Monday, November 1, 2010

God's Arms

From Charles Dickens, an image of God and an example of godliness in action. In The Old Curiosity Shop, Little Nell and her grandfather, victimized by his gambling addiction, have arrived in an unnamed factory town. They have no money and nowhere to stay. Wandering the cruel, indifferent streets, she has a pastoral vision of the divine:
"If we were in the country now," said the child, with assumed cheerfulness, as they walked on looking about them for a shelter, "we should find some good old tree, stretching out his green arms as if he loved us, and nodding and rustling as if he would have us fall asleep, thinking of him while he watched. Please God, we shall be there soon -- to-morrow or next day at the farthest -- and in the meantime let us think, dear, that it was a good thing we came here; for we are lost in the crowd and hurry of this place, and if any cruel people should pursue us, they could surely never trace us further. There's comfort in that. And here's a deep old doorway -- very dark, but quite dry, and warm too, for the wind don't blow in here -- What's that!"

Uttering a half shriek, she recoiled from a black figure which came suddenly out of the dark recess in which they were about to take refuge, and stood still, looking at them.

Christians may wonder about the significance of the three days. As we'll soon learn, the stranger works in a factory, where he stokes the same fire his late father had. He offers the pair an evening's warmth and a share of his breakfast in the morning:

"It's not far," said the man. "Shall I take you there? You were going to sleep upon cold bricks; I can give you a bed of warm ashes -- nothing better."

Without waiting for any further reply than he saw in their looks, he took Nell in his arms, and bade the old man follow.

Just a few lines after Dickens' image of God as a tree with outstretched arms, a stranger bundles Nell in his -- the first time anyone has done so in all her travels -- and bears her to safety. How much clearer can could Dickens be in his belief that God's kindness depends on the agency of his creatures?

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