Can It Be?

cross_CLI celebrate my 21st Easter this year, 2015.

For the first 38 years of my life I did not celebrate Easter because I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a pseudo-Christian group with a very strange economy of salvation. It is not easy to describe life in a cult like Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is very dark. Even their light is darkness.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity, so they do not believe in the deity of Christ.  They believe that Jesus was Michael the Archangel before he came to earth, and that after he was resurrected, he went back to being Michael the Archangel — but with the name “Jesus.”  They do believe Jesus died (but not on a cross) to save mankind from sin and death by atoning for the disobedience of Adam.  Jesus had to be a perfect man, to match Adam in every respect, and thus he takes Adam’s place as our father.  I know this is weird — not to mention the whole ontological problem of how he is an angel, then a human, and then an angel again — but I’m telling you about it because I want you to know that I had an idea that I could call myself a Christian and believe Jesus died for me, without conceiving of Jesus as God.

Most of you reading this are like my grandchildren who have heard all their lives that Jesus died for you and that Jesus is God the Son –- true God from true God.  It has never dawned on you, because it was always the light that you lived in.

But it dawned on me.

In 1993, after a long and harrowing period of life disruption, searching for the peace and transformative power that I read about in the New Testament, I had an encounter with Christ.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

I did not know then that he was Deity, but I knew that he was not who the Jehovah’s Witnesses said he was.  I knew that I would have to leave the religion that I had grown up in and known all my life.  I would have to walk away from every relationship of my adult life. I went to a church.

Now to you, that might seem like the most natural thing in the world for me to do. You want to know about Jesus, you go to a church. But for me it was terrifying. I had always been told that churches housed demons.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do not even like to turn their cars around in a church parking lot. But that visit to a church set me on the road to learning the truth about Jesus.  It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that Christians worshiped Jesus. The fundamental fact of my religious upbringing had been that you only worshiped God (Jehovah), who is Jesus’ father. To worship anything or anyone else was to be guilty of idolatry.  But there was a tractor beam on my heart. I had to figure out who Jesus really was.

Having left what I recognized to be a religion of error, I was very leery about falling into error or being misled once again. But I knew that I had to open my mind to the witness and the arguments of Christians around me in order to untwist the distorted way I had learned to read scripture.

A humorous skit put on one time at a meeting of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses illustrated what I was facing. It featured a  “Christian” trying to “help” a recently-exited Witness.  When the ex-JW expressed confusion about Christian doctrine,  the Christian said, “Oh, it’s easy. Just believe everything the opposite.”

“What are you talking about?” the baffled ex-JW asked.

“Well, you didn’t used to believe in the Trinity, and now you do. You didn’t used to believe in the deity of Christ, and now you do. You didn’t used to believe in the immortal soul, and now you do. You didn’t used to believe in going to heaven, and now you do.  You didn’t used to believe in celebrating Christmas, and now you do. See, everything is the opposite. It’s easy.”

The appreciative laughter with which this was greeted gave testament to the fact that it is not easy! And the more you care, really care, about the truth, the harder your struggle is.  If you have always lived in the truth, you can’t imagine how hard it is.

For a while I lived in a partial shadow. I was in love with Jesus, but still didn’t know what to make of all the Christian adoration of Him? How could I explain this phenomenon if he were not God?

I found some relief by latching onto the biblical image of the Church as the Bride of Christ. After all, what would be more natural than for a bride to be focused on her bridegroom? Of course Christians sang love songs to Jesus! It was the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were strange — like a bride who ignored her groom and tried to give all her affection to her father-in-law instead.

Meanwhile, I was participating in Christian prayer and worship to the best of my limited understanding. I also asked questions, and I studied…  and studied and studied.  Finally I was turned on to reading the Early Church Fathers. It started to became clear to me that this teaching — that Jesus was Divine, was God in the flesh — was really Christian teaching from the beginning, was the apostolic witness.

There was just one problem left in my mind: If Jesus was God, then that man on the Cross was God.

It would mean that God had died.

It would mean that God had died… for me.

For all time, there will be no more astounding, no more elevating, no more humbling proposal to a human soul than this.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me — who caused his pain –
For me who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

The sun had come up in my life.

[The lyrics are from the hymn, “And Can it Be (Amazing Love)”, by Charles Wesley. Enjoy the lovely rendition here .]

(© 2011 Mary Kochan)

Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at kochanmar@gmail.com.