Is Your Trust in God . . . Or in a Man?
WITHOUT doubt the most shocking news to make the newspaper headlines in 1978 was the horrible tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana. It was likened to the 960 Jewish zealots at Masada who preferred death to surrendering and being in slavery to the Romans; also, to the 1,000 Japanese civilians who hurled themselves from a cliff in Saipan as the American troops took the island. The Guyana tragedy was featured day after day in newspapers world wide. First, the death toll was 400, then 500, then as high as 780 and next: “GUYANA TOLL IS RAISED TO AT LEAST 900 BY U.S., WITH 260 CHILDREN AMONG VICTIMS AT COLONY.” (New York Times, November 26, 1978) Finally, the number rose to 913.
This tragedy is directly related to the question “Is your trust in God or in a man?” Perhaps you will make the rejoinder: ‘Of course, it is wiser to put my trust in God rather than in a man.’ And so it is, because the Bible warns: “Don’t put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you.” (Ps. 146:3, Today’s English Version) God can save you, for “the name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.” (Prov. 18:10) However, to put one’s trust in God takes more than mere words. It takes actions, since “faith without works is dead.” One who trusts God will live by Bible principles, loving what God loves and hating what God hates.—Jas. 2:26; Heb. 1:9.
In keeping with the psalmist’s counsel not to put our trust in human leaders are Jesus’ words: “You must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father,’ because you have only the one Father in heaven. Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah.”—Matt. 23:9, 10, TEV.
However, throughout the 19 centuries since Jesus first uttered those words, persons claiming to be his followers have done that very thing. Not only have they titled many men “father” or “leader,” but they have also become followers of idolized men, such as Constantine the Great, Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler. Many thousands, yes, many millions, have put their trust in a man, even being willing to follow him to the point of death. Regarding the influence that Hitler had, one who lived in Germany at the time recently wrote: “Although the end of the war was already in sight, many Germans refused to believe that Hitler could let them down and believed his promises of superweapons (Wunderwaffen), which would bring ultimate victory.” Those who put their trust in such men came to grief, and often also to death. They failed to put their trust in God.
What accounts for the hold that certain men have had on others? It is what today is termed “charisma,” and which is defined as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a statesman or military commander.” A striking example of this was furnished by Napoleon. After escaping from the island of Elba with a contingent of about 1,000 men, in short order he had thousands more in his army. When they reached Grenoble and his army was faced by an army of 6,000, Napoleon ordered his own army to halt while he rode toward the opposing army. As he got nearer he dismounted and walked up to this solid mass of men. Their commander ordered them to fire. The men lifted their guns in position, but in awe of the leader before them not one fired the shot that could have put an end to Napoleon’s return to power in France. Well could Napoleon once state: “An extraordinary power of influencing and commanding men has been given to Alexander, Charlemagne and myself. But with us the presence has been necessary.” He then contrasted their power with that of Jesus Christ who was able to exert his power although not being present.
TRAGEDY AT JONESTOWN
A man very much in the news late in 1978 who had such claimed charisma was James Warren Jones. A retired Roman Catholic priest who served with Jones on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission said: “He had a strange power over people, and that kind of power tends to go to the head.” Thousands flocked to him as he preached at the People’s Temple in San Francisco and hundreds followed him to the commune that he established in Guyana and that he called “Jonestown.” Not only did they follow him to that place but in the end many committed suicide at his behest. With the encouragement of his armed guards, he himself then committed suicide after he had gotten some 909 others to do the same. It was a tragedy that shocked the world.
What a striking, terrible example of what can happen when people, instead of putting their trust in God and following his appointed Leader Jesus Christ, put their trust in a human leader, an unprincipled demagogue! How the following contrasts illustrate the folly of doing so!
Jesus Christ and his message were life-oriented: “I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance,” yes, “everlasting life.” (John 10:10; 3:16) “Reverend” Jones, however, was death-oriented. He “had formed a suicide pact with each member of the sect,” we are told. Also, he hailed “the dignity of death, the beauty of dying.” In fact, he repeatedly rehearsed a ritual wherein his followers were to show their loyalty by drinking a poisoned potion, though in the rehearsals it was not such. However, for the tragic last time, it was.
We further read that Jesus loved children. While his disciples felt that Jesus should not be troubled with children, he thought otherwise, for we read that God’s Son said: “Let the young children come to me; do not try to stop them.” Then Jesus “took the children into his arms and began blessing them, laying his hands upon them.” (Mark 10:13-16) On the other hand, Jones punished children by putting them into a darkened room and by having electrodes fastened to them by which they received electric shocks. Or he would have them lowered into a well of water and that repeatedly, if they did not scream loud enough. At the tragic end, some 200 children were forced to drink the poisoned liquid, or had it squirted down their throats with hypodermics.
Jesus preached peace and nonviolence, warning that “all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52) However, “Reverend” Jones had henchmen who not only resorted to violence but killed a United States congressman and three newspapermen whom he feared would take back damaging reports regarding his commune. More than that, when calling all his people together for suicide, he had armed henchmen threaten those who were reluctant to drink the poisoned potion.
Jesus Christ brought freedom and relief from burdens. Well could he say: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and become my disciples, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) Also, “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32) In Guyana, Jones made his Jonestown a concentration camp, holding all his people prisoner by taking away their passports. He had them slaving from early to late in the hot tropical sun. Their food gradually deteriorated to where they were getting only rice and gravy three times a day. “This is hell,” exclaimed one of the sect who wanted to flee.
Of Jesus, we are told: “Though he was rich he became poor for your sakes, that you might become rich through his poverty.” (2 Cor. 8:9) But Jones was so money hungry that he begged, cajoled and forced his followers to turn over their wealth, even their social-security checks, so that at his death he was worth anywhere from 10 to 15 million dollars.
Christ Jesus the perfect Son of God was sinless. Well could he ask his opposers: “Who of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) He was “loyal, guileless, undefiled.” (Heb. 7:26) “He committed no sin.” (1 Pet. 2:22) It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast to Jesus than this clergyman Jones. According to reports, Jones “required every woman who was close to him to have sex with him regularly,” and he had a mistress as well as a wife. Not content with that it is also reported that he had a number of male lovers.
Jesus Christ accepted the Bible as God’s Word, quoted it as his authority and said of it: “Your word is truth.” (Matt. 19:4-6; John 17:17) Jones, far from accepting the Bible, used his sermons to rant against the Bible. Once he even threw a copy of the Bible on the floor, complaining: “Too many people are looking at this instead of me.”
Many more contrasts could be made between the Leader sent by God and the man Jones, the human self-styled messiah, but one more should suffice. At no time did Jesus Christ claim to be the “Alpha and the Omega,” God the Creator of the universe. His claim solely was: “I am God’s Son.” (John 10:36; Rev. 1:8) What about Jones? As one of his associates told it: “Jim stopped calling himself the reincarnation of Jesus and started calling himself God. He said he was the actual God who made the heavens and earth.” Also, at his Guyana commune he would keep shouting out: “I am the Alpha and the Omega!”
“AN APPALLING DEMONSTRATION”
There is no question that the Jonestown tragedy was a case of the blind leading the blind and both falling into a pit. (Matt. 15:14) The entire episode underscores the wisdom of Jesus’ command not to exalt men. No doubt many of those who followed Jones had at one time belonged to the various denominations of Christendom. But they were allured by this self-proclaimed messiah who had a vision of a socialist paradise. Well has this horrible episode been described as “an appalling demonstration of the way in which a charismatic leader can bend the minds of his followers with a devilish blend of professed altruism and psychological tyranny.”
But still one wonders about the naïve people who were taken in by Jones. It is said that 80 percent of them were blacks, mostly in poorer circumstances. Some, both whites and blacks, who were altruistically motivated, joined because of the stress he put on racial equality and because of various humanitarian projects that he at first sponsored. Yet one wonders about their devotion to righteous principles. By tolerating and cooperating with all the unclean things Jones himself did and caused to be done, they certainly showed that their trust was not in God, nor were they concerned about following Jesus Christ.
How could they give such blind devotion and loyalty to a man who “flaunted his power over people and forced them to fulfill his consuming needs for financial, egotistical and sexual gratification”?
Clearly, none who put their trust in the God of the Bible could have been taken in by such an extremely wicked man who selfishly, wantonly, exploited his power to influence others, one who so cruelly, grossly and ruthlessly betrayed naïve trust. True Christians are safeguarded from the dire consequences of putting trust in a mere man. God’s Word, the Bible, not only points them to the true religion, but clearly identifies the kinds of religion that are to be avoided, the sectarianism that is usually based on the exaltation of some human leader or man-made cult.
The apostle Paul pointed to depraved persons having the brand marks of “Reverend” Jones when he wrote: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) The record shows that the Jonestown “leader” was many of these things. And many people were misled.
In the case of this religious demagogue—and of other cultists like him—“the works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these.” So writes the apostle Paul as a “forewarning” concerning counterfeit Christians, many of whom have appeared in recent years, and again he adds: “Those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” On the other hand, says Paul, those who do inherit the Kingdom and its blessings are the ones that cultivate “the fruitage of the spirit . . . love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Gal. 5:19-23.
This fruitage is not to be found in the emotional hysteria of any man-worshiping cultist camp. Rather, it is found among those who “say to Jehovah: ‘You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.’”—Ps. 91:2.
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trusting in man leads to disaster
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trusting in God leads to everlasting life