Hartmut Ising: Some events from my life
Streets of transparent Gold
I was born in February 1938 in Falkensee, a town near Berlin – as the
third and youngest child in a Christian family. My father was a teacher
and also led a Lutheran church group in Berlin, while my mother was at
home full time.
One of my earliest childhood memories is my grandmother’s enthusiastic description of the heavenly Jerusalem with streets of transparent gold – where God Himself lives and illuminates the city. I wanted to enter this city as soon as possible. – Today I am interested in the question of whether this transparent gold is not only a symbol, but also represents something in the eternal world which is real, but foreign to our conception.
Assurance of Salvation
Shortly after my 11th birthday, a believing pastor in Westphalia took
me into his home as a foster son, as I could not receive secondary
education in the GDR. There I received instruction in the organ, was
confirmed, and attended the meetings of the YMCA – but I had no
assurance of salvation. In response to my question, my foster father
directed me to Romans 8:14-16:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
He told me that I should prayerfully consider whether I could discover this motivation in myself, since it could not arise from my own nature. When I followed this advice, it became clear to me that my interest in the Bible had been produced by the Spirit of God. In my subsequent life of faith, I have experienced several crises, but have never lost the assurance of salvation which I gained at this time.
In 1956, I returned to Berlin to stay, living in a newly opened
Christian convalescent home run by my father. Around this time, I came
into discussion with some Christians about Creation. I challenged their
view, derived from the Bible, that the earth was older than the sun. My
scientific response: the planet cannot be older than the central star.
The Christians with whom I was speaking accused me of refusing to
believe the Bible. But was this accusation really true?
I could find no rest about this question and spoke about it with my father. He gave me some wise advice:
“Hold on to what the Bible says, and do not distort your scientific knowledge either. Think over both with prayer.” 1
In the School of God
After my school leaving examination, I began to study physics at the
Technical University of Berlin in 1958. As a result of the many new
things I learned, my interest in the Bible declined. My father was
concerned at this and urged me: „Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly“ –
but I did not listen. Then, in October 1959, my heavenly Father
intervened. After a severe motorcycle accident, I suffered internal
bleeding and lay for three days in hospital, fighting for life. During
this time, a Christian music teacher with whom I had often played gave
me a card with Ps. 118:17: „I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.“ Through the following verse, the LORD made clear to me what had happened to me: „The LORD hath chastened me sore: but He hath not given me over unto death.“ I have studied my Bible daily ever since.
Sometime later, I failed the intermediate diploma in my favourite subject, experimental physics. That evening, I came to the Bible study with the disappointing exam paper in my briefcase. My father, knowing nothing about my failure, read the following text for his message:
„Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.“ (Eph.
5:20) I was not ready to accept this word for myself, and after the
Bible study I went to my father in the adjoining room and told him about
my failure. All that he said was: „Then let us do what God’s Word has commanded us“, then he knelt down and gave thanks to God. With trembling knees, and completely at a loss, I also gave thanks to my God.
All my plans for my studies were dashed, because this result meant that I could not be received into the Institute for Physics, as had been my hope. I thus sought an alternative path with much prayer. The Lord so arranged it that I was accepted for the Institute for Technical Acoustics, where I got the chance to pursue the theme of my diploma thesis – “The Generation of Sound in Organ Pipes” – as a doctoral thesis.
In May 1967 I met my future wife Marion, and we both sought to find out whether God had intended us for one another. In October, we received certainty about this and also received the consent of our parents. We were engaged in November and married in January 1968. Shortly after our wedding my father was called to his heavenly home. God has given us five children – all are happily married. We now have twelve grandchildren.
The Problem of Baptism
My wife Marion grew up in the open Brethren in Scotland. By contrast, I was a Lutheran, able to sing with conviction: „“…dass wir dein Wort und Sakrament behalten rein bis an das End (that we may keep your Word and Sacrament pure until the end).“ On
the basis of this conviction, I had our children baptized as infants.
However, through our contact with the Brethren movement and much private
Bible study, I had increasing doubts. An American brother said to me at
the time: „Sacramentalism is alien to the New Testament.“ With
this sentence at the back of my mind, I returned to read the New
Testament and found the statement confirmed. I carried out a short study
of the historical background of Sacramentalism, and it became clear to
me that belief in the capacity of a sacramental act in our world to
produce results in the eternal world is not a Christian but a pagan
This realization was decisive in the long and very arduous process through which I can now see that God was transplanting me. We found our new spiritual home in the Brethren assembly in Lichterfelde in Berlin from 1976 onwards. However, it was only a long time afterwards that I took root in this new setting and was able to be fruitful.
In the year 1974, we built a house in Wannsee, an area of Berlin. We
received an increasing number of guests from the United Kingdom and
other countries, and I enjoyed much spiritual profit from these
exchanges. Brother David Gooding, for instance, helped my understanding
of baptism; he also provided the impulse for my extended studies in
Revelation (compare my article: Grundzüge eines neuen Zeitschemas der
Offenbarung/Main Features of a New Chronology of the Book of
Revelation). A brother from Budapest advised me not to spend too much
time analysing unhealthy Christian literature, but instead to focus
attention on Christ, like Paul in the letter to the Colossians. When He
has the central place, a brief account of the dangers is sufficient.
These and many other pieces of good advice have had a lasting influence
In the context of my research at the Federal Health Agency the Ministry invited me to work with some Israeli colleagues on collaborative research projects. A fruitful cooperation ensued, beginning with our first journey to Israel in 1978 and lasting for years.2 Since this time, my wife and I have maintained friendships with various Jewish colleagues. Some of them came to carry out research in Berlin, staying for periods of several weeks with us in Wannsee. We had many good conversations and I received much valuable guidance in Jewish literature.
Israel and the Church
In this context, I became increasingly occupied with the question of which sections of Biblical prophecy dealt with Israel and which dealt with the church, and with God’s plans for Israel after the rapture of the church. I became persuaded that the ‘replacement theology’ widespread in evangelical circles was a devastating error. 3
The Ecumenical Movement, the Lutheran Church, and Us
In the year 1979, my wife and I visited Christians in Romania and witnessed the worship of icons in an Orthodox church. I was dismayed to realize that as a member of the ecumenical movement, I shared in the responsibility for this bad practice. As a consequence of this experience, I left the Lutheran Church.4 Two years after leaving the Church, I decided to be biblically baptized as well. It was an answer to my prayers that this did not fuel the dispute over baptism in our circle of friends.
My membership of the Lutheran Church initially seemed to me to be justified by the fact that the true believers in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) are not commanded to leave their ‘living but dead’ church. However, this stance left me in an irresolvable conflict. In the end, it was more important to me to have a clear conscience regarding the worship of images than to settle this question, so I drove with my wife to the local court and we gave notice that we were leaving the Church. After this step, the solution to the conflict suddenly became clear to me too. Sardis began as a biblical church, but the Lutheran Church began as an organization founded by human beings. (Through this experience, I learned practically that spiritual insight is not based on knowledge alone, but must grow through obedience in faith.)
Church Planting in Potsdam
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we were presented with the opportunity to distribute Christian tracts in Potsdam. 120 people returned the coupon attached to the tract to signal their interest, upon which we delivered to them the Christian literature they had requested. In July 1990, we joined with Christians from Austria to carry out outreach in Potsdam; this was followed up by a weekly Bible study. Our Lord Jesus Christ caused the local church in Potsdam-Babelsberg (Christliche Gemeinde Potsdam Babelsberg) to grow out of this work, and we have remained members of this church since then.
My Relationship with the Bible
My father’s advice about faith and science has remained foundational for me: „Hold on to what the Bible says, and do not distort your scientific knowledge either. Think over both with prayer.“ Galileo Galilei wrote something similar to his student Castelli in 1613: „Two truths cannot contradict one another.“ Galilei
was expressing his conviction that the Bible cannot be in contradiction
with the evidence of nature. However, mistakes can play a role on both
sides, and on both sides, prior ideological convictions can obstruct the
search for truth.
Psalm 119:160 reads: The entirety of Your Word is truth (NKJV). This means that the message of the Bible is true as a whole and must be understood so that no contradictions arise between individual passages. Since God’s revelation in Creation is also truth, the findings produced by scientific investigation must also be in harmony with the truth contained in the Bible. The goal is clear – but many problems remain to be resolved on the way to this goal. The Bible contains astonishing statements about many scientific questions. One example here should illustrate how I learned to engage with such statements.
The first sentence of the Bible claims that space and time have a beginning and were created by God. In Isa. 40:22, we are also told that the universe was not finished when God spoke His creative Word, but“God stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain” (present tense!). And in fact, modern astrophysicists agree with the Bible when they observe the continuous expansion of the universe.
Through study of the Bible and parallel scientific investigation, I have reached an understanding of God’s creative activity which seems to me conclusive (compare my article: Er ist der Schöpfer aller Dinge/He is the Creator of All Things). This is the understanding held by the Jewish biblical scholar Philo of Alexandria 2000 years ago. He wrote: “The incorporeal world then was already completed, having its seat in the Divine Logos and the world, perceptible by the external senses, was made on the model of it”.
On God’s creative Word, he wrote: “For God while he spake the word, did at the same moment create.” It is a matter of great importance to me to investigate this view scientifically.
1938: Year of birth
1958: Higher leaving certificate
1965: Diploma in Physics, TU Berlin
1969: Dr.-Ing. TU Berlin, Dissertation: Sound generation in organ pipes
1970: Assistant/Assistant Professor TU Berlin; Specialization: aero acoustics
1970: Assistant FU Berlin, Specialization: heart physiology
1972: Head of Department, Institute of Water, Air, and Soil Hygiene, Federal Health Agency, Berlin,
Specialization: noise induced health hazards
1982: Director and Professor, Federal Health Agency, later Federal Environmental Agency, Berlin