I had not heard from Hans for a long time. I know him from way back in my youth, but decades ago Hans moved to another country. I was greatly surprised when he called me a few weeks ago. It was about my book FACING DOUBT. Earlier he had already told me that reading it had been good for him. But now he wanted to share a personal experience with me.
Hans told me that years ago he had been on the point of leaving the church. But he eventually decided to stay–in spite of the conservative nature of the church in his new homeland. A long letter he received in October 1988 played an important role in his struggle to decide whether he would stay in the church. The letter was written by a Dr. W. Hans has now shared this letter with me and has give permission to quote from it. The letter was in reply to what Hans had earlier written to Dr. W.
. . . I want to try to answer you—to try to write something that will mean something to you. We all know how difficult this is. . . It gives us comfort that it is not urgently necessary to find the right words, as long as it communicates a warm bond! In the story of the sick woman, who had put all her hope on Jesus I find an illustration of the relativeness of the ‘correctness’ of understanding and experiencing. She believed that by touching his robe Jesus could give her what she so earnestly hoped for. We might compare her expectation with that of pilgrims to Lourdes. Jesus told her that her’ faith’ had cured her. What did this woman know about the nature of God, doctrines or church institutions? Her salvation was in a genuine desire for Jesus’ nearness. The fact that Jesus gave her more than she asked for is a miracle we all may expect. Not the intensity of our questions, but our openness to God’s coming to us in our lives is the most important thing . . .
Being a real Adventist is waiting for what God does. Condemning one another because we do not all understand this expectation in exactly the same way, is not the way of Jesus . . . Jesus mentions this all encompassing characteristic if we want to recognize a disciple: ‘That you love one another.’ That is totally different from constantly telling others that their ideas are wrong . . .
Further on in his long letter dr. W. touches on the topic of creation and how we are to understand the biblical creation narrative. He underlines that christians should give one another the space to have their own ideas about this:
To label others as ‘believers’ or ‘unbelievers’ on the basis of whether one takes the words literally or symbolically, as also in the words of Jesus about the wine of the Last Supper: “This is my blood . . . “ . . . God is the origin of all what is. This fits better with our worldview than the idea that God put the earth in the center of the universe and glued the stars to the ‘heavens’, while the earth was already in existence. The human intellect (also that of the greatest astronomers) is not big enough to grasp what forces, speeds, clashings and fusions of heavenly bodies are involved. Jesus paid no attention to these problems. He focused our thoughts on sparrows, lilies, mountains. He adopted the way of thinking of his time, spoke to the storm and sent evil spirits in a herd of pigs . . . gave the blind their sight using spit, sand and water. . .
. . . Reading about christians who fight with other christians, because they ‘have the truth”, makes it clear to us how much patience God has had with us through the ages, and everywhere. We must be his witnesses and because we are, humanly speaking, inadequate for this, God wants us to wait for his help. This has to do with the present, not with 1844 in whatever way this is interpreted. God waits for us, hoping that we will expect everything from him. That is the path toward peace in our hearts, peace with God . . .
. . . It is not necessary to look for other human deeds. God is able to find a person where he is and we can find Him where He is. God does not to correspond to our image of him, but we must correspond to his image . . .
. . . When a dog rescues you from the water, he teeth are not the teeth of God. But the rescue is an act of God. Likewise I must leave things to God, hoping that He will use me to fill your spiritual need.’
The words of the letter may sound a little archaic, but it touched me deeply. First, because of its content. Here we meet a deeply religious man, who—in spite of all his own doubts—will do whatever he can to help someone else with his questions and doubts.
But the letter touched me also for a very different reason. I also knew the author of this letter. More than fifty years ago I visited him a number of times. At the time I saw him as a rather pedantic, cold and distant person. This letter shows me I was wrong. It seems I was too quick in my judgment. If at the time I had perhaps tried a bit harder to understand him, I might, in spite of our huge age difference, have been able to react more meaningful to his struggle with his questions and doubts.
Thank you, Hans, for sharing this touching letter with me. It inspires me to continue my attempts to help others, in my own way, in dealing with their questions and doubts.