Is Leaving Really the Only Option?

Part One: What Does It Mean to Be "Stumbled"?

MOST people come to think of persecution and trials as outside forces that bear down upon us every moment of every hour of every day of every week of every passing year, wearing us down. Especially as Witnesses, we look to the meetings as our refuge from such things. And while there are times when faults and imperfections rear their ugly head… when someone says the wrong thing to us, or we to them… or we feel we received counsel from an elder that we felt inappropriate… we generally reflect on such instances as gentle reminders of our inherited imperfection and the need to continue to put up with one another in love as Jesus commanded.

So, we think of “endurance” as something necessary to take a stand against things coming at us from outside the organization, and love as necessary in dealing with things that come at us from inside the organization.

That is, until we’ve been stumbled.

Being “stumbled” doesn’t necessarily mean that we suddenly doubt that there is an Almighty God, or that the world is not passing away along with its desires of the flesh and showy means. Rather, we are stumbled when we come upon something that has been placed before us as an obstacle on our path to Jehovah God and the promised system of things to come under righteous rulership… an obstacle which we were not previously aware of as being there, that springs upon us unexpectedly. Our faith falters, if but for an instant and sometimes for much longer a time as we struggle to regain our balance. Again, not in its core set of values and convictions, but in those areas that we have placed our balance, our foundation. More specifically, in those things which we have placed our faith.

If we’ve placed our faith, for example, in the truthfulness of The Watchtower magazine, then we become “stumbled” when we read something which we know or discover is not true. It then follows that as our faith falters in the truthfulness and accuracy of the information we are provided from the Society, we begin to notice statements made during parts of the meetings that repeat the error, and our faith in the meetings’ value to our spirituality begins to falter. And this rippling effect works its way through other aspects of the relationship we have with our spiritual brothers and sisters.

When that happens, the love that formerly seemed so capable of overcoming flaws and faults begins to seem an insufficient solution, somehow inadequate in light of the glaring extent of the errors that we have now become acutely aware of within the congregation and organization. Where we once covered over with love and forgiveness, we now desire to see justice meted out and faults made known and corrected, and if our expectations are not met, we feel that we, then, must leave.

A faltering in faith is comparable to the child that falls after taking those early steps in toddler-hood. Have you ever noticed that the reaction to a trip or stumble is remarkably aggressive, in an attempt to prevent injury to one’s self. The hands rush out to cushion against the fall, grasping at anything that might be available. The hand may even get injured in the fall, but the child instinctively knows that it is far better that the hand be injured than to suffer worse injury to other parts of the body, for example, the head.

Just as noteworthy is, the child raises himself up, even after crying from the fall, and tries to walk again. A child that failed to raise himself up to continue to learn and practice how to walk better would be looked upon with serious concern, would it not? What, then, would we say of the mature adult who stumbles or falls and then refuses to rise up and continue on their way on the road to everlasting life?

Walking by faith is very much like that. While we may have done so for literally decades, that is really a short period of time when compared to how much we have yet to learn about Jehovah and the wisdom of his ways. We’re still in our spiritual “toddler-hood,” as it were. During the course of our growth, we will stumble, fall… and must raise ourselves up to continue on.

Do you remember the account of Jesus’ walking upon water? Do you also recall how Peter, so excited to see Jesus coming towards them as he and the other apostles were being tossed about in their boat by the tumultuous waves and wind, called out to Jesus that if his Master were but to call to him, he would come out of the boat and join Jesus? Jesus then called Peter, and Peter climbed out of that boat and started out, walking upon the waters towards Jesus!

At which point might we say that Peter’s faith faltered? Was it not when he took his eyes off Jesus and his original goal of reaching his Master’s side, and he took note of what was going on around him? And what was the result? He began to doubt that even if he were to continue he could make it, and he began to sink into the storming waters that surrounded him, and cried out to Jesus to be saved from his doom. (Matthew 14:24-33)

That’s why Jesus never said that Peter did not have faith, but that he had given way to doubt. Specifically, Jesus described Peter as being someone with “little faith”—not in the sense that Peter didn’t have enough, as though the amount made all the difference, but that Peter allowed that faith to be overcome with doubt. After all, did Jesus not also say if we even had faith the size of a mustard seed that we would be able to move “mountains”? (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:5, 6)

Thus, we should never let the “amount” of faith we have be the determining factor as to whether we can or will be stumbled, but rather, how will that faith hold up to what will stumble us or cause us to doubt. Otherwise, like Peter, we will allow “doubt” to overcome us, and we will begin to be overcome by the raging waters that constantly storm around us, and the winds that drive those waters tirelessly. (James 1:6-8)

Even so, there will be times when the faith that we have may not seem to be enough to overcome a stumbling block set before us, or when we doubt. It is in such times that, like the distraught father that came to Jesus about his demonized son, we admit that while we do have faith, we need to be helped out “where (we) need faith.” (Mark 9:22-24)

If we were to return to our illustration of the toddler or young child that is learning to walk, we should be able to see ourselves.

Have you ever seen the touching scene of a parent coaxing their young child who is learning to walk, to stand up and walk to them, perhaps to “show off” their child’s newfound ability to others? The child looks up into their parent’s eyes with absolute trust as it struggles to find the way to their feet, wavering on quivering legs, body swaying as it tries to find its balance. The parent smiles proudly and holds out waiting, receptive hands, reassuring the child and coaxing the young one forward. The eyes of the young one will rarely look away from those of the parent, and the child’s own hand or hands stretch forward to shorten the distance that stretches between parent and child as first one step, then another, is taken.

Even when the child stumbles and slips to the floor, they look up at their parent for reassurance and, presses on, rising up.

Who can imagine the feelings that course through the child as those outstretched hands of their mother or father draw nearer with every shaky step? Or the flood of emotions that course through the parent’s own heart as they behold their young child striving so hard to please them, falls and all? And who hasn’t felt the loving embrace of that parent when those tiny little hands finally, after all that expended effort, clasp onto those adult fingers, as though for dear life as a hearty giggle of mixed joy and relief escape the child’s grinning mouth?

Really, then, we should draw much comfort from knowing that we, too, are mere children in so many respects in our relationship with our loving, heavenly Creator. We are walking toward his outstretched and welcoming hands as we struggle to make our way through this life and remain loyal and faithful in our love and dedication.

Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, described our spiritual journey as a race, really, a race that required endurance on our part, to the very end.

So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.—Hebrews 12:1,2

Indeed, using our example of the parent and the child, our “parent” is Jehovah God, with Jesus at our very side, aiding us onwards. Those that Jehovah is “showing us off to” are those of that great “cloud of witnesses” who have walked those same steps before us, stumbled as we have stumbled, faltered in their faith even as we continue to do so.

But, it falls upon us to look intently upon those outstretched hands, to continue on, come what may, in the competition to get through that “narrow door.” (Luke 13:23-24)

If we were to watch a professional skater in a competition slip and fall to the ice, would we not watch that same skater rise up and continue in the competition, movements so graceful that one would begin to wonder whether they had stumbled at all? Yet what would those sitting as judges and the onlookers in the stadium think if that same skater, after stumbling once, twice, or perhaps several times, walked off the ice rather than finishing the competition, never even looking back?

Really, it is the same with those of us that have been stumbled. We are on the road to life, a competition to make it to the end, to get through that “narrow door.” Our judges are Jesus and Jehovah God, and our audience is the angels and that “cloud of witnesses” who have gone on before us. At what point in our stumble do we decide to walk from the “ice,” deciding that enough is enough? At what point to we determine to leave the competition, fooling ourselves into believing that we can win that competition by skating in another rink, illustratively speaking?

Surely these are questions that we need to earnestly ask ourselves as we press ahead in the race for our everlasting life, especially before we decide to step out of the competition. Although we may find another place to skate, perhaps with less obstacles, less pressure to finish our routine, we are no longer in the same competition. All our efforts, all our gracefulness, will be overlooked, because those judges are not present to observe us. Even the audience of angels will miss out on our unique performance. Can we honestly say that we have considered that in our decision to leave off from being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses by leaving the organization to pursue another “skating rink”?

Just as importantly, how willing are we to educate ourselves, while there is yet time, as to the obstacles which are likely to be discovered in our path if we decide to remain? How familiar are we going to make ourselves with the arena itself?

Above all, how many stumbling blocks we will find should never become more important to us than why they are present, along with what we can or should do about them. Allow that to happen, and we’ll be like Peter, taking our eyes off our goal, off those hands outstretched towards us, and we’ll become more aware of the raging storm around us than what we should be focused on.

And we’ll drown in our doubts, regardless of how much faith we believe we have.

Part 2: When It Isn't Really Doubt

Copyright (C) 2002, Timothy B. Kline, Pathways Online
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