Corona worries

It made me upset and a little worried. A lady from our doctor’s practice called me Wednesday afternoon. She said she called on behalf of our family doctor, and that they following a national government directive. I was reminded that my age is over seventy and that I am being treated for diabetes-2. I was told I should think seriously about what I would want if I got Corona. Would I then, if it was serious, want to go to a hospital and possibly to an ICU, or would I rather stay at home and receive the necessary care? I belong, the lady repeated several times, to the at-risk group and I had to remember that, ‘with my age and my condition’, the results of an ICU treatment would be very doubtful and could well result in little quality of life afterwards.

I don’t blame the lady (whom I had never met) for calling. It must be very unpleasant for her to call a long list of elderly people with this message, which undoubtedly causes a lot of anxiety. We keep hearing in the media that, due to the scarcity of ICU beds in our country, painful choices may soon have to be made and that not everyone will qualify for treatment in an intensive care department. It is also always said that age should not be the most important criterion. But then, why am I called? Is the fact that I have (like millions of others) been on medication for the past fifteen years to keep my diabetes-2 under control a reason to immediately put me on a list of vulnerable elderly people who, unfortunately, may have to die?

A few days ago I read a very interesting and thought provoking article. Budget cuts and a desire to achieve maximum efficiency have everywhere led to the minimization of stocks. A Philips spokesman stressed that the rapid production of large numbers of respirators is hampered by the fact that they depend on 521 parts which they do not make themselves, and which are currently very scarce, as most of their suppliers have sufficient stock. In the event of a sudden peak in demand for certain products, there is no significant buffer and delivery problems arise almost immediately.

It is good that governments are taking measures to help the large groups of people who have run into financial difficulties due to the current crisis, and that companies can also count on support. The immediate need for large-scale measures painfully shows that lots of people have no or hardly any reserves and experience financial distress within a few weeks. And also that many companies do not have a shred of ‘meat on their bones’. If sales are minimal for a few weeks, there is panic. Maybe the current crisis can make us more aware of the irrefutable fact that there is a lot wrong with our current capitalist and consumerist system.

Of course, we are all worried–even if we sit at home in good health and obey all the rules. Keeping a distance of one and a half meters and almost religiously washing our hands with great regularity has almost become the ‘new normal’. But the alarming reports from hospitals and the increasing numbers of Corona deaths don’t leave us unmoved. We are following with dismay what is happening in countries like Italy and Spain. And, we wonder: will it really be true that the United States will see at least a hundred thousand or two hundred thousand Corona deaths? And what will be the consequences of the reckless Brazilian President Bolsonaro? Moreover, what horrors will await the African continent in a few months’ time? And I am thinking, in particular, also of the way Sweden is dealing with the Corona crisis. Is that approach a ticking time bomb and will my grandchildren, who live in Sweden, be safe?

Yes, there is more than enough reason to be seriously worried – about ourselves and our loved ones. But also about all those people who have become ill and/or have lost their jobs or have seen the small company collapse that they have built up with so much effort. Hopefully, our worries will go beyond our own country, and the rich part of the world, with Donald Trump in the lead, will not prioritize the health of the stock markets.

Large numbers of people are anxious. How is this going to end? It is important that we do not infect others around us with a crippling panic and that we continue to hope and trust that the world will defeat this pandemic. Blessed are those who, in these times of uncertainty, can – despite all the questions and possible doubts –find in their faith an anchor that will help them remain spiritually and mentally strong.

And who again was Kim Jong Un?

It’s not so long ago that the North-Korean dictator was every day in the news. He was portrayed as an acute danger, and we watched closely as Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were scolding each other, before suddenly changing to a conciliatory tone. Last week there was a report that North-Korea had fired a few more missiles, but it certainly wasn’t front page news. I follow the BBC news very closely, but I haven’t heard the word Brexit for more than a week. Boris Johnson suddenly seems to be a responsible leader, who shows sincere concern for his citizens. In the Netherlands there is hardly any attention in the media for the recent reduction of the maximum speed limit on motorways during the day, and the incessant talk about CO2 emissions, pfas and the buying out of farmers in the vicinity of nature reserves has almost completely stopped. After all, a large part of the world now has other things on its mind. Everything focuses on the pressing problem of how to stop the advance of the deadly Covic-19, the new Coronavirus. One might, of course, wonder how quickly all these issues will once again demand our full attention as soon as the current crisis is over. For the moment, however, the important thing is that we survive. There is deep concern for vulnerable people; there is widespread fear that our health care systems have insufficient capacity, and anxiety about becoming infected and falling ill, besides a sense of great uncertainty about the near future.

And how about the church? Do we see a similar pattern there? Is there a shift of attention from secondary issues to what faith is primarily about? Is dogmatic bickering giving way to an emphasis on a living faith that takes away fear and gives a sense of inner peace?

It is still too early to see trends and for the time being we are left with a lot of questions. Will this crisis inspire churches to do more things together? And is that a good thing or a bad thing? I see it as positive that churches are calling for joint prayer, but I realize that there are people who see any papal initiative, even praying the Lord’s Prayer together with non-Catholics, as a devious attempt to expand the pope’s influence over all Christianity.

When I look at the Adventist faith community, I cannot help but wonder how we will emerge from the Corona crisis. Everywhere I see heartening expressions of care for each other, and of (often digital) connectedness. Hopefully, as Seventh-day Adventists we will, in this unprecedented time, not just show concern for our own group, but for all the people who are affected by the dark aspects of the current pandemic. I was upset by a report in the Adventist Review that three church members in Spain had died of the virus. Surely, this is terrible for those involved and their families, but what about showing our sadness for the thousands of other deaths that have now occurred in Spain?

And so, questions keep popping up. The leaders of the Adventist world organization and of the regional offices (divisions) are grounded because of a travel ban until further notice. Are we really going to miss their presence? And is it a great loss that all those congresses that were planned for the coming months aren’t going to take place? Does this really make much difference to the wellbeing of the church?

One more thing: I wonder how many church members really felt it was important in last week’s Bible study period to discuss the struggles between Ptolomeans and Seleucides, as described in Daniel 11. Is this really relevant to strengthen our faith in this Corona age?

For me, the important thing now is to look together for what keeps us spiritually going as Adventist Christians, and to discover how we can draw courage from our faith and that, in spite of everything, we can face the future with hope. Above all, the supreme question is how we can convert our faith into true humanity. (And, as far as I am concerned subjects as the 2300 evenings and mornings and the mark of the beast can be put on the back burner for a while!).

Mostly positive Corona-news

This weekend I was supposed to be in Frankfurt am Main for a few lectures at a meeting of the AWA (Adventistische Wissenschaftlicher Arbeitskreis). Due to the Corona crisis, this event was cancelled, just like a series of other activities that filled my calendar for the next six to eight weeks. Well, it is how it is! And maybe some of these events can take place at some later date. But, to be honest, I am irritated by the fact that, for the time being, a lot of preparatory work seems to have been in vain! However, compared to the misery and setbacks that others are currently experiencing, I realize I have no right to be upset and I should rather be grateful that I can sit behind my desk and write this blog.

Besides all the negative Corona news there are fortunately also many good things to report. In many countries we see men and women in politics and in various sectors of society, who show real leadership. The Dutch prime minister and the ministers dealing with aspects of the crisis, as well as people in education and health care, deserve our greatest admiration.

But there are also many smaller things that confirm Rutger Bregman’s thesis that ‘most people are OK’ (see his book with the same title, published last year). It is also nice that people call others and want to know if everything is going well. Within the small Adventist church in Harderwijk, which also includes the church members who live in Zeewolde, a lot of elderly people were called in the past few weeks and people kept in touch with each other through various aps. A few days ago someone rang our doorbell. The secretary of the residents’ association of our building with 32-apartments, with mostly plus-60 residents, came to bring us a fruit basket, and wanted to know if we are doing well. Our son urged me and my wife several times last week from Sweden (where he lives) to be very careful, because, he said, ‘You belong to group that is most vulnerable! Our daughter was worried about us, too. And even though there’s nothing wrong with us so far, their concern warms our hearts.

It’s also great to see how many good initiatives are being started to help one another. And to see all the creativity that is emerging to provide on-line education to children who presently can’t go to school and how people are working very creatively in all kinds of ways to expand the capacity of the health care system. It is also good to see how restaurants and other eating places are finding new ways to remain in business in spite of all the problems they face.

As someone who has always been (and still is) closely connected with church life, I do wonder what impact the Corona measures will have on the church in both the short and longer term. What will it do to people, who have always relied on their weekly church attendance, if they are unable to attend a divine service, perhaps for some time? Will there be many people who, when the crisis is over, no longer feel the need to attend church physically? Will they get so accustomed to virtual church attendance that they will continue to get their spiritual nurture while sitting on their couch?

Undoubtedly, the crisis also has a major impact on church finances, both locally, regionally and nationally. Will members remain faithful in their pattern of giving? And what, if there will be a recession, with a lot of unemployment, which will result in substantially lower income for the church? Hopefully people will realize that even during a crisis the church must pay salaries and pay its regular bills. In the meantime, many expenses are avoided because people are forced to use digital technology, to hold meetings without traveling to a particular locality. In the future, this may become the norm rather than the exception dictated by this crisis.

On Thursday, March 19, it was decided that the World Congress of the Adventist Church, that was planned for early July in the American city of Indianapolis, will be postponed until May 2021, and that this Congress will then be greatly slimmed down. The good news is that far-reaching plans are now also being made to make future world congresses much more sober events. That is good news. The five-yearly world congress had gradually grown into a huge circus, and no one has any idea how much it really costs. It is true that the world organization has a budget for this, but in addition to that, enormous costs are incurred all over the world by church entities and individuals to be able to take part in the congress.

It is a disappointment for many that the changes in the church which many are eagerly hoping for, will not happen for another year. In any case, the Church will have to make do with its current leaders for another year. But who knows: perhaps this interim period will strengthen the sense that change is needed to ensure that the Church remains relevant, also in the post-Corona era.

The Corona virus

This blog must, of course, be about the Corona virus. All the media are constantly talking about it. Worldwide there are now more than 120,000 people registered as ‘infected’. In China, if we can believe what the Chinese are telling us, it seems to be heading in the right direction, but in Italy things continue to get worse. In the Netherlands (on Thursday 12 March) the number of Corona patients stands at over 600, but the authorities say that the exact number is unknown and probably much higher. Worldwide, the official number of deaths as a result of Corona is now over 4,000.

The Corona virus, or COVID-19, as the virus is officially called, has now evolved from an epidemic into a pandemic. Medical institutions around the world are making preparations for all kinds of doomsday scenarios. While doctors and other scientists are advising politicians how to curb a further spread, and at the same time are eagerly looking for a vaccine, Donald Trump and other world leaders are mainly worried about stock market prices and the chance of a recession. Life on a large part of our planet is pretty messed up. As of tomorrow, flights between Europe and the USA will be seriously restricted. Many companies have problems because no parts “made in China” are being delivered; planes with a handful of passengers are making ghost flights, conferences are being cancelled, and the tourist industry foresees a catastrophic year.

Personally, so far I have not had any major Corona problems. I know there is someone infected in our town, after having returned from Northern Italy, but name and address of the person are (of course) not made public. But things may now also begin to affect us. My wife and I were planning to go to a concert in the Concertgebouw next Sunday, together with friends, but I have just been notified that the concert has been cancelled. In about ten days I have a speaking assignment in Frankfurt am Main. I hope that meeting will take place as scheduled, but this is beginning to look very doubtful.

If Italian situations should arise in the Netherlands, they could upset my program in the coming weeks and months. But, of course, that’s an insignificant aspect of the big picture!

All kinds of big events are at risk. For example, the European Song Festival in Rotterdam. I won’t lose any sleep over it, if that doesn’t go ahead. Maybe the Olympics in Japan will have to be postponed. That thought must be a nightmare for the Japanese organizers. The leadership of the worldwide Adventist Church has announced that it hopes the World Congress in July, in the American city of Indianapolis, can go ahead. But other scenarios are presently being considered. Could that mean that the congress will have to be postponed for a year? And does that mean that the hopes of many, that the congress may at long last bring change, will in any case not be realized for another year?

Many will remember the words of Jesus that before He returns all kinds of disasters will take place. These are the so-called ‘signs of the times’. Is the Corona pandemic a ‘sign of the times’? Yes, we may see it that way, but we have to place it in the broader biblical perspective. According to the New Testament, the time of the end is the period between the first and second coming of Christ. During this period there are constant signs that this world is coming to an end, and is waiting for the new future that is ushered in by Christ’s second coming. In any case, the current Corona situation shows very clearly how everything in our world is interconnected, and that very suddenly something can happen that has global repercussions with incalculable consequences.

Looking to the immediate future: I was scheduled to preach this Saturday in one of the Adventist churches in Amsterdam, but I’ve just heard that the service will not take place. A few other appointments for the next weeks have been cancelled as well. It looks like there will be extra time in the coming weeks to work on a new book. This proves once again that every disadvantage may also have its advantage!

Books and their authors

Meeting with authors usually has the added benefit of getting a free copy of their latest book. Recently I spent two weeks in Southern California for some speaking appointments (and in connection with receiving the Charles Elliott Weniger Award of Excellence). This also gave me the opportunity to meet once again with friends and some colleagues whom I greatly admire. Among them, for instance, are Richard Rice, David Larson and Zack Plantak, who all teach in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. In their respective field they are all eminent scholars and gifted teachers. But not very far from Loma Linda University is another Adventist university: La Sierra University. Near the campus meets every Thursday morning a small group of Adventist theologians. They call their informal gathering: The Dead Prophet Society. I had the pleasure of meeting with them in their usual meeting place: Starbucks.

One of those present was Fritz Guy. Though he is in the age category of the ‘strong’ (Psalm 90) his mind is as sharp as ever. If there were a list of the ten most influential Adventist theologians, he would certainly be among them. He may be best known for his book Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith (Andrews University Press, 1999). It was a faith-building pleasure to read it—now many years ago. Recently, Fritz Guy has authored, together with Dr. Brian Bull (a pathologist at Loma Linda University), a series of three books about an issue that remains very important for many Adventist believers, namely: How to read the book of Genesis, in particular the chapters 1-11. Fritz gave me a copy of the third book of the series, which recently came off the press. It is published by Adventist Forum, the parent-organization of the Spectrum Journal.

Arriving home, this book, entitled God, Genesis & Good News, was at the top of my reading list. It proved to be one of those books that confirm what one has been thinking, but that articulate it in all along, but does so in a way that helps to get a much firmer grip on the issue. Brian Bull and Fritz Guy set out to provide a new translation of the original Hebrew text, which they call the Original Hearers Version (OHV). They tell the reader of their book that they can only have a proper understanding of the Genesis account, if they ask how its original hearers understood it. The book of Genesis must not be used to find answers to modern scientific questions. It is theology rather than science or proto-science. It is about God and his works, as understood by the first hearers, several millenniums ago. If read in this way, there is no longer any need for a reconciliation between the biblical stories and the current state of scientific research. I have just ordered the two previous books of this trilogy and look forward to also reading those.

Ronald Graybill was also present at the Starbucks meeting. He is an accomplished historian. Thirteen years of his working life were spent as a key staff member of the E.G. White Estate, the office that cares for the literary heritage of Mrs. White. He gave me a copy of his meticulously researched book that has also very recently appeared: Visions and Revisions: A Textual History of Ellen G. White’s Writings (published by Oak and Acorn, 2019). I read this while I was still in the USA. Graybill gives a fascinating description of the process that begins with the handwritten manuscript and ends with a printed copy of Ellen White’s messages. The deciphering of these original documents is often much more challenging than most people know, and the role of her husband James and many assistants in the further processing of what Ellen White had written, was in most cases much greater than most current readers are aware of. Bonnie Dwyer, the editor of Spectrum, who happened (like me) to be a one-time guest at the Starbucks meeting, asked me to write a review of the book for Spectrum. I gladly agreed to do so. The review is now posted on the Spectrum website. See: https://spectrummagazine.org/2020/visions-and-revisions-textual-history-ellen-g-whites-writings-book-review