Loathsome Words And Withered Hands
Most of us who are Christians can look back in our lives and discern what we could not at the time–the hand of God Himself. Things said, books read, people met, or unbidden thoughts that provoked and disturbed. It is only in hindsight that we can now see the full impact and significant force of these circumstantial events. We now see that in them God was at work, sowing seeds that one day would spring up to evergreen life.
Most often these circumstances and events served to disturb, to provoke discomfort.
Peter Hitchens, raised in a nominally Christian home and sent to a public school, gives us his account of the seeds sown.
There were other things too. During a short spell at a cathedral choir school . . . I had experienced the intense beauty of the ancient Anglican chants, spiraling up into chilly stone vaults at Evensong. This sunset ceremony is the very heart of English Christianity. The prehistoric, mysterious poetry of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, perhaps a melancholy evening hymn, and the cold, ancient laments and curses of the Psalms, as the unique slow dusk of England gathers outside and inside the echoing, haunted, impossible old building are extraordinarily potent. If you welcome them, they have an astonishing power to reassure and comfort. If you suspect or mistrust them, they will alarm and repel you like a strong and unwanted magic, something to flee from before it takes hold. . . .
But above all I had discovered–and strongly feared and disliked–the ancient catechism . . . . (I) was actively angry and resentful at the catechism’s insistence on rules I had no intention of obeying. By the time I was around twelve, I had a sense, when I encountered this text, of a very old and withered hand reaching out from a dusty tomb-like cavity and seeking to pull me down into its hole forever.
The dark purity of the seventeenth-century language was also disturbing. It was the voice of the dead, speaking as if they were still alive and as if the world had not changed since they died–when I thought I knew that the world was wholly alterable and that the rules changed with the times. Now I am comforted greatly by this voice, welcoming the intervention of my forebears in our lives and in their insistent reminder that we do not in fact change at all, that as I am now, so once were they, and as they are now, so shall I be. . . . The words I found myself particularly loathing formed part of the answer to the question: “What is thy duty towards God?” They run: “To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: to order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters . . . to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.”
This passage well expressed the thing that the confident, ambitious young person dislikes about religion: its call for submission–submission!–to established authority, and its disturbing implication that others can and will decide what I must be and do. [Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), pp 26-28.]
While the specific circumstances may differ we suspect that many, if not most, Christians could give similar accounts of the long and painstaking work of God in their lives preparing them to meet Him against Whom they had long been kicking.