In order to answer the question whether a Sciencestudent can believe, I would like to tell you a storyabout one of my tute...
He is called Nicodemus, and he is quite theEinstein. Jewish like him, and brilliant, well, almostlike him. Let me introduc...
Nicodemus, we usually call him Nico, has beenbuilding things all his life. He had actuallymanaged to send rockets into spa...
His parents did not use to be ‘devout’ Jews, onlyfrom a Jewish family – an important Jewish family,yes. But in recent year...
Nico was much surprised by his father’s message and his request.He remained silent for some time, and asked for time to th...
After coming to AUC, Nico was assigned to my tutorgroup. Not long ago we were having drinks during atutor group meeting. S...
Not long ago, catholic processions in the Netherlandswere prohibited. Above the rivers, only ours wasallowed to continue, ...
Then, in the year 2000, several people from my choir went to Rome forthe World Youth Days that were organized there. This ...
When we arrived to Rome, we met huge crowdsof young people, singing and having a good time. Iwas rather wary of the ‘mass ...
I was very lucky that one of the participants in my trip was a person who wasvery devoutly religious, and knew a lot of pe...
The next day, however, he was back. “Sir, I am sorry forbeing a bit abrupt yesterday, but can’t we talk aboutsome concrete...
First, let me tell you that I have a serious problem with‘young-earth creationism’, the idea that the earth wasliterally c...
Nico asked: but what about Genesis? It SAYS that the earthdeveloped in seven days, doesn’t it? And I answered him:“Indeed ...
“But then what is Genesis about?” Nico asked. “Well, you have tosee the book in the context of the whole Old Testament” Ie...
However, a week later he came back again,carrying a copy of ‘the God Delusion’. “Sir”, hesaid, “last week you told me a st...
So I recommended him to read ‘Answering the new Atheism’ byScott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, which he promised to read. “But”...
“No wait,” he said, “have you not only told me the faith-side ofthe story on evolution? Isn’t there a biological side as w...
Nico understood the distinction I made and its importance, but heimmediately asked how I could be so sure about my convict...
In the coming days, I did not see Nicodemus. But moreworryingly, neither did anyone else at AUC. After thesecond week, tea...
For me, these weeks were a time of intense prayer,because I was very worried that Nico had taken mywords differently than ...
While reading the Gospel according to John, I encountered the following lines. (…) Now,these struck me greatly. First of a...
So I continued to read: (…). These sentences againgreatly struck me. What a mysterious answer fromOur Lord! Unless one is ...
This answer from Jesus is rather different than we might haveexpected. A biologist may want to study the mechanism by whic...
Nicodemus was reading my mind. How can all this be? It is really going outside our normal ‘schemes’ ofthinking.Again the a...
I knew from the Holy Scripture that certainly not everyonewas prepared to accept Jesus’ testimony. Some time later thiswou...
Jesus here gives a direct prophesy of his suffering, that we have just seen a partof, in a language that is a bit cryptic ...
The following words of Jesus give some perspective on eternallife, but are still rather mysterious. Because he says that G...
Jesus now continues on about the judgment, saying that it has todo with what people do, good or evil deeds. Indeed, his wo...
Thus ends the night-time visit of Nicodemus toJesus. Jesus only said a few things, but it gives us alot to think about. He...
We don’t see this Nicodemus again in the Gospeluntil some Pharisees want to arrest Jesus. Thesoldiers do not want to arres...
Nicodemus speaks out for a just process for Jesus.Indeed, hearing him is what he has done himself.Nicodemus seems to be so...
Indeed, Nicodemus’ objection did not have mucheffect on the long term. The Pharisees arrestJesus, and lead him to be cruci...
Jesus has died, some miracles have occurred: the earthshook, the Temple curtain was split asunder, peoplewere raised from ...
But still, one of the most famous commentators on thisgospel, St Thomas Aquinas, remarks that myrrh andaloes are used to p...
The gospel narrates how Jesus is resurrected andshows himself to his disciples. (…) But we do notsee the name of Nicodemus...
(first points) Listening to Jesus may be a bitdifficult for us, since we are not used to hearingabout spiritual realities,...
37
38
39
Oh, and what happened to Nico? The truth is that I donot know. And there is only one way to find out.Because Nico, that is...
41
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5
×

Can I, a Scientific Student, Believe?

309

Published on

Can a scientist believe in God? Lecture by Daan van Schalkwijk in AUC's "Who's in Town?" lecture series at Artis Library.

See video on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSprBtozds4

Title: Can I, a scientific student, believe?
Description: One young lady, when asked what she believed, answered, 'I don't believe, I'm a biologist.' She gives voice to the widely held opinion that Christian belief is not compatible with scientific reason. In this lecture Daan van Schalkwijk will challenge this opinion.
He will illustrate the key components of the debate using a story about an AUC student, who asks himself: 'Can I believe, and be reconciled with my Jewish family?' Using this story, he will explore the key 'conflict' area of Genesis and evolution, as well as the mystery of 'life'.

Speaker: Daan van Schalkwijk

Date & Time: Tuesday 29 November, 18.00 - 19.00

Venue: AUC Artis Library (Plantage Middenlaan 45)

Convenor: Joost van Amersfoort

The statements in this presentation are the speaker's opinion, and they do not necessarily represent the opinion of AUC.

Published in: Spiritual
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total Views
309
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
3
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Can I, a Scientific Student, Believe?

  1. 1. In order to answer the question whether a Sciencestudent can believe, I would like to tell you a storyabout one of my tutees. 1
  2. 2. He is called Nicodemus, and he is quite theEinstein. Jewish like him, and brilliant, well, almostlike him. Let me introduce him a little bit more. 2
  3. 3. Nicodemus, we usually call him Nico, has beenbuilding things all his life. He had actuallymanaged to send rockets into space, and wasalways willing to talk about that. But recently,when his parents asked about his projects, hewould just say, ‘oh, nothing special’, and if theyinsisted with their interest, he would smile, butsay nothing. So they left him alone. 3
  4. 4. His parents did not use to be ‘devout’ Jews, onlyfrom a Jewish family – an important Jewish family,yes. But in recent years, they started to go to thesynagogue. You could regularly see them talkingto the Rabbi, who even came to visit their home afew times. Just before Nico was to start at theAUC, Nico’s father came to him one day, and said‘Nicodemus, your mother and I have decided tomove to Jerusalem. We think we can be moreunited with our people there. We respect that youhave decided to go to college in Amsterdam, butwould like to ask you to come with us.’ 4
  5. 5. Nico was much surprised by his father’s message and his request.He remained silent for some time, and asked for time to think,which his father granted him. In the following nights, Nico wouldlie in his bed, with thoughts racing through his mind. He thoughtabout what his life would be like in Jerusalem, he would probablyalso be able to study there. But above all, he wondered if he couldreally feel united to his Jewish family. His parents had never toldhim much about the Jewish faith, so he did not feel he had faith.Moreover, he really wanted to get a good scientific education atthe AUC. After long thought, he concluded that he would feel veryout of place in Jerusalem. He went to his father, and told him:“Dad.” “You look very tired, son.” “So I am, dad. I have beenthinking a lot.” “I thought so, Nico. Let’s not beat about the bush. Ican see you are uncomfortable, what have you decided.” Nicostarted to quiver. “Dad, I have decided that… that I would ratherstay in Amsterdam.” His father remained silent for a while. “Iunderstand son. This will be tough on your mother.” “I know dad. Idon’t want to leave her, it’s just that…” “Leave it, Nico, Icompletely understand. And she will too. You have my blessing.” 5
  6. 6. After coming to AUC, Nico was assigned to my tutorgroup. Not long ago we were having drinks during atutor group meeting. Suddenly Nico said, “Sir, you are abeliever, right?” I was a bit surprised, and said, “Yes,you could say that, why?” “Well, you are also abiologist, how do these things combine?” At the time Idid not know much about his background, so I thoughtthat the best would be to talk a bit about mine, so thathe would feel free to talk about his as well. I told him “Iam from Laren, a Catholic village in the centre of theNetherlands. We have a very nice basilica in our village,that thanks its existence partly to the yearly processionof St John the Baptist that we have there.” 6
  7. 7. Not long ago, catholic processions in the Netherlandswere prohibited. Above the rivers, only ours wasallowed to continue, because of its ancient tradition.On St John’s day, everyone who has something to dowith Laren comes to town. As a child, we watched theprocession, but I never participated. Although I wasbaptized, received my first communion andconfirmation, as customary for catholic children, we didnot go to church very often. In my adolescence I onlywent there to sing in a youth choir, because I lovesinging. But I started to read books by StephenHawkins, and thought that I would like to be a scientist.I thought that this could not be combined with faith inGod, and since my faith was not very strong, Iconsidered myself an ‘agnostic’. God might be there,who knows? 7
  8. 8. Then, in the year 2000, several people from my choir went to Rome forthe World Youth Days that were organized there. This is a three-yearlyworldwide event for catholic young people and their friends, startedby pope John Paul II. I went along to have a good vacation. I hadunconsciously developed a pretty strong prejudice against religiouspeople. I felt they were either quite gloomy and boring people orhypocrites. I remember quite vividly stepping in to the bus that woulddrive us to Rome, and have the priest say the voyage benediction assoon as we drove away. It struck me as, oh man, what have I gotmyself into? But on the way we stopped at many interesting places,and I had good conversations with my traveling mates from my ownparish and from the other parishes that came with us. Some of themost impressive experiences were the stops at Assisi and La Verna,places where St Francis of Asis lived and died. We were guided aroundby Franciscans. These people radically give everything away that theyhave to serve God, the only thing they have is their habit. That mademe think: ‘if God does not exist, these people really have a problem.”But they seemed quite happy, St Francis certainly was a very happyperson.Since Nico still seemed interested, I continued. 8
  9. 9. When we arrived to Rome, we met huge crowdsof young people, singing and having a good time. Iwas rather wary of the ‘mass effect’, especiallysince I could not yet really ‘feel with’ the crowd.But the message that religious people are notnecessarily sad and boring was well taken. All inall, this trip did not convinced me to believe, but itopened the way, because it raised my interest forthe faith. Since I wanted to be a biologist, I nowwanted to know how one could combine faith andscience. 9
  10. 10. I was very lucky that one of the participants in my trip was a person who wasvery devoutly religious, and knew a lot of people that were involved with thesesorts of questions. He took me to the student residence Leidenhoven, werepeople lived with a profound faith, and who are also true scientists. I went to afew lectures there, and when I told one of the organizers about my problem: howto combine faith and science, his answer was very simple. He said, “You knowwhat science is, now learn what the faith is, and you will see for yourself whetherthey can combine.” I thought that was very reasonable, so I took his advice, and Itook classes with him about the faith. Little by little, I started understandingmore, I started to pray, and I started to understand how it all fitted. That was agreat experience for me.Nico, listened to this story with interest, and afterwards told me about his ownbackground and his problem with his family. I ended up by giving him the sameadvice that they gave me: learn about the faith, and you will see how the twocombine.“But sir, that may be true, but what can I do with such advice now?” Nico asked.“I want to know whether I can be reconciled with my family, and you ask me toundertake a multi-year studying project. Can’t you see that is not an option forme?”I told him that I thought it would be the only way to get a satisfactory answer.“Well,” he said “it is not the answer I was looking for.” And he stood up, andmarched off. 10
  11. 11. The next day, however, he was back. “Sir, I am sorry forbeing a bit abrupt yesterday, but can’t we talk aboutsome concrete problems? What about evolution? Doyou think you can believe and think that evolutionactually took place?” “ Yes,” I said, “we can talk aboutthat, and I don’t mind telling you about it. But thinkabout the fact that your parents took quite a bit of timeabout making up their mind about this issue, and so didI. Don’t expect to see a complete answer, you’ll needtime.” “Sir,” Nico said, “ We’ll see about that. But couldyou now tell me whether one can believe and beserious about evolution. I mean, without compromisingon the faith. I don’t want to be half-hearted inanything.” So I said, “All right, that’s a theme we cantalk about. I think you can be completely serious aboutyour faith and about evolution at the same time. Letme explain.” 11
  12. 12. First, let me tell you that I have a serious problem with‘young-earth creationism’, the idea that the earth wasliterally created in seven days, that the universe is atmost 7000 years old. The problem is, that if you look atthe universe, the earth, and species, you see somethingelse. Now, I believe that, as Galileo famously said, Godwrote two books: the bible and creation. Would Heconstruct creation in such a way that it seems to bemillions of years old, but it is actually not? And thenwrite another book to show us that he is actually justjoking, and it is really not so old as it seems? That verymuch contradicts the image of an all-powerful, eternal,loving and faithful God. I do not think that Godcontradicts himself in this way. 12
  13. 13. Nico asked: but what about Genesis? It SAYS that the earthdeveloped in seven days, doesn’t it? And I answered him:“Indeed it does. But have you ever read: ‘How to read abook?’” “I can read”, Nico said. “I bet you can” I told him,“but there is a difference between reading and reallyassimilating what an author is trying to say. One of thebasic questions that this book teaches you to ask whenreading is, what type of book is this? What kind ofquestion is it trying to answer? And if you think a little bitabout who wrote Genesis (probably Moses, inspired bythe Holy Spirit – it is the Word of God), and who theaudience was: the people of Israel, you will probably figureout that the natural sciences are not what this book istrying to convey. In other words, it was never written toanswer the question whether the earth was actuallycreated in six, seven or twenty million days. That is just notrelevant. 13
  14. 14. “But then what is Genesis about?” Nico asked. “Well, you have tosee the book in the context of the whole Old Testament” Iexplained. “What is the bible about? It is basically about therelationship of God with his chosen people, which were the Jewsto start with. And Genesis is the start of this relationship. God isbuilding a house for His people, and giving them a mission. Yousee, in the beginning it says, everything was “formless andempty”. In the first three days, God deals with the formlessness,in the second three days with the emptiness. The last day is aresting day, a sign of the covenant he agreed with his people. SoGenesis is all about the relation between God and his people, notabout cosmology.” “So there is no problem between Genesis andevolution?” Nico asked. “None at all” I concluded. “But why dopeople make such an issue about the faith and science debatethen? You make believing sound rational, but everyone tells me itis not. Who should I believe?” “There is only one way to find out,Nico,” I told him. “You have to study to know, and study takestime, I’m sorry.” “Well thanks, but I don’t want to hear thatanother time,” Nico replied, and went off again. 14
  15. 15. However, a week later he came back again,carrying a copy of ‘the God Delusion’. “Sir”, hesaid, “last week you told me a story about Genesisand all, but look, someone gave me a copy ofDawkins. I read it this week, and his problem isnot with genesis, it is just that, scientificallyspeaking, believers are highly stupid andunreasonable people.” “Right,” I said, “well, if youhave taken the time to hear his side of theargument, you might as well take the time to hearthe other side, right?” “I suppose I should”Nicodemus agreed. 15
  16. 16. So I recommended him to read ‘Answering the new Atheism’ byScott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, which he promised to read. “But”he said, “whatever they write, I will agree with Dawkins that Godis an unlikable character.” “Really, do you feel he is unlikable?Why?” I asked. “Well, he made me choose between my parentsand my science education, and I don’t think that’s a likable thingto do.” “So you feel that God unreasonably made you choosebetween the two?” “Well, yes, in a sense.” Nico answered “Imean, … of course my parents themselves had a hand in it, and Ialso could have gone to Israel and study science there.” “So youthink that your parents and you yourself had something to dowith it as well?” I asked. “Yeah, certainly,” Nico replied, “but… ohit’s all so complicated. Perhaps I shouldn’t blame God directly, it’sprobably too easy.” “Look” I said, “I don’t blame you for beingconfused, just have some patience with yourself all right? I thinkGod is very loving in his providence, but it may take time for youto see that. For now just read the other book, and we’ll talkfurther another time.” 16
  17. 17. “No wait,” he said, “have you not only told me the faith-side ofthe story on evolution? Isn’t there a biological side as well? You’rea biologist, so you should know about the science.” “There is abiological side,” I told him, “All right, I’ll briefly summarize. Wecould for instance look at the word evolution. It has severalmeanings.” One is that living organisms have gone through adevelopment from simple to complex, with more complex formsarising out of simple ones, in several stages of development. Thesecond is meaning is that this development is due to themechanism of random variation and natural selection, asproposed by Darwin. The third meaning is that human beingscame forth from their animal predecessors without any form ofdivine intervention. I agree completely with the first, I think thesecond is rather vague and needs further elaboration, and Icompletely disagree with the third, because I think Godintervenes at the conception of every human being, making us Hischildren in a special way. But there is no natural scientist who caneither prove or disprove this point using his natural sciencesmethodology. 17
  18. 18. Nico understood the distinction I made and its importance, but heimmediately asked how I could be so sure about my convictionthat God intervenes with the conception of every human being.There again I had to tell him that this is an article of faith in theCatholic Church, and to understand this faith would require morethan even a long discussion could provide. “If you study calculus,”I told him, “you study it for a semester, and if you want to be goodat it, even more. Why would you put less effort intounderstanding a system of life and thought that proposes to giveanswers to life’s biggest questions?’ “You’ve told me that fivetimes now, and I think I get the message” Nico said. “ But I’mafraid I just don’t have that time.” “Why don’t you spend a littletime reading about it each day? With a little patience you canmake quite a bit of time available for your studies, and you’llcertainly learn much faster than you think.” I tried. “Yeah right,well I’ll make time all right.” And he marched off, making me feelquite uneasy. 18
  19. 19. In the coming days, I did not see Nicodemus. But moreworryingly, neither did anyone else at AUC. After thesecond week, teachers started sending me emails thatNico had not shown up for two weeks. I sent himemails, but he did not reply. From other tutees, I heardthat he had not been seen on campus either. The seniortutor finally decided to inform the police that he wasmissing, and they traced him to his experimentationshed, although they did not find him there either. Allthey found were rather extensive notes on the secretproject that Nico had been working on for some time.Study of the papers revealed that Nico was working on… a time machine. 19
  20. 20. For me, these weeks were a time of intense prayer,because I was very worried that Nico had taken mywords differently than they had been intended. Indeed,it was not my intention to advice him to quit school. Ifhe would have asked, I would certainly have told himthat I am convinced that God’s will for a student is tostudy well, so quitting school was certainly not a part ofmy proposal. The news about the time machine struckme as curious, but nothing more. Although I did notspend more time than is usual for me on prayer everyday, my prayer was certainly very intense in this period,because I was so worried. I often went to the HolyScripture for support. And it is there that I made adiscovery. 20
  21. 21. While reading the Gospel according to John, I encountered the following lines. (…) Now,these struck me greatly. First of all, of course, because I was highly sensitized to thename ‘Nicodemus’. But also it struck me who he was, and what he said. First of all, hewas a ruler, which must have meant that he was from a good Jewish family. Also, he wassomeone with a serious wish to find out the meaning of the actions of Jesus, who hadthen just started to appear in public. He was not about to trust in the reports of others,but went out on his own, by night (which may also refer to his own insecurity), to findout exactly what was going on from the first-hand. This would require a bold person,and one searching for the truth. It exactly fit the person of Nico that I knew.In what Nicodemus says, it shows that he has seen Jesus doing great ‘signs’, and he iscurious. But he is certainly not what we would call a ‘Christian’, because he says thatJesus is a ‘teacher come from God’, but he himself would also have been regarded assuch. He also thinks that God is ‘with him’, just as God might have been with earlierprophets to do signs. The Christian notion that Jesus is God himself is clearly not on hismind. So he is a seeking intellectual, not a Christian. Very much like my Nico.Indeed, what if Nico would have taken my words very seriously, and transported himselfback to the year 0? He would have had ample opportunity to familiarize himself with thefaith of Israel, and, given his talent and descent, doubtlessly have risen to an importantposition around the year 30. He would then have taken the opportunity to talk to Jesusdirectly. Although I could certainly not believe that this had happened, I thought that theconversation between Nicodemus and Jesus would help me once my Nico had turnedup again. So I decided to get the most out of it. I wanted to study this scene in depth sothat with Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus in mind, I could satisfactorily answer anyobjections scientists could have to the faith. 21
  22. 22. So I continued to read: (…). These sentences againgreatly struck me. What a mysterious answer fromOur Lord! Unless one is born again, one cannotsee. What does this ‘born again’ mean? And thenthe question from this Nicodemus: How can thisbe? Again, I found it very striking. Completely inline with my Nico’s mission. And also, is this notjust the question that any scientist nowadayswould ask? You tell me this, but how could thatever be? There is some openness, but also someskepticism in the question. Isn’t this ‘how’question the driving force for most of science? Iquickly read on: 22
  23. 23. This answer from Jesus is rather different than we might haveexpected. A biologist may want to study the mechanism by whichsomeone is born, but it is clear that the Spirit that Jesus talksabout cannot be caught by any mechanism. He compares it to thewind that blows where it wills. Even with advanced computersimulation, we can still not simulate exactly where a breeze comesfrom and will go in future. And Jesus says that the Spirit he istalking about ‘wills’, has its own free will. For something to bestudy-able in a natural science way, it needs to be repeatablymeasurable. If this Spirit has a free will, even if it weremeasurable, than it is certainly not repeatably so. So norepeatable mechanisms, I’m afraid, for the Spirit that Jesus istalking about.But this consideration makes the mystery even greater. If thisSpirit is something not “catchable” by natural sciences, then whatis it? And what does it then mean that someone is born again ofthe Spirit? What will a scientist think about this answer? 23
  24. 24. Nicodemus was reading my mind. How can all this be? It is really going outside our normal ‘schemes’ ofthinking.Again the answer of Jesus is rather surprising. First of all he reprimands Nicodemus for not understandinghim. Nicodemus is a ‘teacher of Israel’, which means that he should by now have learnt about the thingsthat God revealed to the Jewish people. And these include spiritual teachings.Jesus may have had another intention in reprimanding Nicodemus. Because we intellectuals have thetendency to presume much about our intellectual knowledge. It may be hard to accept for us that thereare things that we do not know. But then again, as Socrates already discovered, especially knowing thatwe do not know everything may open a path towards wisdom for us. We are only open if we recognizeour own limits.Jesus goes on to speak about his testimony. Why testimony? Because, indeed, testimony is an importantway of knowing things. In our daily lives, we use it continually. When a teacher talks about something, weassume that he knows about the subject he talks about. We receive his testimony. Now often, of course,this testimony can be checked. But we often don’t have time to do so, so we just trust in the teacher.Now of course, there may be situations in which the teacher knows something we cannot check, becauseit is not public knowledge. What Jesus is saying is that the knowledge he is talking about is of this type. Hetells us things that he knows about, but that we cannot check against other sources, we can only seewhether he himself is credible. So is Jesus credible?Nicodemus has already given some motives for which he trusts Jesus: the signs he does. There was also akeen expectation of a messiah in Israel at the time, so if he were the real Teacher come from God, hewould certainly come expected and well-announced. Indeed John the Baptist had indicated that Jesus wasthe Messiah they were expecting. So Jesus had some credibility, but would it convince Nicodemus? 24
  25. 25. I knew from the Holy Scripture that certainly not everyonewas prepared to accept Jesus’ testimony. Some time later thiswould become crystal clear when Jesus was arrested and ledbefore the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council of religious leaders atthe time, of which Nicodemus was a member. Clearly, this trialwas far from ordinary, and several members of the Sanhedrinwere not present or objected, among them quite possiblyNicodemus. Let’s have at look how that trial went.These images clearly show that there were people who werenot going to accept Jesus. Therefore, when Jesus asksNicodemus to believe him, he also struggled with a relationalconflict to make the relation between faith and sciencedifficult for him, just like my Nico. And Jesus knew about thisdifficulty, and the difficulties that He himself was going toface, as becomes clear over the remainder of theirconversation. Let’s read the rest of it. 25
  26. 26. Jesus here gives a direct prophesy of his suffering, that we have just seen a partof, in a language that is a bit cryptic for us, but for Nicodemus must have beencrystal clear. For when the Israelites were traveling through the desert, snakescame upon them, and many perished. To counter the plague, God instructedMoses to lift up a silver serpent upon a pole. Anyone who looked up at the snakewould live. Jesus now tells Nicodemus both that he will be put on a pole like thesnake, that he will suffer, to heal the people. The snake is an image of hispassion, that will heal us. The snake now still is the emblem of pharmacists.Just as the Israelites that looked at the snake would live, Jesus says that thepeople that believe in him will also live. But the life that Jesus talks about is notnormal ‘life’. Het talks about eternal life. What does that mean?First of all, we should note a common confusion about the world ‘eternal’. Manypeople think it means ‘without end’, a time that continues indefinitely. But itdoes not, it refers to a reality ‘outside’ time. So eternal life is a life outside time,in which no time is present. How can that be? Because if we know anythingabout biological life, than we must say that it develops in time. Isn’t ‘eternal life’a ‘contradictio in terminis’ then? Or is the life that we normally talk about onlyone instance of a class of states, some of which are outside time? If so, whatcharacterizes this eternal life? Maybe Jesus’ next words will give someperspective on that, let’s read on. 26
  27. 27. The following words of Jesus give some perspective on eternallife, but are still rather mysterious. Because he says that Godgave his only Son, that we may have eternal life. So eternal lifeis a gift, that comes with the Son of God. The fact that life is agift is not really surprising. If you talk to young parents, youwill notice that they often see their baby, a new life, as a gift.But why do we need the Son?Jesus continues talking about being ‘condemned’ and being‘saved’. It seems that this new life has something to do withthose concepts. On another occasion, Jesus had said, ‘It is myfood to do the Father’s will’, so the new life and its sustenancemust have something to do with the way we act. He also saysthat ‘believing’ has something to do with being saved orcondemned, and therefore with this eternal life. Whatevertype of Life Jesus is talking about, its generation is certainlynot by a mechanism we could study through the naturalsciences, even though it has something to do with love. Atleast that’s something we are familiar with. Now for the finalpart of the conversation. 27
  28. 28. Jesus now continues on about the judgment, saying that it has todo with what people do, good or evil deeds. Indeed, his wordsremind me of the ‘near death experiences’ people talk about,where they see a large light. Perhaps we could imagine a light thatshines right through our innermost thoughts, of all our lives,because these people often report seeing their whole life flashingby their eyes. I can imagine that that light may be really nasty forpeople who don’t want to have their inner thoughts exposed.While for people with beautiful thoughts, it may be quitepleasant. But, if we think about this, who could say that he wouldwant all his thoughts to be exposed? Indeed, we would allprobably have thoughts that I would like to be ‘saved’ from beingexposed. Is that then what this Son will do for me? Save me fromthe things I do not want others to know about, because I knowthat they are evil?But why does he talk about ‘deeds carried out in God’? Doesperhaps this ‘eternal life’ in the Spirit, mean that we are somehowentering ‘into’ God? That would be really strange and mysterious.And how will this Son save us? 28
  29. 29. Thus ends the night-time visit of Nicodemus toJesus. Jesus only said a few things, but it gives us alot to think about. He talks about big mysteries,but asks that we believe in him. What wouldNicodemus have thought about it? Is he satisfiedwith the answers to his ‘scientific’ questions? It iscertainly not the scientific answer I was hopingfor. His ‘how’ question has not really beenanswered, is my quest over? Perhaps I could seewhat the Nicodemus in the bible does, will he orwill he not take Jesus seriously? 29
  30. 30. We don’t see this Nicodemus again in the Gospeluntil some Pharisees want to arrest Jesus. Thesoldiers do not want to arrest him, rather bravely.But the Pharisees clearly presume superiorknowledge, and do not have the intellectualhumility that Jesus was asking from Nicodemus. 30
  31. 31. Nicodemus speaks out for a just process for Jesus.Indeed, hearing him is what he has done himself.Nicodemus seems to be somewhat sympathetictowards him. However, he does not talk about thethings Jesus said to him, perhaps that is too muchfor him. His colleagues are not convinced, butleave it at this for now. But for how long? 31
  32. 32. Indeed, Nicodemus’ objection did not have mucheffect on the long term. The Pharisees arrestJesus, and lead him to be crucified, the most crueland lowly death penalty that the Romans had attheir disposal at that time. 32
  33. 33. Jesus has died, some miracles have occurred: the earthshook, the Temple curtain was split asunder, peoplewere raised from the dead. But all Jesus’ disciples hadfled, except for his mother Mary, the young apostleJohn, and several women.So now Nicodemus comes forward together withJoseph of Arimathea, another important Jew, known as“a respected member of the council”. Some havereferred to this deed as ‘the first fruits of Jesus death”,people who have previously been fearful now come outas disciples of Jesus. And indeed, Nicodemus usesvaluable spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, a signof esteem and veneration. The nightly visit hadobviously had some effect on him. 33
  34. 34. But still, one of the most famous commentators on thisgospel, St Thomas Aquinas, remarks that myrrh andaloes are used to preserve a body, and that thisindicates that Nicodemus did not believe that Jesus wasgoing to be resurrected, something that Jesus hadhimself predicted on several occasions. In that sense,although Nicodemus’s act was bold and generous, thetwo probably did not think it any great threat to theirposition among the Jews, since for these Jews thequestion of Jesus had already ‘been taken care of’. If StThomas was right, they were not really Christians yet,since a Christian believes in Jesus’ resurrection. 34
  35. 35. The gospel narrates how Jesus is resurrected andshows himself to his disciples. (…) But we do notsee the name of Nicodemus mentioned any more.What would he have done when confronted withJesus resurrection? Perhaps it is likely that one sobold to come forward at Jesus burial, would notlack the courage to follow him now. But still, thiswould have serious repercussions for his standingamong the Pharisees, who continued to persecutethe disciples of Jesus. And did he really believehim? So the answer is that we don’t know whatNicodemus did. We can only guess. 35
  36. 36. (first points) Listening to Jesus may be a bitdifficult for us, since we are not used to hearingabout spiritual realities, and they do not reallyhave a place in our worldview. But if the teacher isto be trusted, why would they not be real? 36
  37. 37. 37
  38. 38. 38
  39. 39. 39
  40. 40. Oh, and what happened to Nico? The truth is that I donot know. And there is only one way to find out.Because Nico, that is each of us. If we want to find ananswer to his question, the only way to find out aboutit is to undertake the journey as the Nicodemus of theGospel did. It will require all the fortitude anddetermination that Nicodemus showed, it will requirededicated study, it will require openness to a relationwith Jesus, if you are interested in what He has to say.But it is the road to find out about one of the mostimportant questions of your life: can I believe in God?Just please don’t disappear… 40
  41. 41. 41

×