Who is Jesus to me? An interview in Dutch magazine "Visie"

June 14, 2020

The following article is the translation of my interview in "Visie" the magazine of EO (Evangelical Broadcast) in the Netherlands. The original article is written by Mr. Reinald Molenaar. For the original article visit https://visie.eo.nl/artikel/2020/06/interview-met-samuel-lee 

 

Who is Jesus to him? The usually nuanced and quiet theologian of the year (2020) in the Netherlands, Samuel Lee, answers this question firmly and directly. Of course, he warns in advance: "I'm going to say something very radical. A clear statement: "even if everyone told me and if it were conclusively proven that Jesus never existed, I would still believe in Him. Even when Jesus' whole life was a great fairy tale, I have decided in my heart to always believe in Him." 

 

That deep conviction is based on a unique experience Samuel Lee had during his honeymoon nearly thirty years ago. "I was in my hotel room and heard Jesus' voice. It sounded beautiful, it was overwhelming, nothing like it. It sounded through all the walls: "I am at the door of your heart, and I knock. I want to come in and eat and drink with you. "Later, I understood that this is partly a text from Revelation 3."

 

Too left

Samuel Lee: "If you ask the general question - like, who is Jesus? - I would say that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, "continues Samuel. "That is the answer my brothers and sisters want to hear in the Pentecostal churches that I count myself to. You cannot come to the Father without Him. I believe all those things too. People sometimes doubt that I am a Christian, and want to put me in a box, find me liberal or conservative. It is a pity that you have to prove yourself like this in Christian circles. Yet, I don't believe all these things to get to heaven with that. I don't have a transactional belief, even though I see it around me. "

 

A transactional belief?

"I don't believe in Jesus to get to heaven with that. If someone said to me that I would go to hell anyway, I would still believe in Jesus. I don't believe in Jesus because I want to have an eternal vacation or anything like that later. "

 

Why then?

"Let it be clear that this is all very personal, I don't want to impose anything on anyone. I believe because of my experience with Jesus on my honeymoon. And because of what I read about Him in the Bible, in the four Gospels.

 

Jesus brought a special message to the world. Also for people who do not believe in Him or in His divinity. He brought liberation and redemption. He went right through the taboos. Look at the story of the Samaritan woman. First, He went to Samaritans - at that time, things were getting rough between the people of Judea and the Samaritans. They had a complicated relationship, to say the least. And then it also concerns a woman who meets Jesus - a third-class citizen in those days. This story is not about Jesus, who is thirsty, but about the Messiah who breaks through cultural, racial, and gender barriers.

 

He says to Nicodemus: "God loves the world. Not just your denomination. So if you want to be Mine, you must love the world." And He teaches us the Lord's Prayer. Not "My Father," but ours. Throughout all ideologies and ideas, this message has survived for two thousand years."

 

The Word becomes Flesh

As if in one breath, the theologian comes to the mystical side of Jesus. He declares that He is the water of life, the light of the world. That makes Jesus's the Word became Flesh, the Immanuel God with us for me: God has become a man. Jews and Muslims do not believe in that, and I respect that, but I see in Jesus the incarnation of God's love. "

 

Why do you emphasize so strongly that you don't want to impose your ideas and belief on others?

 

"You cannot impose your belief on others. You can only share it respectfully. Born in the Middle East, in a theocratic country, I know what it is like when things get imposed on you. I don't want to impose anything on anyone. I am a bridge-builder, preferring dialogue and respect for others. "

 

The painting

You were convinced atheist before that experience at that hotel in Spain. How did you view Jesus at the time?

"I thought Jesus didn't exist." Lee gets up and walks to his bookcase. He comes back with a red book. "Look, I wrote this as a teenager in 1990. "The Painting" is called this collection of my poems. I made this bundle at school at the time and gave the money from the sale to Unicef. I'll read you one:

 

Wooden cross

I do not see a crucified man on the wooden cross.

But in the shadow of the imagination.

Who makes the cross in the Way of eternity

I see a nailed man.

 

So that's how I saw Jesus. Like an imagination. And we humans were victims of an old painter, God, who held us captive in His painting. Hence the title. "

 

That sounds like a prison.

"Yes, that's how viewed. A painting that held you captive. I was anti-everything to do with faith. "

 

How did your faith take shape after hearing Jesus' voice?

"It partly brought me back to my childhood. When there was still relative freedom in my native country, you could buy all kinds of posters on the street from Bruce Lee or anyone else. I remember seeing a poster of a crucifix as a child. That image drew me. The Christian primary school I attended also housed a beautiful old church. We were not allowed to go there, but I - about 8 years old - picked up a soda crate, climbed on it, and peeked through the window. There I saw Jesus on a cross. "

 

Give Him a chance

As a Theologian of the year in the Netherlands, you will know why Jesus is relevant to the Netherlands.

"Well, first of all: I don't speak for the whole of the Netherlands because that would seem arrogant. I owe this honorable title to a group of Christians who elected me.

 

If you strip Jesus of all religion, of everything that the church has made of Him over the years, He still remains interested in delving into it. Just read the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 through 7. There is so much in it. "Give us our daily bread today," for example. This is a message against our greed. With that, He says: "Think of now. Share with another. "I would like to say to the Netherlands," Give Him a chance, don't be put off by what the church did wrong in His name. ""

 

You are the pastor of a migrant church in Amsterdam. What do other cultures teach you about Him?

 

"My African and Asian brothers and sisters show me boundless, childlike confidence. They believe that God gives what we ask from Him. That also has its dangerous sides, because if you don't get something we prayed for, you probably haven't prayed well enough. There is again that transactional belief. I warn against this kind of faith! 

 

I learned sobriety from the Dutch. I think that is a special gift. But it is when you bring all those character traits together that you have the right balance. When I preach in a Dutch church, people always come to me after the service to discuss. "Yes, but the Bible also says ..." African churchgoers can accept almost everything the pastor says. Both of these extremes are not good. Precisely because I have had a supernatural experience, I need that Dutch sobriety to get and stay in balance. "

 

Believing is a journey

Have you started to distinguish more between Jesus and the church?

"Believing is a journey. For me, it started even before I heard the voice of Jesus. There has always been something to learn. You always learn new things you develop. In the beginning, I did not so much distinguish between Jesus and the church.  Gradually, I learned that we in the church have the tendency to capture Jesus in a system.  I noticed that, for example, in the Middle East. When I say there that I am a Christian, people think that I am supported by America and the West. They believe that I am part of a western political church, called Christendom. 

 

How do you handle that?

"I better say there that I am a follower of Jesus. That opens a conversation and raises curiosity. Do not forget that the history of the Crusades is still fresh in the Middle East. Christianity is always associated with this. The person of Jesus evokes less negative feelings because Muslims also know Him as a prophet. "

 

What should all Christians agree on when it comes to Jesus? The resurrection?

"That is a difficult question. We all have an image of Jesus. Let's not overrule others with that. And the resurrection? I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. That is a matter of the heart. The truth is with Jesus. Do two Christians disagree? Jesus loves both. They do not like each other because their love is based on doctrine. But Jesus believes in both of them and loves them both. "

 

Love is the answer

The circle is complete, we are back to love.

Yes, love is the answer. I get annoyed by people who banish each other from their lives through a theological difference of opinion. I think that is such a nasty trait.

 

It wasn't until a friend, and a minister asked me jokingly, "Samuel if I become a Buddhist now, will you remain my friend?" I assured him, "You will remain my friend. I'll keep calling you, I'll keep eating with you. But I will ask you why you are a Buddhist. Despite that, you remain dear to me. "

 

 

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© 2010-2019 by Samuel C. Lee

 

Samuel Lee (Ph.D.) is university lecturer, at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam - Faculty of Religion and Theology (FRT-VU), and director for Center for Theology of Migration, the educational program of Samen Kerk in Nederland at the FRT-VU. 

He is the founder of Foundation Academy of Amsterdam, offering higher education in liberal arts and humanities for migrants, refugees and persecuted minorities.

 

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