So a man walks into a bar. No, this is not the start of a joke. This story is happening as we speak in my country, the Netherlands. He is disheveled, dirty, and very confused. He is a bout 25 years old. A few days later he comes back, and again a few days after that. He tells the barkeeper he hasn’t been outside in nine years. He also says he has never been to school, and not been to a hairdresser for 9 years. The barkeeper, unsure what to make of this decides to contact the police.
In the Dutch news today is this story. In response to the barkeepers questions, the police visits the man’s farm. Behind a closet in the living room they find a staircase going down to a cellar. There they discover a family of six: a father, aged 68, and five children, all over 18. The father has heart problems and is in bed. Together, they are waiting there for ‘the end of the ages’.
As the police investigate it becomes clear the children have never been to school, and they are oblivious to the fact there are actually other people in this world. The far, consisting of a vegetable garden and a goat, is completely self-supported and independent from the rest of the world.
It is hard to believe this news today. The Netherlands is the most densely populated country in the world. I wouldn’t know where to go to not run into another person within like one minute.
It is also difficult because the Netherlands is one of the most secularized countries in the world. How this could happen here is beyond me. If you would tell me this happened in the deep Southern part of the U.S. I could believe you. I think I have seen a few movies and TV-series on this premise. The series ‘True Detective’ with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey comes to mind. But here, in this part of the world? The mind boggles.
HE IS NOT COMING BACK!
But what makes this news even more difficult to hear is that I was raised in the faith that ‘the end of times was imminent’. No, my parents did not take us into hiding. But a sense of ‘Jesus could come back any moment’ was present constantly. Or I should put that stronger: we were convinced he was coming back within our lifetime! Before the year 2000! All the signs that the prophecies of the Bible were about to be fulfilled were there!
Today I just want to scream: HE IS NOT COMING BACK! There is no second coming! You are allowing yourself to be fooled by a cheap psychological trick, and by charlatans who are only too happy to take your money. Christians have allowed this to go on for 2000 years! Every time they redefine the way the prophecies have to be interpreted, so that it matches our world, and millions of people are seduced into believing that this time it’s really going to happen. This time the events the apostle John spoke about in the book of Revelations are taking place. Any day now! Send money so we can get the word out! You’re not going to need your money anyways. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven! It’s hard to understand when you are not in that world, but it’s a compelling and seductive message — and lots and lots of people believe it. Even in the Netherlands.
And it is destructive. When you really look at what is happening here, both on a small scale with this family in this farm, and on a large scale in the religious world, it is hard for me to not see religion as a harmful force.
Are people allowed to believe what they want to? Absolutely. But — and I am writing here from personal experience — a belief in the imminent return of Christ, or end of the ages, is harmful on a number of levels. If the story in the news today does not convince you yet, consider the following.
Faith that is destructive
A faith of this nature puts your life on hold. Decisions are made on the basis of Jesus’ return, not on the basis of ‘you can expect to live 70 to 80 years. Sure, Marten Luther is supposed to have said that ‘if he knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, he would plant a tree today’, but the reality is Christians make poor life-choices all the time because they thing ‘the days will be short’.
The Bible has lots of stories that warn you ‘to be ready’ — whatever that means. And herein lies the second problem: a belief in the imminent return of Christ means you will seek to be devout and sincere and ready. In my upbringing the question ‘is that how you want Jesus to find you?’ was asked over and over. With it came a strong sense of guilt and failure. Someone else imposed a moral agenda on me. And I accepted it lock, stock, and barrel.
And with it comes comparison. Because the bible is actually not one book, but a collection of books, and there are different parts and different authors, who each prescribe different morals and values. Add to that a level of confusion because it has been like 2000 years since these messages were written, and you have to conclude that there really is not one coherent message. So some Christians prepare for Jesus’ return this way, and others do it that way. But of course ‘thise Christians over there’ do it all wrong, and we do it all right. Add to that some political power and economic advantage, and you have all the ingredients for the next religious war.
Well, maybe today even Christians are a little too civilized to start a religious war. But the comparison is destructive and harmful nonetheless. I was never sure if the way I was preparing for Jesus’ return was the right way, and always feared that those Christians over there, with their even stronger stance and more world-avoidant behavior, might please Jesus more…
Walk to freedom
All this to say that the day I realised I had been fooled into this, started a process of finding freedom and exhilaration. Confusing and painful, for sure, as I know it will be for the people who walked out of that farm for the first time in their lives today. But I hope they will find the same freedom and joy I have started to find.