By Mad Sweeney
The year is 1969. Faithful followers of the Watchtower Society are gearing up for the “imminent end of the system of things,” just as they had been for the previous ninety years. A young Witness named Andrew is trying to decide what to do with his life. Andrew is a smart kid and he has an entire lifetime ahead of him. Many young people from Andrew’s class at school have been drafted to serve in the Viet Nam war. Others have chosen to further their education at college or a university to establish a foundation for a life and a family. With his high school graduation less than two months away, Andrew is considering a similar path for himself when the May 22 issue of Awake! magazine arrives in the mail.
He opens it eagerly and is excited to find that many of the articles – in fact fully half of this issue of the magazine – are devoted to young people like him. He sits down and begins to read.
While reading he learns it is pointless to try to do good in the world, that even young college students with good motives are part of Satan’s wicked world, doomed to destruction soon. Their protests to end war often end up in bloody battles themselves, proving that as in Noah’s day, the world is filled with violence. Andrew can’t help but fear that if he attends college he might get drawn into the foolish reasoning that he can help change the world – or worse, make friends with other young people who don’t know Jehovah.
“On the other hand,” Andrew reasons to himself, “to be an effective teacher of the Bible, one needs education. Also, even if I decide to pioneer I will need to have some sort of career to support myself, since my parents certainly cannot afford to support me. All the careers I am interested in, and would excel at, require a college education.”
Andrew keeps reasoning to himself this way as he continues reading his Awake! Then, while reading the article, “What Future for the Young?” he is struck by two sentences in the third and fourth paragraphs:
“If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers.”
That’s it. That is the answer he was looking for. Since childhood Andrew had been taught that The Society was God’s only Channel of Communication on earth and the Bible says that, “God cannot lie.” (Titus 1:2) “So,” he thought, “this must be true. It has to be true.”
The article went on to explain how within the four, six, or eight years it would take to get a specialized degree, the system would “be well on the way toward its finish, if not actually gone!” It encourages Andrew to learn a practical trade to support himself and his ministry during the final few years of this system and during the “reconstruction work that will take place in God’s new order.”
As Andrew keeps reading, his resolve grows stronger. The last two paragraphs of the article solidify his decision:
“True, those who do not understand where we are in the stream of time from God’s viewpoint will call this impractical. But which is really practical: preparing yourself for a position in this world that soon will pass away? or working toward surviving this system’s end and enjoying eternal life in God’s righteous new order? -1 John 2:17.
“In these urgent times, as this wicked system writhes in its death pangs, this counsel from God’s Word is most practical for all who want to keep living: ‘My son, my law do not forget, and my commandments may your heart observe, because length of days and years of life and peace will be added to you.’ -Prov. 3:1, 2.”
Obeying God’s commandments means life, Andrew thinks to himself. And God’s Channel of Communication says a college education is impractical because the system won’t last long enough to fulfill a career – even if it somehow lasts long enough for me to finish college. So that’s it. When dad gets home from work, and mom gets home from field service, I will tell them that I have decided to go work for my uncle, stripping and waxing tile floors while pioneering these last few years of the system.
The year is now 2011. Andrew lets out a groan as he reaches toward the nightstand to turn off his alarm clock. His back and shoulders ache as he sits up to get out of bed. Andrew has refinishd floors for more than four decades now; forty-two years of lifting floor buffers and mop buckets in and out of vans have taken their toll.
The previous night while at work, Bob, the regional manager of the store chain he was working at, stopped by to introduce Andrew to his replacement, Doug. “I got my MBA in 1976 and have worked for the company for 35 years,” Bob told Andrew. “Now I’ve got enough time in and enough money saved up, I can retire. The kids are grown and set up with family and careers of their own, so they don’t need our help now. So Joanne and I are going to do some traveling, maybe play a few rounds of golf, and just relax.”
“Congratulations, Bob. I’m happy for you,” Andrew told him. “How long have you been with the company, Doug?”
Doug smiled and straightened a can of beans sitting on the shelf beside them, facing the label outward to draw the eyes of customers. “I graduated in ’92, did a few different things for a few years, and started with the company in ’95. I’ve never looked back and never looked for another job. I love what I do.”
“Pretty soon you’re going to love what I do,” Bob said with a laugh.
As they turned and left the store Andrew turned back to the floor buffer and just stood for a moment, lost in thought. Retirement wasn’t an option for him. Not this year when he would turn sixty. Not in ten years when he would turn seventy. Not even in twenty years when he would turn eighty – if the system lasts that long. Andrew had spent the last forty-two years struggling to make ends meet as a tile floor re-finisher. He had spent the last forty-two years of his life believing that the words he read as an eighteen-year-old in the Awake! magazine were true, “…face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things…you will never fulfill any career that this system offers.”
The year is 2011. Andrew gets out of bed, his knees creaking beneath decades of labor. He lets out a sigh, and walks to the kitchen to make some coffee.
And the Bible still says that “God cannot lie.”
“Mad Sweeney” is a frequent poster on Jehovahs-Witness.net and other websites. He is also host of Cult Free Radio, a bi-weekly podcast. Sweeney can always be counted for a well researched discussion on almost any subject relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is part one of a two part series about choices facing Jehovah’s Witness children and young adults regarding education and career.