instead of being willing to calmly discuss the Bible, they choose the low road to insult me.

Knowing God’s thoughts: To add some framework for those who don't know: Paul wrote "for who has known the mind of the Lord?" In addition, the prophet Isaiah wrote that God's thoughts are higher than man's thoughts. Taking those two scriptures at face value, one might wrongly conclude that knowing how God thinks is impossible. Indeed, a few people I've met have actually been taught that and believed it. But is that really so? One key point I have always believed is that if God is truly unknowable, then why did he go to such an extent not only to give the nation of Israel his law covenant, not only to preserve his word the Bible through thousands of years, not only to send his only begotten son for our sake, but finally to help us clearly know what he wants through the teachings of Jesus. So knowing how God thinks becomes clearer as we diligently read the Bible, follow what it teaches, and challenge ourselves to speak to others. But the commenter’s specific criticism was that I couldn’t possibly know that God would teach us by way of illustrations that we could comprehend within our limited framework. Yet the Bible itself is full of examples of just that. The dreams and visions that various faithful ones in ancient times had were put in terms they could relate to. Daniel’s explanation of the vision the king had of the tall idol made of various metals. Daniel’s vision of a very tall tree that was chopped down. The illustrative lessons that Jeremiah received from God regarding God’s judgment against a rebellious nation. There are literally dozens more examples. Then there is the whole matter that the Bible wasn’t written for angels; wasn’t written for animals such as the dogs, cats, elephants, etc. It was written for the benefit of mankind. To me, that makes it a foregone conclusion that concepts written in scripture would be for our understanding. But maybe I misunderstood the point the commenter was making.

So, far from conjecture, it is a logical conclusion that the reference to torment would be one we could relate to. And again, my only point was to address my friend’s quandary regarding how demons could be tormented. But coming back to knowing God’s thinking: Some try to take Paul’s and Isaiah’s words as an excuse to make no attempt to obey God because he is some mysterious being that is illogical. Such a conclusion is an insult to God. Since he created our brains, surely he is smarter than we are. But this brings up another observation I’ve made recently: I’ve noted some youths seem to feel that adults are stupid. One time, I was so frustrated by the arrogance of a teen, I asked: “Tell me, do you think that the older you get, the stupider you will get? Or do you think you will gain more experience, knowledge and insight as you grow older?” He knew exactly what I was driving at. But the same seems to be true with the way some humans treat God. They act as if he’s just some old fogey that’s too illogical to understand. The complete opposite is true. While at times the way God handles things may baffle us, once a matter is done, in retrospect we see the wisdom of his ways. One great example of this was when God lead the nation leaving Egypt to the sea. According to man’s shortsighted perspective, God was leading them to sure destruction, pinning them in-between the sea and the advancing army of Pharaoh. Even though at the time even the wisest man may have questioned God’s action, God knew full well what was going on and how things would work out. Again, by reading the Bible, we can indeed know God.

You are importing your own speculation into Rev. 20:1-3 that simply cannot be gleaned from the passage itself.

Revelation 20:1-3 reads: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 And he hurled him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not mislead the nations anymore until the 1,000 years were ended. After this he must be released for a little while.” I’m not sure why the commenter can’t easily, readily see the scripture says that Satan (and by association all the demons) are imprisoned. Since nothing I or my religion has to say on the matter is of value to the commenter, perhaps he’ll accept the outside comments of Matthew Henry.

As I read further, I see that your aim is to ‘lead’ the reader to the desired conclusion, and to reinforce the argument against the existence of Hell.

Interesting that you reached that conclusion. Again, my point was to prove that physical torture of demons is not what the scripture in Matthew 8 was talking about. But you are right. I readily and proudly acknowledge that I believe the teaching of hellfire is a blasphemous insult to a loving God. He doesn’t need to permanently torture evil ones to feel justice. He just does away with them. Death is the result of sin, not permanent torture.

Bart I agree with you that God cannot tempt or be tempted by evil (James 1:13), but your insinuation that Jeremiah 19:5 is an example of very evil He wouldn’t perpetrate against humans (i.e. torture humans in ‘hellfire’) is an overt attempt to bias the reader’s reasoning towards the desired conclusion (that God wouldn’t torment humans in a ‘firey hell’).

Jeremiah 19:5 reads: “They built the high places of Baal in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to Baal, something that I had not commanded or spoken of and that had never even come into my heart.” So we have to ask ourselves: What was it that never came into God’s heart? Was it that they shouldn’t sacrifice to idols or was it that they shouldn’t have made human sacrifices to anyone, idols or not? The nation of Israel by that time was well established they had the Mosaic Law. They knew that idolatry was wrong. They also knew that murder was wrong. So the point God was making was that it was repulsive to him to burn humans as a sacrifice. If burning humans is evil, doesn’t logic dictate that God would never invent a system to burn humans forever? If you had a disobedient child, one that was deserving of death, would you torture that child first, keeping them alive as long as possible to see them suffer? Even in today’s world such a parent would be arrested for cruelty. Even in today’s world, the controversy over “waterboarding” has made the news. Yet some have no problem accusing God of being that cruel.

It is also rather questionable (and suspicious) in my mind why you would go back six centuries even before Christ came, to pluck a solitary verse completely out of its context in order to support your argument that God would never do such an ‘evil’ thing to a human.

Okay, so I didn’t go into a long explanation about why I chose that scripture. But your point about going back six centuries doesn’t make sense to me. Are you saying that because the passage is old, that is reason enough to ignore it? When Paul wrote “all scripture is inspired and beneficial,” he was, at that time in history referring to the Hebrew & Aramaic scriptures (what some call the “Old Testament”). In contrast, “the letters” that early disciples read from the apostles were, while viewed as God’s direction, not called “scripture.” So yes, I reached back to an appropriate passage that would demonstrate how God feels about torturing others.

Let me ask you, was God perpetrating ‘evil’ when He rained ‘fire’ down on Sodom & Gomorrah, or directly commanded the Israelites by the sword brutally slay every last man woman & child of peoples (Canaanites, Amalekites, etc., even entire tribes & nations of peoples? What about killing all of Egypt’s first-born? What about the Flood? There’s so much more still.

All the examples you provide were swift and sudden destruction of evil, not a continuance of torture as proposed by hellfire. Yes, the punishment those received was more than just going into non-existence. As for the deposing of the nations residing in Israel’s promised inheritance, perhaps you’ve forgotten Deut.20:10-15. You might also remember the Gibeonites were a stellar example of the humble way the others could have acted to save their lives. For a more in-depth look at war as it related to Israel, read this.

Of course God is sovereign, and can elect to do what He wills to do in His Creation and with His created creatures…but I also know that He is supremely moral and spotlessly righteous & just. Thus these are all instances of His sovereign will at work, but I must trust never in a way that violated His pristine moral goodness. And that’s why the existence of a ‘hell’ (while unpalatable to my sensibilities) isn’t unacceptable to my own mind. Righteousness & unrighteousness, justice & injustice, good & evil, freedom & incarceration, life & death…logically then, just is there is a Heaven lit by His glory, in all likelihood is a Hell far removed from His Light. 

You choose to believe in hell. I get that. I understand your nearly poetic contrasts. However, that “just as there is a heaven…. In all likelihood is a hell…” is not what the Bible says. The correct contrast is “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I welcome your researched, well-reasoned, and scripturally annotated response.

After thought: I realized while proofreading this, I bounced back and forth from directing my response to the commenter and then to the general audience reading this blog article. I readily admit that is not a good thing to do. While I realize the following is an excuse, it is one I have to deal with: I am indeed dealing with a cancer that is slowly killing me and, I’ve noticed, is taking its toll on my brain. Things I used to be able to respond to quickly, now takes me several days to mull over. My speech is becoming slurred; I forget simple things frequently; and I’m sadly coming more and more housebound. Still, I feel compelled to stand up for my beliefs the best I can. After spending several hours on this article (over a period of a day) with multiple edits, I just became too tired to continue, so I posted it in its current state. This is also the reason I haven’t posted anything here since Feb.2016.


  1. Bart, the conjecture I was referring to was you (injecting or superimposing) telling your audience what God was specifically thinking; that the rationalization within His mind was that we humans wouldn’t comprehend the reality of physical incarceration of immaterial demons, so consequently He created the more comprehendible imagery of a tangible abyss for our sakes. Bart, John saw the reality of what was yet to come to pass in God’s Epic story, the one where He ordained the end from the beginning…and I think that even John did his best to capture what he saw in the fantastical imagery he was exposed to; the coming apocalyptic reality of God’s unfolding story, the conclusion of linear time-bound human history, and the ushering in of the mind-boggling New Reality of saved, redeemed humans living in God’s & Christ’s very presence (yes, I know this doesn’t square with the Watchtower’s “Paradise Earth” teaching, but that’s a doctrine plagued with a few foundational problems of its own, and another subject altogether).

    Let me clarify that, while it is impossible to fully comprehend Him, I didn’t say that we can never know what God thinks; we indeed do know many things about Him and about what He wanted to communicate to us, but those things are confined to what He chose to reveal to us by way of the prophets, who are among the 40-odd divinely-inspired authors of the books of Scripture, and by the Son Himself, Jesus Christ. Anything beyond that will range from reasonable & intelligent deductions & inferences to baseless speculation and conjecture…which can range from silly & benign to heretical & dangerous misinterpretations that can lead the human far off the narrow road to salvation (away from the Savior). The other bit of conjecture was that, while demons apparently do know they have a limited time-span in which to wreak evil on humankind and that God had a set a future terminal endpoint to their freedom, Scripture never says they knew anything about their specific fate in the future ‘abyss’. There’s also no way for us to know whether demons were privy themselves to knowledge of the yet-to-be future (let alone the details of their own specific demise), because these apocalyptic visions were revealed specifically to John alone while ‘in the spirit’.

    Further, I do indeed believe wholeheartedly that “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, reproving, setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”…when properly & intelligently interpreted, handled, and applied. My point is that one isn’t free to just go and selectively cherry-pick verses out of their native context for the purpose of (artificially) buttressing a man-made religious doctrine where the Scriptural reference or its context has little or nothing to say on the subject at hand (I see this practiced quite often in the Watchtower & Awake! publications I read). This practice is at best innocently ‘leading’ and at worst deliberately misleading. If the verse(s) in context don’t address or speak in direct affirmative support of the teaching being touted, then it is probably (whether innocently, ignorantly, or deliberately) being misapplied.

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    4. After a discussion with CJ, I've decided that our discussions will indeed have to be restricted to email correspondence.

    5. Bart, do you mean C.J. Williams, the Dismythed blogger? I don’t know how I ever happened onto his blog, but it occurs to me that that’s how I probably happened onto your blog (if not the always-interesting “next blog>>” link at the top of most blog pages…sometimes fascinating path to meander).

      If so, yep C.J. and I did carry on a few discussions via his blog page, and via email, but it unfortunately devolved into ugly, angry responses from him and his friend Robert Murphy…and largely without ever having answered my questions and reasoned rebuttals to his doctrinal assertions (over Jesus’ resurrection). From someone whom I initially thought an intelligent, rational, logical-minded guy (indeed intelligent, but terribly suspicious), I couldn’t understand his (irrational) anger towards me. I still do occasionally check out his blog. The one thing he & his co-blogger did that really bothered me was when he started systematically censoring my responses, while at the same time posting his own insulting insinuations of me & what I must have said, while no one could ever see what it was that I said to consider & judge for themselves…he seemed intent on maligning my character. I won’t deny it often left me feeling dismayed & helpless to defend myself. It was supposed to be an intelligent, open, honest (and for both of us sometimes plainly challenging) dialog of testing one another’s doctrinal beliefs (i.e. 1Thes 5:21), but ultimately disintegrated into angry tag-team retorts from them (along with another young man named Sean K).

      Aside from your & C.J.’s mutual religious association with the Watchtower, I find you’re a rather different personality; you seem to have a more open-minded disposition. Your blog was also a bit of fresh air for me over C.J.’s sometimes oppressive viewpoints and in the way he maligned people he categorized as “opposers” and “detractors”.
      Bart please trust me at my word here; while I may be careful in how I broach & frame a discussion or topic, or how I might draw & lead a discussion, there is nothing mean-spirited about me against other ‘religions’ or in my spiritual & intellectual desire to dialog on and test doctrinal issues and their differences (always beneficial). Nor am I “deceitful” or a “liar” – as C.J. has labeled me - in the way I build my individual relationships (though I have found that JWs seem to not allow fostering a ‘friendship’ with a non JW for whatever reason).

      And prompted by C.J.’s one-sided slander of me, I very recently decided to try my own hand a blog (though not remotely as polished as yours & Corey’s). It’s called; There’s little to it thus far except some of my & Corey’s largely unedited dialog, and one other JW acquaintance on specific topics…but certainly nothing dangerous to the JW about it, beyond sometimes-spirited, but always clear, Scripturally-reasoned dialogues. You can at least see for yourself that I’m not the unhinged, angry “oppose” C.J. makes me out to be. It’ll also give you a good sense of who I am & what I’m passionate about (love for God’s Truth)

      Are you still up to a 1Thess 5:21-flavored intellectual correspondence Bart? If not, then I’ll accept that & wish you well. On a personal level (in all sincerity, and aside from our differences over man-made religious doctrines), I care about you & the battle you continue to wage with cancer, and I do lift you up to Jehovah in my prayers…I hope you can take that at its sincere face value. There’s no need to post this if you don’t want to, but I really appreciated your willingness to post our past recent dialogues.


    6. AJ: Lets continue this through email. I cannot remember the one I gave you last. I use the following for scriptural discussions.

  2. And by the way, what I thought was “simplistic” reasoning on your part wasn’t at all meant as an insult to your intelligence, Bart…I’ve been perusing your blog long enough to know you’re a keen intellect. And if my own intellect is inversely proportional to how much I write, then I’m nearing the bottom of the I.Q. chart I’m afraid…in any case, theology as a topic can rarely be accommodated by brevity (it’s too crucially important not to be accurate, especially where salvation is concerned). It is also untrue to say that nothing you, or your religion, has to say is of value to me; it certainly is, with its chief value being to help me better understand your own doctrinal positions and the religious teachings from which they consequently stem. And I always appreciate the otherwise personal insights you share on your blog.

    But let me reveal something from my heart Bart; though we are strangers & I don’t know you personally, it still hurts me to know what you’re going through there in your battles with cancer. I have no desire to burden you or unnecessarily tax your time and attention or maybe even aggravate you with discussions as these (though the subject of God & His plan of salvation is supremely important to me). My own Mom & Dad passed from cancer in recent years, and with only so many weeks between one another. In the months before their passing (following the news & grim prognosis), I felt a nagging sense of urgency for assurance in whether they were ‘right’ with God (i.e. reconciled, forgiven, and trusting their souls & destiny into His hands). I feared that (especially in my Dad’s case) they trusted more in their ‘religion’ (Catholicism) and its sacramental rites than they did in the biblical Gospel and its singular Savior. Over time - thanks to my fret for him & Mom, and my persistent bull-headedness in trying to cut through the unbiblical Catholic dogma - these discussions degenerated into doctrinal argument & hurt/angry feelings, and did damage to our relationship. It was only in the last 6 weeks or so that I decided to let the whole business down, and to just honor & love him and Mom in the time that remained. The regret that I carry for having caused either of them anger & anguish is sometimes burdensome to me even now.
    And though we are relative strangers, I do not want to create angry emotion and/or strife between us.
    If you feel that such an ongoing correspondence is a beneficial intellectual challenge to your mind, then ok. But if not, then please say so before we get down to the serious doctrinal nuts-n-bolts Scriptural testing.

    But nevertheless, for the time left to me in this life (allotted by God), I endeavor to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the Saints by way of (among other things) testing man-made religious doctrines according to the Light of Holy Scripture…but I hope to now do it with a bit more tact & consideration, and in the spirit of love & truth. I love sound, biblical Truth and God’s Gospel, and I want to share both with all whom I engage, and I’m willing to strive with whomever I might for the sake of sharing the Gospel with them (I realize how this all must sound to one who already believes they’re in “the truth” by virtue of their association with & obedience to the Watchtower Society).


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  3. Something I forgot to say Bart, in my haste to hit the road home earlier; I'll be praying for you, that Jehovah would sustain you, grant you peace & give you strength to bear the things that invariably come with failing health.
    Good night,

    1. AJ: Thank for the kind thought. I apologize for assuming you were insulting me. I haven't yet read all your comments here. Yesterday and today are once again being cruel to me. It may take a few days before I muster up the strength to read, absorb and reply. Take care.