Perfection is what all of Jehovah’s Witnesses are looking forward to in their future. The 144,000 anointed look forward to an “incorruptible spirit body” and immortality in the perfect heavens. All others look forward to perfect health, a perfect mind, perfect work, perfect relationships on a perfect planet.
Much of the particulars of these concepts are beyond the information available to any bible reader. For instance, what does perfect health entail? We can easily imagine not waking up to aches and pains in the morning but the processes that would make it possible to not the suffer ill-effects from bad posture or hard physical labor that often cause these are unknown. How fast can a perfect person run? How long could they hold their breath? How high is the perfect jump? Can a perfect person choke or trip? How good-looking does one have to be to be considered to have a perfect body or facial features? Will all perfect persons be equally objectively attractive?
Perfection as a concept raises many questions but the bible does make clear that human perfection for certain means no sin and no death. These, the bible teaches, are what became mankind’s inheritance as punishment for Adam and Eve for eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.
If we are to make any sense of this subject, I would suggest that perfection, as thought of in JW teaching, must include at least three things: perfect self-control, perfect thought, and sufficient information to know how to remain acceptable to god and thus alive.
Why must perfect self-control be involved? Because the whole point of the issue of universal sovereignty is that god has the right to rule and that all beings with free will should choose to recognize that and obey him. This choice and one’s ability to make it must exist in order for free will to have any meaning whatsoever. An individual must be able to have control over that choice independent of his inclinations or desires. If this was not the case at the rebellion, then there was no reason or justification for Jehovah to take action against Satan, Adam, and Eve since they wouldn’t have had the ability to do the right thing.
How about perfect thought? Perfect thought in this context would constitute not having any thoughts that would displease Jehovah or go against his prescribed way of thinking and acting, whatever that might be. It would also of necessity include a sound and perfectly-functioning mind in order to comprehend and apply these prescriptions. It would only make sense that in a paradise, beings who can always make the “right” choice should also always want to, or be incline to. If it were not this way, a person could conceivably be born with or develop some sort of thought, nature, or inclination that would be contrary to god’s wishes and regulations, but always have the self-control to say no to it. Under certain circumstances, this could lead to a sort of torture or hell. For instance, imagine a being is born with perfect self-control but is also born homosexual. If the god in control of this paradise says that homosexuality is wrong and punishable by death, this poor man or woman has been born into an eternal torture chamber, a prison of the mind…a world in which he or she will always be perfectly able to say no to what they are strongly and naturally inclined to, every time…for eternity. Few if any would define such a scenario as paradise.
Finally, why would a perfect being need information? Because the faculties of perfect self-control and perfect thought are useless if you don’t know the rules. A computer programmer can spend all the time in the world writing perfect code, but if he or she never passes information into it, they can’t expect any results. If perfect self-control and a perfect mind are the code, god’s commands would be the arguments being passed in. The results are the actions of the being.
Now that we have this working definition of perfection, let’s look at what this means for the idea of Satan.
JW interpretation would tell us that Satan was originally a faithful angel, probably even one with great responsibility in heaven (whatever that means). This of course means that he was created by Jesus at the behest of Jehovah and would have existed alongside them for untold millions if not billions of years. People get to know each other when that they’ve spent that much time in each other’s presence. So Satan would have known the personalities of these two. He would have had a perfect mind, perfect work, perfect relationships…all the things that would make for a satisfying eternal existence. There was no sin or death or suffering in heaven.
Insight on the Scriptures asserts that
all of God’s ways, words, and law are perfect, refined, free from flaw or defect…There is never any just cause for objection, criticism, or faultfinding regarding [Jehovah] or his activity; rather, praise is always due Him. So, if Satan, fully knowledgable of Jehovah’s requirements, and fully aware of the fact that going against him would mean certain annihilation, made the decision to rebel, this has to be due to one of a very few reasons.
One possibility is that Satan knew something about god’s character or actions that violated his conscience and moved him to take action. Perhaps he saw something that moved him to rebel for the wellbeing of others. This would allow for none of his perfect qualities to be called into question. His perfect mind could have helped him to perceive a wrong taking place and move him to take action. This would mean of course that Jehovah was actually the one who was causing harm or planning to do so, or did not give Satan the proper information for his actions to be understood. This is not too farfetched when we consider all of the death and destruction that god inflicts on humans throughout the bible. This is a problem of course if one believes that god is perfectly good and can’t be validly called into question, as Watchtower asserts in the quote above. Either way, there is a breakdown. Either Jehovah or Satan would have to be in the wrong and you would have to make a judgment call based off of their actions.
Another possibility is that Satan was not of sound mind, or even insane. If god had not done something deserving of rebellion, then Satan’s acting in the manner he did would be illogical and inconceivable. The Insight book quote makes that clear. A being who takes an action that will lead to his or her eventual destruction cannot be considered to be in his or her right mind. How could such a being be considered perfect? And, far more important, if a perfect spirit being is capable of losing their perfect mind and doing something suicidal, why would any human think that their perfection could protect them from the same outcome. What is to say that the same fly in the ointment, the same bug in the system, won’t manifest itself in their case? Why should they feel assured that a billion years into an earthly paradise, they won’t suddenly get the odd desire for adoration and worship that Satan is said to have manifested out of thin air? How can they be sure that their perfect self-control won’t fail them and allow them to nurture this strange ember into a flame of jealousy and obsession with ruling, resulting in their ultimate destruction.
To put it plainly, the perfection that Jehovah’s Witnesses look forward to is not safe. It can’t be. If god was not able to create Satan in such a way that he was safe in his perfection, then any perfect human would be no better off.
But what about free will? Satan’s free will would not have been infringed by a perfection that didn’t include his wanting to rebel. Just because rebelling against god exists as a choice does not mean that at some point in time a perfect being was obligated to choose this course. It can be a perfectly valid choice without ever being chosen by anyone. There can be two buttons side by side, one allowing for continued life, the other to death, and no one ever has to push the death button. But the button would still exist. Likewise, left unchosen, the route to rebellion doesn’t fade from existence. But if rebelling against god leads to death, what possible explanation could there be for doing so except for protesting god’s own harmful actions or for a bug in the system of consciousness. But the bug would of necessity have been put there by the creator, either actively or neglectfully, as “the superlative programmer.” Any other attempt at explaining the origin of Satan as the resister defies logic.
In summary, if a perfectly good god was not able to create the perfect spirit creature, Satan, in such a way as to prevent his suicidal rebellion, neither can he guarantee the safety of any human hoping to attain to perfection in an earthly or heavenly paradise.
Moving on from the pipe dream of perfection, we realize the time to reach for solid moral values is now. The way to find and attain these values is by learning more about what makes for the peace and flourishing of conscious creatures and what minimizes their suffering. Ancient books with regressive moral views cannot carry us towards a better future. People are being hurt each and every day by those who feel that the bible, koran, or any other “holy writing” supplies them with a tuned moral compass. There are some laws or prescriptions in these books that we know do contribute to a productive society, such as murder and theft being illegal. These are nearly universal throughout the world’s cultures. But just because they contain these bits of common-sense doesn’t mean that we must abide by the rest of their laws. Take the good, leave the bad, and move forward, just as we have done for millennia. We all owe it to each other to do so.