593) The Hammer of God (part one)

The next three meditations will be a story from the a 1941 book by Swedish pastor and bishop Bo Giertz:  The Hammer of God: A Novel About the Cure of Souls (from chapter two, ‘Springtime in March,’ pages 211f; translated by Clifford Nelson, copyright 1960, Augustana Book Concern).

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Pastor Fridfeldt is the new young minister (‘curate’ in the story) at the Vanneberga, Sweden parish.  His enthusiastic and powerful preaching has led to a revival in the parish, and Fridfeldt is pleased to see so many church members repent of their sins and begin to live a true Christian life.  In this story, he is shocked to see that not everyone is living the upright and holy life that he thought they were, and when he is called in to settle a dispute in the parish, he fails miserably.

The old senior pastor of the parish is not named in the story, but is simply referred to as the ‘old rector.’  Fridfeldt likes his senior pastor, but he’s not sure the old rector is adequately ‘filled with the spirit.’  Fridfeldt learns, however, that the old pastor knows how to apply God’s Word to his people.  

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PROBLEM IN THE PARISH

     Erik sought out the church warden before the meeting and told him the story of certain sorry events that had taken place.  They agreed to talk it over with the pastor…  When they had had their coffee, the church warden presented the matter in a straightforward manner.

     “We wanted to tell you, Pastor, that something very distressing has happened among the believers, something that will create offense if it becomes known.”

      Fridfeldt looked up with concern.   “What could that be?  Among the believers?”

     “It is Daniel and Karl August in Vánneberga who are at outs.”  The curate knew them both.  Daniel was the richest man in the village.  He owned a farm of about 160 acres, as he seemed to remember from the records.  He was a pillar among the believers and had been present also this evening.  Fridfeldt remembered the man’s broad shoulders as he had taken note of him at the prayer meeting.  Karl-August, on the other hand, was a poor man and lean of body; he was the owner of barely fifteen acres.  Tonight, contrary to his usual custom, he had been absent.

     The church warden continued.  “Karl-August came to Daniel’s place last Monday and asked to buy some hay.  He can only feed two cows, and because of the poor crops last summer has scarcely enough for them.  Daniel answered that he did not have a wisp of hay more than he needed himself.  Karl-August pleaded, ‘If I can’t buy hay, I’ll have to slaughter the cow.  She is a good milker,’ he said, ‘and I’ll get nothing for the meat if I have to butcher now at the end of the winter.’  But Daniel refused to help him.  Then Karl-August said, ‘If you won’t sell me any hay, you must at least buy the cow.  I simply can’t slaughter such a fine cow.’  So they bargained, and Daniel got the cow real cheap.  He paid in cash, and fetched her on Monday evening.  On Tuesday the cow took sick, and this morning they had to slaughter her.  The cow must certainly have drunk something poisonous, seeing she had been burned black inside.  Now Daniel is abusive and tells everyone that Karl-August knew all about this and had cheated him with intention.”

      “How can he believe that?” asked the pastor.  “Karl-August had first tried to buy feed for the cow.  That ought to be evidence enough.”

      The church warden’s eyes fell.  “That is not altogether certain, Pastor,” he said, without looking up.  “Daniel has his own way in business.  Karl-August is no beginner either, for that matter.  It could be that Karl-August cooked up the whole story about the hay just to make Daniel unsuspecting and so be able to free himself from blame afterward.”

      “But that is surely preposterous,” cried the pastor.  “That would be falsehood for deception beyond end.  And how foolish it would be, besides!  If Daniel would only have been willing to sell him the hay!”

      The church warden shook his head sadly.  “Karl-August certainly knew that Daniel would never sell any hay for a cow he had good prospects to buy at a bargain.  There was no risk in this transaction.”

     Leaning over, the pastor gripped the edge of the table so firmly that the tips of his fingers were white.   “But this is too terrible.  It can’t be as you think.  Karl-August is certainly man enough to know that the matter would be found out.”

     “Yes,” said Erik Svensson, “I am sure he understood.  That’s why it was so fortunate for him that Daniel got possession of the cow as he did.  It is not exactly honorable for a rich farmer not to have a bit of hay left over for a poor renter’s beast and then force him to sell, and in the next place buy the cow himself at a bargain and have enough hay to keep the animal himself.  Most anyone would have borne the vexation and have forgotten it, rather than make an affair of it.  But Daniel has his own way in business matters, and now he is irritated and does not care about anything, but says he will sue Karl-August unless he gives him his money back voluntarily.”

     The curate had sunk back on the sofa and sat with his head bowed in his hand.  What was this?  Could such things really happen?  And among God’s children?  He saw the two men with his mind’s eye:  Daniel, heavy-set and coarse, with plump features and sharp eyes.  He had often testified at the meetings and spoken of the necessity of being separated from the world.  And Karl-August, had he not constantly urged young and old to give themselves to God?…

     He looked up, and asked, “Where was Karl-August tonight?”

     “They say he is at the mill,” said Erik Svensson.  “That could very well be, because the miller is working night and day since the water started flowing down there again.  But I think there were special reasons why Karl-August made his visit to the mill just tonight.  It’s likely he didn’t want to meet Daniel at the prayer meeting.”

     The pastor had gotten up.  He walked stormily back and forth…

     “Cannot the differences between the two parties be settled peaceably?”

     “That is just what we wanted to ask you, Pastor,” said the church warden.  “The simplest way would be if we could persuade Karl-August to return the money and take the meat.  Someone should speak to him about it as soon as possible.”

     The pastor seemed to hesitate.  “Will one of you go with me tomorrow?”

     “I believe Karl-August is still waiting at the mill for his flour,” said Erik Svensson.  “It’s not far to go.”  He looked at the pastor hopefully.

      “If you’ll go with me, we’ll go immediately,” was Fridfeldt’s prompt decision.  Yet he felt terribly uncertain.  What should he really say to Karl-August?  (continued…)

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#7-10 OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS :

Exodus 20:15  —  You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:16  —  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:17  —  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

                                 You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his servants, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

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A PRAYER BASED ON MARTIN LUTHER’S SMALL CATECHISM EXPLANATION TO THE NINTH COMMANDMENT:

O God, you command us not to covet our neighbor’s house, or anything that is our neighbor’s.  May we so fear and love you that we do not desire to get our neighbor’s possessions by scheming, or by pretending to have a right to them, but always help him keep what is his; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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