One thought often leads to the next. That was also the case when I started writing this blog in the Thalys hi-speed train from Schiphol airport to Paris. Last Friday morning I visited a bookshop and bought a book that was published late last year. It is by someone called Ebbe Rost van Tonningen. It is a rather fascinating book by someone who needed to deal with the past. His father was a prominent pro-German politician, prior and during World War II. He died in the high security prison in Scheveningen, near the Hague, just after the end of the war. The exact circumstances of his death have never been disclosed. His mother, frequently nicknamed ‘the black widow’, remained a fervent defender of Nazism, until her death a few years ago. As a result she often was in the news—always in a very negative way. Ebbe did (and does) not share in most of the convictions of his parents, but he happens to share infamous surname. This has greatly impacted on his entire life, and that is what the book is about. During this past weekend I read about three quarters of the book with intense interest.
As I was reading, I remembered a television interview with an elderly (retired) Dutch politician, Willem Aantjes, that I saw a few days ago. At one time he was a prominent leader in the Social-Christian party. He might have gone on to become our prime minister. But his career ended abruptly when evidence was discovered that Aantjes had been a member of a pro-German organization. Later on it appeared that things were not quite as bad as had first been suggested, but his reputation was destroyed. Instead of becoming a prime minister, he became the chief of the national Camping Organization.
The interview with Aantjes caught my attention in particular when he was asked some very personal questions. The journalist asked him whether he was afraid of death. I had expected a firm ‘no’, as Aantjes has always presented himself as a fervent believer. However, he hesitated maybe ten second before he said: ‘Yes, I am’. In reply to further questions he explained that people with his strict orthodox Calvinistic background will never lose this feeling of uncertainty about their ultimate destination. God does as he has predestined. Has he elected you to be saved? You can only hope so, but you can never be totally sure.
As I was listening to this interview, my thoughts went back to a conversation I had some months ago with a medical specialist who had treated many patients from a (religiously) very conservative region in Holland. He is not a Christian himself but did not avoid talking with me about the topic of faith. He told me that he had been utterly amazed about the fact that so many terminal patients from that region are so terribly afraid of death.
This is certainly food for thought. How does one explain the fact that people who faithfully attend church every Sunday—often twice—continue to doubt whether in the end God will accept them? Of course, there is something they worry about, while it does not bother this doctor: the idea that you can be forever ‘lost, and may burn in an everlasting hell in stead of enjoying the eternal blessings of heaven.
I have no idea how often people around me think of death. I cannot say that it is constantly on my mind, but I cannot help but think quite often about the fact that some day my life will end. When you have become a septuagenarian, the rest is downhill. . . . But does that really frighten me? That is not an easy question to answer. Fortunately, I am rooted in a Christian tradition that has concluded that an eternally burning hell is not a sound biblical idea. But, yes, I believe a person can be ‘lost’. However, I also believe that, if ‘deep down’ I have chosen to place my trust in God, things will be all right. Not because I am good enough. Even though I think that I am a reasonably good human being, I know that, in and of myself I am not good enough to be accepted by the Lord. Not even if I were ten times as good as I am now. But, fortunately, what counts is that God is good enough, and therefore I do not need to share in the fear of Aantjes and the people in the Dutch Bible belt.
Surely, I do not find it a pleasant idea that there comes a day when I will be no longer there. This is not a comfortable thought when you still enjoy life and are in a reasonably good physical shape. Naturally, sometimes you wonder whether you (or someone else) might one day discover the first signs of Parkinson’s Disease or whether you will have to fight against some form of ugly cancer. But, ending your life suddenly, without warning, through a massive heart attack, also has its disadvantages. Whatever happens, according to the Christian faith, death remains an enemy that is to be respected. But that same Christian faith tells Aantjes and the people in the Dutch Bible belt, that this foe has been defeated for everyone who makes a choice for Christ.
The internet in the Thalys is too slow to ‘load’ this blog. I will do this in a few hours from now, when I have arrived in Hotel Manet—about which I have written (not too positively) at some earlier occasions in this blog. But in the meantime I will try to finish the last seventy pages of the book by Ebbe Ros van Tonningen!