Posted by: John Adams | November 11, 2008

Groningen, Netherlands

Canal scene
Canal scene

I suppose the first thing that must be said is that I am a horrible traveler. I do very little planning ahead and so everything is rushing and scrambling and pulling things together at the last minute. This is why I was standing on a street corner at night next to a canal, wondering where on earth I was and how I was going to get a hold of Joshua.

I had called Joshua (a guy I met at PBC a couple of years ago) on the phone from France since I had his number on Facebook. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to write it down, so when I arrived in Groningen, I couldn’t call him. There were Internet kiosks at the train station but they wouldn’t go to Facebook, so they did me no good. I thought I would have to get a hotel room, so I took the bus to the hotel but it was full. I didn’t want to wait for half an hour in the cold, so I tried to walk back to the train station, got thoroughly lost, and finally had to ask a dreadlocked girl on a bike how to get back. Finally, I got back on the Internet, gave a friend in Phoenix my password for Facebook, and got his number that way. By the time I got to the house, it was 10:00 p.m. I had left Reims at 6:00 a.m.
I spent the next few days getting acquainted with Groningen, a beautiful university town in northern Holland just a few miles west of the German border. It’s a bit like every Dutch town – lots of canals with anchored barges and drawbridges, thousands of cyclists going every which way, an old part of town with narrow cobbled streets, and an old church with a bell tower (I got to ring the bell myself) and a large plaza in front where vendors sell Dutch treats such as stroopwaffel (miniature waffles with caramel filling) and raw herring and onions (it sounds disgusting, but is surprisingly good).
I spent the week sorting through a lot in my mind. Mattijn (the guy I was staying with) introduced me to “servicecasting” – Internet feeds of entire services from churches around the world. He was quite taken with the professionalism of many churches’ worship teams, which led to an interesting conversation about professionalism vs. simplicity in worship. (Having gone to a church with a very professional music ministry for the last five years, I feel a bit alienated by slick professional worship teams. I’m not a fan of the Hillsong-rock sound, I think the lyrics to those kinds of songs are over-simplified, and having a huge band overpowers the congregation and makes it less of a factor.)
Another conversation in the car led to me disclosing my increasing discomfort with the traditional evangelical doctrine of everlasting punishment in Hell. I’m not saying I don’t believe in it. It is just a very difficult thing to believe in, especially since the punishment involved seems to have no ultimate purpose.
Why would God create so many people, knowing beforehand that they would reject Him and be condemned by Him to everlasting conscious torment? I don’t question His right to do so as a Creator. I just don’t understand the reasoning for doing so. It seems like such a waste.
I think I concerned my hosts a bit with this conversation – I’m not sure they’ve ever questioned this belief as ruthlessly as I am now questioning it. I was somewhat convicted by the simplicity of their belief, however, as it led me to an interesting question. When the Bible says difficult things that we do not comprehend, is it better to believe what it says and seek understanding, or seek understanding before accepting that that it is indeed what it means? If we demand that the Bible’s message be justified before we accept it, we display a lack of faith and may never come to a full knowledge of the truth. On the other hand, if we accept the message blindly, we may sacrifice our objectivity in doing so. I seem to be stuck in the theologian’s no-man’s land: I can’t brush off the notion of Hell like an unbeliever would and simply proclaim it too horrible to be true. However, I don’t seem to have the faith to simply accept the doctrine of eternal punishment as true either. If it were true, it would seem that the only logical course of action would be to grab the nearest person by the lapels and beg him or her to accept Christ as soon as possible.
Enough of that for now. I had a good week in Groningen, thought a lot, played the guitar a lot (Mattijn’s son had a miniature guitar with nylon strings that I really enjoyed playing since it almost sounded like a banjo), and hopefully moved closer to a proper understanding of and love for God. After a week, it was time to move on, so I caught the train to Amsterdam to meet up with Tim and Eveline, two friends that I met at L’Abri. I will cover that chapter of my trip in my next post!


  1. John, it’s fascinating that the question that followed you to Switzerland is following you all over Europe. Don’t quit asking. It’s way too important. I don’t think we have to blindly accept things. Paul went out of his way to explain things. He must have thought it was valid to question. Concrete answers, though, may be elusive at best. Like I told you earlier, if you go back to the beginning and check out the origins of the concept of hell, you can work forward. Remember that everlasting hell is much more of a New Testament idea. I’m basically lazy, so I’m waiting on you to find the answer. Please don’t charge me. Enjoy Holland, but remember, Ben Witherington awaits. mike

  2. Oh yeah, one more thing. It’s only fair to add that heaven is also a concept that picked up steam in NT times.

  3. love your pics john! you’re amazin! loved groningen too.. so jealous of you!

  4. Actually, I didn’t take that picture… I’m camera-less on this trip. I did have a disposable in France, but I used most of the pictures up at the Louvre. 😦

  5. whats up JOHN! I enjoy reading your updates of your European adventures. You’re fulfilling your rite of passage as doing what white people like to do:) And I’m fulfilling mine by reading blogs:)
    I’m inspired by your quest of question asking. I noticed you’re honestly and vulnerably bringing your questions into community where they could ruffle feathers and you’re risking being misunderstood, that takes balls. And by balls I mean faith. thank you for that ol’ friend. If you get a minute send a post card our way at the ol’ blockz. It looks like Lu is moving out in a month and half to eugene. the journey contines….
    grace and peace bro

  6. Thanks for keeping us updated, John. I’ve just finished a semester in seminary, and I have to admit: Never have I had so many things clarified in my mind all at once, but now I’ve been lead to ask so many more questions. There are no sacred cows in the Bible and if there are, you can be sure that they’re bad. Keep asking.

    Concerning hell, there are three (four) words that come to mind: Gehenna, Hades, and Dante’s Inferno. Gehenna was the garbage pit just outside Jerusalem. Hades was the final resting place of both the good AND the righteous. And Dante’s Inferno conditioned our concept of hell ever since.

    Let me know what you have come up with.

  7. Oops, that second paragraph should have said that “Hades was the final resting place of both ‘the wicked’ AND the righteous.” Slight mistype there.

    In addition, the Hebrew Sheol used to be translated as Hell, but it now is more often translated as “the grave”, which is a concept akin to the Greek Hades, but not with all the same mythological clout. It tends to be just the resting place for both the good and the bad. It truly is a dark place under the earth—six feet under to be precise.

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