The Hand of God

The most watched TV programme over the recent festive period was the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. In this most difficult of years, reflecting on the challenges of 2020, Her Majesty referenced what she described as “the kindness of strangers”, harking back to the parable of the Good Samaritan as a prime example to follow whereby the man who is robbed and left at the roadside is saved by someone who did not share his religion or culture and that “this wonderful story of kindness is still as relevant today”. Acknowledging the commitment and effort of front-line services in the current pandemic, supported by the amazing achievements of modern science, she went on to say that “we continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that - even on the darkest nights - there is hope in the new dawn”.

She’s not the first monarch in such a speech to draw inspiration from her faith – she declared that the teachings of Christ had served as her inner light – and to highlight the importance of light in the darkness, where that light brings hope. Although the film, The King’s Speech, which was also on TV over Christmas, focuses on that part of the life of her father, King George VI, which culminates in his speech to the nation and empire at the outbreak of the Second World War, his more famous oration arguably came in his Christmas broadcast of 1939, just a week before the onset of a new year with all its threats, challenges and potential disasters and the course of which no one could foresee accurately and what might be foreseen was pessimistic and depressing. There are certainly some parallels with where we currently find ourselves.

The King, at that time, sought to rally his peoples with a call to faith that, in his own words, “the Almighty Hand may guide and uphold us all”. He quoted from a poem entitled
God Knows by a Bristol-born poet, Minnie Louise Haskins, lines from which, in closing his address, he hoped would provide a message of encouragement. The words he quoted may be known to you already:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and
put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way.”

The Hand of God would provide a more secure basis for carrying on than any light which might allow one to see imperfectly the path ahead. The poem has more lines to it than those quoted by the King, and later read out at the funeral of the Queen Mother. There are those who say that the remainder does not possess the compelling quality of the opening lines but they serve, albeit in a changed verse form, to underline the importance of faith in our lives.

So I went forth,
And finding the Hand of God, 
Trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills 
And the breaking of day in the lone East. So heart be still!
What need our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will is best.
The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

The words of this poem were intended as a message of assurance to a nation at war. They were words of comfort in the loss of loved ones, and words of hope for a difficult time to end.  They were words of truth that our God is in control and we need not fear. Later this week one of the daily readings is taken from Psalm 27, a paraphrased version of which is found in Hymn 14, written by James Montgomery (1771-1854) with whom I share a birthplace: Irvine. One of my previous posts underlined that, even in times of great challenge, we are not alone. As we face yet another period of lockdown and further enforced isolation, we can rely on that comfort, even on the darkest nights.

God is my strong salvation,
What foe have I to fear?
In darkness and temptation
My light, my help is near:
Though hosts encamp around me,
Firm to the fight I stand!
What terror can confound me,
With God at my right hand?

Place on the Lord reliance;
My soul, with courage wait;
His truth be thine affiance
When faint and desolate.
His might thy heart shall strengthen,
His love thy joy increase:
Mercy thy days shall lengthen;
The Lord will give thee peace.

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