Monthly Archives: April 2020


One of the Dutch television programs I usually watch is De verwondering (The Wonderment) early on Sunday morning. In this program Annemiek Schrijver meets well-known and lesser-known guests, with whom she talks about their life experiences. She does that from a religious perspective. She is not only a sympathetic, but also a very skilled interviewer. She makes no secret of the fact that the Christian faith is very important to her.

Last Sunday’s episode was a repeat of an earlier conversation with Herman Finkers. Of all the Dutch comedians I admire him most. He is not just funny, but he really has something (deeply) meaningful to say. When I saw and listened to the program last Sunday, and when I watched it once more in preparation for writing this blog, I was struck by the depth of what was said. Actually, the conversation also made me a little jealous. I envied Finkers for the authentic, deep, but understandable way in which he spoke about religion. I suppose there aren’t many comedians who have read books by Schopenhauer. Finkers mentioned how he was impressed by Schopenhauer’s book Über die Religion, which appeared in English under the title Religion: A Dialogue. Schopenhauer claims that religion cannot do without ‘pious lies’. Although he himself felt he didn’t need religion, he did see the importance of it. But he assumed that religion by its very nature must contain paradoxes and even ‘absurdities’ or ‘pious lies’. Religion has to do with things of an entirely different order, and so the claims of religion con only be allegories, which are of necessity adapted to our human comprehension.

I must confess that I know much less about Schopenhauer than Herman Finkers and that I have never read any of his books. However, what Finkers said has made me curious. Of course, I cannot say it in such a profound way as a famous philosopher like Schopenhauer, but I have also come more and more to the conclusion that we as humans can only speak about God and eternity in ‘human language’, and this must therefore always be adapted to what we as limited, mortal beings can understand. So, what we say and think is always a distortion of the Reality, and strangely enough, the ‘truth’ as we understand it, is at the same time ‘a pious lie’.

However, what appealed to me even more in the interview is what Finkers said about the idea of God’s all-sufficiency–the idea that a perfect God needs no other beings, and nothing else, because he is ‘enough’ in himself. Finkers cannot accept that concept of God. If it is true that God is love, then God needs other beings, and there must be reciprocity. This means that it is not about us, human beings, who must do our best to ensure that he can get along with us. Our journey through life cannot be compared to the Dutch skating tour along the eleven Frisian cities, in which the participants must collect a stamp in each of these cities to eventually get a medal. Perhaps the most beautiful statement of Finkers in this interview was that our sins can never compete with the goodness of God. Saying that is actually uttering blasphemy!

And how right Finkers is! I also agree wholeheartedly with what he said next. It makes sense to him that we show our gratitude to God for all the good things we experience. And if things work out, or if beautiful things happen to us, some might speak of ‘luck’. But Finkers prefers to call that grace.

Many a pastor or priest cannot express the core of the gospel as well as the comedian Herman Finkers. Thank you so much!



In an earlier blog I already mentioned that I am currently writing a new book with 366 daily messages. This time I am mainly targeting those who have leadership roles in the church, in one way or another, at all levels. 366 is, of course, quite a large number and obviously I am trying to tap into various sources of inspiration. Last week it suddenly occurred to me to take a look at my sermon archive to get some more ideas. After all, my preaching covers a respectable period of about 55 years. Although my church work has hardly been in pastoring local congregations, I have preached almost every week throughout all those years. During the time I worked in Cameroon the frequency of my preaching declined significantly, but the only period in which I hardly preached at all were the three years I worked in the Mission Institute at Andrews University. There are so many theologians in and around Andrews that I was called upon only very rarely.

For a long time I hadn’t looked at my sermons that date from a somewhat distant past and it was therefore a special sensation to browse through the hundreds of sermons I have written over the years – almost all of them almost verbatim. In the beginning I wrote everything by hand, and it took me quite a lot of effort last week to decipher my hand writing. In many cases the ink has faded and the quality of my handwriting always left a lot to be desired. Those first sermons were mainly held in the northeast of the Netherlands, especially in Leeuwarden, Sneek, Oosterwolde, Groningen, and Bierum. Now that I read some of those sermons again, I felt a bit sorry for the people who had to listen to them!

The years that I worked at the school of Oud Zandbergen, in combination with the directorship of our church publishing house, and also the years that I worked exclusively for the publishing house, were extraordinarily intensive. Nevertheless, I preached almost every week and, as it was customary back then, most of the time twice on every Sabbath. In those days nearly half the congregations had afternoon services, which meant that after the morning service, the minister had to climb another pulpit in the afternoon as well. From my notes it appears that I preached some sermons far too often, because I simply lacked the time to study and make a new sermon.

After I left the Netherlands and worked successively in Africa, the United States and England (at the office of the Trans-European Division) I preached mainly in English, but sometimes also in French–of course often through an interpreter into a local language. Sometimes I used a sermon a dozen of times and a few times even more often, but in very different places. I estimate that I have preached in at least sixty or seventy different countries. During my years in Africa, I had the opportunity to preach in some thirty different African countries, with the unique experience of some twenty evangelistic presentations in Madagascar. On the back of a sermon from the TED period, that I happened to give a closer look, I saw that I had taken it to Budapest (Hungary), Moss (Norway), Tallin (Estonia), St. Albans (UK), Ljublijana (Slovenia), Turku (Finland), Novi Sad (Serbia) Skopje (North Macedonia), Zagreb (Croatia) and the Portuguese-speaking congregation in Brussels. But I was also privileged to preach in many places further from home, as, in various places in the US, Mexico, Pakistan, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.
Of course, from time to time, there were always sermons on special occasions – anniversaries, graduation ceremonies and, unfortunately, funerals of colleagues and friends. After my return to the Netherlands, and also during my retirement years, the national and international speaking appointment have continued fairly constantly. I hope the quality of my sermons is better now than some twenty or thirty years ago. Nowadays I seldom preach a sermon more than three or four times. Of course, it is up to others to judge whether I have improved over time (or whether my preaching skill is going downhill with age). But for five weeks now it has not been possible to go out preaching. I miss it more than I could have imagined, and I hope that this situation will change again soon and my Sabbaths will be ‘normal’ again.

The advantage of the Corona-time is that I can now hear colleagues more often. who deliver their sermons digitally. I am in fact a little jealous of those who hardly need to consult any notes. When I can go out preaching again it will be, as always, with about ten fully printed A5 sheets stuck in the back of my Bible! I am afraid that will not change.

Can we thank God for Covid-19?

During the Second World War, Corrie ten Boom and her family helped save Jews by providing them with a hiding place in their home in Haarlem. The Germans discovered their activities Corrie and her sister Betsie were captured and transported via Scheveningen and Vugt to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. A few weeks after the Gestapo invaded his home, Father ten Boom died in prison. Betsie passed away in the concentration camp on 16 December 1944. Corrie was lucky. Probably as a result of an administrative error she was released a few days after the death of her sister. Her story was published in 1971 in the book The Hiding Place, which became a huge bestseller.

In this book Corrie tells about daily life in the concentration camp. Together with her sister she continued to read the Bible and to pray together. An episode that is often quoted is how at a given moment Betsie wanted to convince her sister Corrie that there were many things to thank God for, even in their terrible situation. She insisted they could also thank God for the plague of lice in their barracks. Corrie thought that went too far, but Betsie saw the positive side of the lice plague in the fact that the German guards would now leave them alone and they were therefore in less danger of being raped! That was something to thank God for.

This week, when I happened to read something about Corrie ten Boom and the lice incident, I wondered: Can we also thank God for the Covid-19 pandemic? My first thought was that we could ask him to be close to the people affected by this disaster, but to thank him for this pandemic? No, I cannot do that, when I think of the people who died and all the people who are seriously ill. And when I think of all the people who are losing their jobs and the companies that are going bankrupt. And also, when I think of the sharp increase in domestic violence and the sad fact that we choose to forget, at least for the moment, what’s happening in the poorer countries and is probably going to happen there in the near future. And, of course, I am not at all happy with all the restrictions in my daily life. I miss being able to sit, once in a while, on an outside terrace with a cup of coffee. And yes, I also miss going to church.

But there are rays of light for which we can be thankful. The air around us has become cleaner. There are fewer traffic jams and therefore fewer accidents. There is also less crime. We see a lot of initiatives to help each other. And people who don’t normally do that, call and app other people to hear how things are going for them!

It would be great if the current crisis would make people think more deeply about the future. Do we really want a society in which it is especially important that the prices on the stock markets continue to rise? Do we want a society in which there must be continuous economic growth? In which we are challenged to consume more and more? A world in which a ‘good life’ is mainly measured in economic criteria? And in which the differences between rich and poor are becoming ever painful? Is the ‘new normal’ really becoming ‘new’ in the sense that it will be more humane? Or does the ‘new normal’ eventually become a somewhat polished version of the ‘old normal’? God forbid!


It’s a curious sensation. Over twelve years ago, I officially I retired from my church career. But actually, I only feel really retired since this last month. That feeling was further intensified when on Wednesday, with a pleasant temperature, I sat on the balcony of our apartment, I was literally sitting ‘behind the geraniums’ [A Dutch expression for elderly people who are retired and have become inactive.] All those years since I finished my term as the president of our church in the Netherlands, I still had a rather busy program and worked almost fulltime. But all of a sudden this pattern has ended, or is at least is disarray. All my appointments and trips for the coming months have been canceled and I am busy arranging refunds for already bought air-train- and boat-tickets.

Life has become quite boring and I can well imagine that there are people who are getting quite depressed by their current semi-imprisonment. Fortunately, I am not suffering from any form of depression and my feelings are dominated by one of gratitude that in my family and circle of friends no one has as yet experienced serious consequences of the Corona virus. And fortunately, our hometown with its 23,000 inhabitants, is not a hotbed of infection. According to the regional and local media, there are just a few dozen infections and one person who has died from the virus.

The days run a bit into each other, but I try to keep structure in my life. As always I get up early. The day starts with a walk of about an hour. My wife and I take turns for the necessary shopping at the nearby supermarket. And on Sabbath we listen to, and watch, a sermon by pastor Lex van Dijk, the minister of the Adventist church in Harderwijk, and we follow the on-line service of the Adventist church in Antwerp, which is very inspiring.

It is nice to receive phone calls and emails from people who want to know how we are doing and we also try, more than we usually do, to make contact with people we think will appreciate this.

I’ve always been a bit of a news junkie who follows the news through a range of different channels and that’s definitely the case now. Besides the latest Corona facts, I also want to know what’s going on in the world, and especially in my church. However, I spend most of the day behind my desk. In the coming week I have to write a few articles and must also do some editorial work for the journal SPES CHRISTIANA, which is now published by the Association of Adventist theologians in Europe, and of which I have been appointed editor-in-chief. In addition, I continue to coach a few students in the MA leadership program that is offered to a cohort of (mainly) pastors in Europe by Andrews University, in cooperation with Newbold College. And furthermore, I am diligently working on a new devotional, which mainly targets church leaders, at all levels. Before I sat down to write this blog I just finished nr. 211 of the 366 daily messages!

Well, maybe I will get used to this form of being retired. But to be honest, I hope I can quickly get back to the pattern I have come to enjoy over the past twelve years!

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.