Monthly Archives: January 2018

How will it happen?

At the end of the service in the church where I had preached last Saturday, I was greeting the people at the door. An elderly man in a wheelchair held back and waited till he was the last person in line. When I wanted to simply greet him and then move on, he told me he had a question for me. I had told him, he said, that I did not believe in a literal six-day creation some 6.000 years ago. I vaguely remembered that a year or so ago I had also met him and he had asked me questions about this.

Here was his new question: ‘Do you believe that many people will be saved and will be resurrected when Jesus comes?  Could there be billions of people who will be resurrected? Do you believe this can all happen in one day?  You told me that you believe that a long time was needed to bring everything into existence. Or do you also believe that God will need a long time to bring us back from death and to make the new world that we are waiting for?

I assured him that I firmly believe that God is the Creator, even though I do not know how and when exactly he created, and that I also believe in a life after this life and in a new creation, even though I have no precise idea how God is going to do this.

My brother in the wheelchair quoted 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. . . .

In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

So, what did I think of this? Are these texts not crystal clear? At first sight they seem straightforward but I must admit that I have many questions. How is this going to happen? OK, somehow God knows all those who are his, and somehow they will one day be re-created and live eternally in a totally new world. But what about those who do not belong to those who will “rise first”.  According to Revelation 20 they rise a thousand years later. Is “thousand” here a symbolic number? What do the trumpet and the voice of the archangel stand for? And why does God want those who rejected him to rise before they are annihilated in a second death? And what does it mean that the saints will have a role in the divine judgment? And why do those who are saved first go to heaven before they return to this planet?

I must admit: just as I have tons of questions about the creation of our world and the origin of the human race, I also have lots of questions about the future new creation. But these questions no longer worry me. I do not know how and when God made everything, and how he may have used the evolutionary process, but he is the Creator and I am a creature who owes him worship and loyalty. To know that is enough is for me.

And even though I cannot visualize and conceptualize how God is going “to make all things new”, I believe that at a given point in time God will intervene in the affairs of this world through Christ’s second coming, and because of his love and omnipotence I can entrust myself to him. It is enough to know that he is my God and that he will somehow take care of me. Being saved, I am safe with him.

My interlocutor was not totally satisfied. He clearly reads the Bible in a more literal way than I do. I have difficulty understanding the various texts as they read, and in linking them together in such a way that I can even begin to understand how God will recreate the world and bring his children back to life. But in faith I want to hold on to assurance that there is eternal life and that somehow, by his grace, that is what God also has in store for me. That conviction should be enough for me.

 

New Year’s Messages

For most people the entrance into a new year is accompanied by certain rituals. We watch the television clock and wait for the moment it strikes twelve and then wish one another “a happy new year.” In many countries the start of a new year is accompanied by fireworks displays. In the Netherlands the standard treat is oliebollen and appelbeignets.[1] But standard features of the first day of the year are also the new year’s messages of heads of state, political leaders and religious leaders. In our home we usually make sure that we hear the messages of the Dutch king Willem Alexander and also that of the British Queen Elisabeth. Both have usually something worthwhile to say to their ‘subjects’.  King Willem Alexander’s messages was a little more somber than in past years, but I found his emphasis on the we-focus rather than the I-focus very meaningful.

One could, of course, not miss the comments of the American President who, from his golf-resort in Florida, promised the world that the process of making America great again is even ahead of schedule!

My wife and I always make sure to watch the pope’s address on New Year’s day, followed by his blessing urbi et orbi (for the city and for the world).  As we might expect, Pope Francis spoke about the people in this world who are in need, especially the migrants and the refugees. And he touched upon one of his favorite themes—peace—pointing in particular to the plight of the Palestinians and the Syrians.

I admire the personality and the leadership qualities of Justin Welby, the current archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Anglican faith community. He has a difficult job, somewhat comparable to that of the president of the Adventist world church. Both are leaders of a denomination that is present in many countries of the world, with a host of different cultures and traditions. Both must deal with some of the same issues, such as homosexuality and the role of women clergy. In his short televised message the archbishop spoke of the comforting role of faith when calamity strikes. He referred to the various terrorist attacks in Great Britain in 2016 and the disastrous fire in the Greenfell Tower apartment building.

What struck me in the messages of the pope as well as of the archbishop that they connected their faith and their church with the world in which we live and with the events of everyday life. I very much missed that in the message of Pastor Ted Wilson, the head of the Adventist Church. Although he briefly alluded to some of the good and the bad things that 2017 brought us, his main wish for 2018 is that the Adventist believers will continue to focus on Jesus as their High Priest, who is interceding for us in the heavenly sanctuary. He quoted a paragraph from Ellen White’s book The Great Controversy in which Mrs. White urges the believers to make the topics of the heavenly sanctuary and of the investigative judgement their main themes of study.

That the top Adventist church leader would refer to some specific Adventists beliefs was to be expected. But I was quite disillusioned that he made so little effort to connect the Adventist faith and the Adventist faith community with the world of 2018. Yes, Adventists believe in the coming, eternal kingdom. But the gospel is clear that the kingdom is also, in some ways, already among us and that the most crucial aspect of our calling as Christian believers is to live and promote the values of that kingdom in our daily lives.



[1]  For non-Dutch readers a few lines from Wikepedia: Oliebollen are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve[1] and at funfairs. In wintertime, they are also sold in the street at mobile stalls. The dough is made from floureggsyeast, some saltmilkbaking powder and usually sultanascurrantsraisins and sometimes zest or succade (candied fruit). A notable variety is the appelbeignet which contains only a slice of apple, but different from oliebollen, the dough should not rise for at least an hour. Oliebollen are usually served with powdered sugar.