There is an interesting discussion beginning to shape up in the Dutch equivalent of the United Church. As some of you may know, several Dutch protestant churches have for some time already been looking for more that binds than what separates them. The newly created PKN (Protestant Church of Netherlands) is home to a very broad spectrum of ways of believing.
On the more conservative end things are quite traditional and it is not uncommon to find a fairly literal interpretation of Scriptures, while on the extreme liberal end you may sometimes have the idea that anything goes.
Which of course is hardly ever the case.
However it seems that a minister in the south western parts is pushing the envelope a bit and has a lot of people in a stir.
The rev. Hendrikse has recently published a book, now already in its seventh printing, called “Believing in a God who does not exist”.
This may sound like a 'contradictio in terminus', but for Hendrikse it certainly does not mean that he lost his faith. Neither does it mean that he thinks himself completely outside the biblical framework. He thinks the opposite might be true
He believes God does not exist like apple-pie exists. And if God does not exist like apple-pie exists, you can not say: Yeah, but he exists differently. Either he exists or he does not exist. Existing differently is a very poor way of reasoning and makes for poor theology.
For Hendrikse God happens. He gives several examples how God happens in the Bible.
Many people do not believe that God exists, but...
There is often a 'but....' and that is where Hendrikse shares common ground.
“There is no mystery behind our life, our life is a mystery. That God happens , is such a mystery.”
The name with which God makes himself known in the Old Testament is Jahwe.
A generally accepted translation is supposed to mean , I am who I am or who I will be. That, according to Hendrikse, is a dead translation. There is evidence to believe that a better translation would be , Go ahead, and I will be there. Take the jump and I will be there.
There is a promise in this, but also a warning.
If you go there, I will be there, but also, if you don't go , I won't be there either.
It puts a new spin on our freedom of choice. God does not lead us, but He will be there when and if we make a move.
It is often after the fact that we are able to see when and where God was.
When Moses asks to see God, he is only allowed to look when God has passed.
As Hendrikse says, when at the end of the day I rewind the tape I can often come to the conclusion: Yes, God was there today. From that I derive the confidence that He will be there tomorrow.
No doubt the discussion will from thereon focus on the value of the personal experience. The more traditional thinking half of us will have serious concerns about putting the personal experience front and centre, while there is an increasing distrust in the other camp of any kind of foreign experience. Someone else's experience is simply not a reliable tool to set one's course by.
The experience of the Hebrew people is a foreign experience and as such can not have much validity for me.
“If your own experiences do not happen to match the experiences of organized religion, does that mean that you should distrust your own experiences? “, asks Hendrikse.
It becomes in the end quite difficult to defend one's actions as based on some else's experience. Who is taking the responsibility for that?
Of course this is considered absolutely postmodern by the more traditional thinking members of the crowd.
Which is perfect allright with Hendrikse.
But if on the other hand one takes into consideration the simple fact that all through the Bible the stories have always been about people having an intensely personal experience of/with God, whereas history has been about putting up barriers and considering the personal experience as something inferior.
So have we maybe come full circle??