595) The Hammer of God (part three)

THE HAMMER COMES DOWN

     (…continued)  (The next morning the curate went) hurrying down to the study, where he found the old rector already at work.  He had imagined that it would be humiliating to tell about the sorry state of affairs among the believers, but the rector viewed it all matter-of-factly and was not greatly disturbed.  The carriage was ordered and a message was sent to the deacon.

     At nine o’clock the parsonage buggy carried them south on the highway…   When the rector’s carriage entered the village the most terrible oaths and curses could be heard from the direction of Daniel’s farmyard.  When they came nearer they saw that most of the Vánneberga farmers with the women folks and dogs were gathered outside of Daniel’s cattle barn, where a one-horse cart stood waiting.  The excitement was extreme, and blows could be exchanged at any moment…

     The rector swung his carriage into the yard.  The effect of his arrival was enormous.  Everyone was dumbfounded and stood there in complete silence.  Slowly and clumsily the rheumatic old man stepped from his carriage and stood in the mud, his head sunk deep in the collar of his fur coat.

     “God’s peace, dear Christians,” he said quietly.  “You ought to be ashamed.  What would you have me think of you?”

     He motioned to one of the men to come nearer.  “I am sure you are impartial, Edvin,” he said.  “Tell me what this all means.  Does it have something to do with the cow that was slaughtered here yesterday?”

     Yes, that was it.  After a few brief questions the rector had learned the salient facts.  Daniel was just now set to take half of the cow to the market.  The others had watched him load the cart.  The atmosphere had been irritating…   The rector nodded quietly…

     “I’ll not leave Vánneberga until this whole matter is settled.  Olsson,” he said, turning to the deacon, “will you go out and get Karl-August?”

     Slowly the old rector crossed over to the house, and stepped uninvited into Daniel’s parlor.  He seated himself on the sofa.  Fridfeldt stood at the door.

     “Let Karl-August come in now!” (said the rector), “And bring in a Bible.”

     Karl-August came in, together with Daniel’s old Bible in its brown leather binding.

     “Fridfeldt,” said the rector, “will you open the Bible to the next to the last chapter of The Revelation of St. John, the eighth verse I think it is.  Let me see it.  Now place the Bible on the table.  Karl-August, put your finger on the eighth verse.  Can you make it out?”

     “Yes, Pastor,” said Karl-August, wondering what it was all about.  “It is here at the bottom of the page.”

     “Good!  Answer me one question, Karl-August.  Did you know that the cow was sick when you sold her to Daniel?  No, do not answer yet.  Read first what is written where you are holding your finger.”

     Karl-August bent forward and stumbled through the verse:  “But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their lot in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone:  which is the second death.”

     “Good.  Now you see yourself in what company a liar lands–among the unbelieving, the idolators, and the whoremongers in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.  Think now before you answer.  Did you know that the cow was sick?”

     Karl-August had shrunk together and looked even smaller than he was.  Against dark stubble, his skin looked pale and yellow.

     “Yes,” he whispered.

     “Praise God for that,” said the rector.  “Now there is hope for your soul.  Now we’ll both lend a hand in settling this matter.  What is the first thing for you to do?”

     “Ask God for forgiveness,” whispered Karl-August, without looking up.

     “Good, and then?”  It was as though the rector were conducting a catechization.

     “Give back the money.”

     “Splendid!  And what more?”

     The last requirement was more exacting.  The man writhed in agony.  He could not get it over his lips.

     “I suppose I’ll have to help you, then, though you ought to be able to say it yourself.  You must ask Daniel for forgiveness.  Are you willing?”

     “Ye–es.”  Karl-August was all atremble.  Fridfeldt felt an infinite sympathy with him.  This was indeed penitence that hurt.

     “God bless you, Karl-August.  Now the angels of God rejoice, for now a lost little brother has found his way home.  Go home now and get the money.  Let me next talk with Daniel.”

     The door opened, and was closed again.

     Daniel stood pale and tight-lipped before the rector.

     “You have been shamefully cheated, Daniel,” said the old pastor.  Then followed a pause.  “Now things are going to be set right again.”

     Daniel looked up in surprise.

     “Karl-August is going to return the money.  He has already gone to get it.”

     Daniel’s face brightened perceptibly.

     “And he is going to offer you his hand as a sign that he is asking you to forgive him.  Will you take his hand and the money and let everything be forgotten?”

     “Gladly,” said Daniel.  He could not have dreamt of anything like this.

     “Well, then, that matter is cleared up, and you have been vindicated.  And that is good and well.  But now there is another person by whom you have been shamelessly cheated, and this has to do with greater sums.  This has to be cleared up so that the wrong is righted.”

     Daniel had a perplexed look.

     “You see, Daniel, last Monday there was a great council in heaven, much like the one mentioned in the book of Job (the first two chapters).  The good Lord said, ‘The Adversary (the Devil) has had much to say of late against one of my servants down in Vanneberga, and I shall have to put him to test in order to discover if there is any truth in all this talk about his love of money and his greed for a thick wallet and many fat cows.’   And then God sent along a poor little crofter who begged to buy a bundle of hay.   And God said to His angels, ‘Now you will see that my servant is honest and faithful and will let the man get his bit of hay cheaply.’   But the Devil also stole away and reached Vánneberga and sat down by the window and whispered, ‘Don’t be a fool now, Daniel.  If there is no fodder to buy, the cow must be sold, and you can’t buy a cow as good as this one every day and at such a price.’  Then there was a tenseness in heaven, and all the angels wondered if Daniel at Vánneberga would allow himself to be deceived by his worst enemy.  Well, Daniel, how did it go?  Did you allow yourself to be deceived?”

     Daniel was silent.

     “Daniel, Daniel,” said the rector, “now the heavenly Father is looking at you again.  Last Monday He was pretty much discouraged about you.  Will He be so again?  It’s hard to speak sometimes, Daniel, but it can be much worse if one keeps silent.  Answer me now:  Did you let the devil deceive you last Monday?”

     “Yes, Pastor, I did.”

     “God be praised for that word, Daniel,” continued the old pastor.  “That is the most significant testimony to the power of God that you have given for a long time.  Well, Daniel how shall we now be able to right this matter that you let yourself be deceived when God put you to the test and asked you to help a poor neighbor?  Don’t you think it would be best if we helped him today instead?”

     “What have you in mind, Pastor?”

     “This is what I have in mind.  Karl-August is not a rich man.  He has suffered a great loss in being forced to slaughter his best cow.  How much do you think the meat is worth?  What would you have gotten for the half of beef you planned to sell today?”

     “Perhaps fifteen riks-dollars.”

     “And what is the price of a new cow?”

     “Between fifty-five and sixty-five.”

     “I suggest that you keep the half of the meat which I understand your wife is already salting down.  Pay Karl-August fifteen riks-dollars for that when he returns the purchase money.  If we reckon the cost of the other half at fifteen, he will still be short twenty or thirty dollars before he can buy another cow as good as this one.  Now, then, let us take up a collection.”

     He took out his billfold.  “I will give five dollars.  How much will you contribute, Daniel?”

     “Ten,” said the farmer, who had already put his hand inside his coat for his pocketbook.

     “What remains we can surely pick up in the village.”  With a nod toward Fridfeldt, he added, “Now you may call them in.”

     Fridfeldt called in, not only Karl-August, but also the deacon and the other men who were outside.  It took only a brief moment to conclude the matter.  The penitents did not have to say anything.  The rector spoke for them.  Handshakes were exchanged, the purchase money returned, and in a few minutes the collection was completed.  Karl-August burst into tears when he received the money.  The rector spoke briefly on the words, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members one of another.”  There was an atmosphere of quiet and solemnity, in sheer contrast to the yells and curses that had greeted them as they entered the village.

From The Hammer of God: A Novel About the Cure of Souls, by Bo Giertz, 1941, (from chapter two, ‘Springtime in March,’ pages 211f; translated by Clifford Nelson, copyright 1960, Augustana Book Concern).

 Bo Giertz  (1905-1998)

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1 Corinthians 12:25-27  —  There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

2 Corinthians 13:11  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Psalm 133:1  —  How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

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

O God, you command us not to steal.  May we so fear and love you that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his property and means of making a living; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.