I grew up in a Christian family, with all its blessings and curses. To me, the greatest blessing I think has been to be ‘clothed’ with lots of scripture: in memory, through singing of psalms and hymns, in attitudes taught at an age at which one is still very receptive of correction. A curse is — if I may call it so — that the transition from the confines of a Christian home to becoming a Christian in the secular world is a great challenge. Children can and may rely in a sense on the faith (-fulness) of their parents and teachers, as they grow up they then do have to grow and mature in their ‘own’ faith. On some, leaving this context suddenly has the effect of stripping those hard-wrought clothes from them, in their first years of, for instance, entering university, and leaving them naked and exposed. It is one of the stronger reasons I believe every Christian needs to live in the context of a church. It is a dangerous venture to rely on however much effort in reading the bible and the practise of faith, while being isolated from any church.
At the time I went to university, and consequently had to leave the home of my parents, I was also faced with this challenge. I became a member of a local church and had to make friends with brothers and sisters there. At that time, being a member of a Christian students association was of crucial importance for me. However much I was blessed with support and friendship, it was a time my faith was tested and I underwent a great transition. I was a believer and a follower of Christ before, during and after, but it was a time during which I had to become so in a manner no longer dependent upon my parents. Not to become independent, but rather more dependent on God and on those through whom He blessed and continues to bless me. I discovered that my strengths were my greatest weakness; because when I needed them most I could not rely on them. During those times, my great weakness threw me back on God and that became my greatest source of strength.
As I moved out of the context of the place I grew up, my interest in its roots grew as well. Among all the ‘dis-coverings’ I made thus far, I think the trilogy of Klaas Schilder on Christ has been the greatest blessing. He opened up the gospels to me in a fresh way, about 70 years after he wrote it. The past couple of years I read one of the three volumes as Lent-activity, although this year circumstances have made it difficult to keep up with it. I highly recommend reading them; they are very poetic (at least in the original Dutch, which has made translation to English very difficult). I also read in an interview that they have been a great blessing to James Jordan, to my surprise.
This morning a sermon given by Alastair’s dad reminded me of a number of chapters of the first part, “Christ in His Suffering” (surprisingly, he had not read them yet himself). Often when we think of the suffering of Christ, we think of the cross, the physical suffering of pain and having to bear the guilt of others. But certainly Matthew for instance, stresses that great suffering came from those whom were the closest to Him. It is a painful contrast, to read in Matthew 26:
“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. But not during the Feast, they said, or there may be a riot among the people. While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Jesus was preparing to fulfil all that the Passover feast pointed towards. His closest friends, in denial of what Jesus tells his disciples in the opening of the chapter, think Mary’s act is a waste. This is only one of many instances where the disciples betray Jesus, where they deny his ministry and more than often are worried about themselves (e.g. about who would be the most well-off with what Jesus was going to accomplish as the Messiah they thought Him to be). I wonder if there is greater agony known to mankind, than to be betrayed by those whom you love best. Nevertheless, Jesus loved them and in his love rebuked them and taught them, and loved them until the end.
Nevertheless also, the disciples did love their master. Peter being first among them… repeatedly grieved his Master deeply. What the writers of the gospel portray to us in the way Jesus was treated by those around him, friends and enemies, is a portrait of someone who was lonely in the highest degree possible, but amazingly unceasing in His love. It casts a light on what prayer to His Father meant. It casts a light on our own love for Jesus. Our love is always a love of response to Him, who loves us even though we have betrayed Him and are still capable to do so despite of our love for Him.
My strength is certainly not my love for Him, in the sense that I would be able to rely on it. But I receive my strength from Him, because when I have betrayed Him in my weakness and am discouraged in being his servant, He said: Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, follow Me!
Elbert Baas currently lives in Stoke-on-‘sunny’-Trent and is a member of Hartshill Bible Church, where Alastair’s father is a pastor. That is where he found a great friend in Alastair, when first visiting Stoke for a placement during his studies for 4 months. He is married with Annewieke, but not with their son Aron, who is now 5 months. He grew up in the Netherlands, but not in ‘Holland’. He obtained a bachelor degree in applied physics and is finishing a PhD thesis in biomedical engineering, in which he presents a methodology to study how growing bone tissue responds to local strain in a test tube. Later this year they hope to move back to the Netherlands so Elbert can set one year apart to study the ‘Calvinist’ legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd in depth, by taking part of the Master course ‘Christian Studies of Science and Society’ at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He enjoys cycling, photography, playing guitar, knitting (yes, real men knit), juggling, origami, reading philosophy, theology and Alastair’s blog. smoking his pipe or acigar (the latter preferably with whisky or cognac, and most important, in good company), programming. Elbert also blogs infrequently at http://www.theelepel.blogspot.com, http://www.engelandvaarders.blogspot.com (Dutch) and has blogged at http://www.thecomposition.blogspot.com. Prayer is valued that he may receive further vision how to grow in love and understanding in life as father of a family and as a follower of Christ, and how to daily give shape to that in all of life, especially in being a sincere, honest, concerned and most of all humble scientist. And how to keep short and concise!