Chapter 14 – At the Hermit’s

They found the Hermit sitting beside his ruined house, as always, lost in thought. Having recognised them, he gazed at them some time before waving a greeting, then they all sat down beside him. He studied them all again and said, “Well, did you get to the end of the road?” “You were right,” replied Amsiggel, “This road has no end! Nevertheless, we found what we were looking for along the way. And what about you? Are you still meditating? Have you discovered anything new?” “Here I am,” replied the Hermit, “just where you left me!” Then turning to Faithful he enquired, “And what do you think about this world we live in? Doesn’t it look like a terrible blight has fallen upon it? Isn’t the whole world in decay like this ruin, afflicted by diseases and all kinds of disasters?” “You’re right,” replied Faithful. The Hermit regarded him seriously, then asked, “Was the world like this from the beginning, or has something happened to spoil it and bring it to this sad state?”

“What do you think?” replied Faithful, “What is the Creator of the world like?” “He’s perfect,” answered the Hermit, “He does nothing bad.” “And what is the Creator able to do?” asked Faithful. “Obviously, he’s able to do anything at all,” replied the Hermit.” “Quite right,” said Faithful, “Now since the Lord God is perfectly good, he would want to create the world good. And as he’s able to do anything at all, he would be perfectly able to create it good. Isn’t that right?” “That’s right,” agreed the Hermit, “But since he created it good, what happened to spoil it?” “Well,” Faithful asked, “What is it that spoils things now, worse than anything else?” The Hermit replied, “Surely nothing is worse than man who tyrannizes, wages war and kills others. But we also have disease and plague and earthquakes and famine, and man is not responsible for those: that’s what I really can’t understand. What is the terrible blight that’s fallen upon the whole world?”

“Listen, all of you,” said Faithful, “and I’ll tell you what happened. When the Lord God created the world, he observed all he’d made and saw it was perfect. There was no disease and nothing that could kill: the world was good, just as God is good. He made a garden in it, and he created Adam and his wife, and he told them to look after it and to eat the fruit from all the trees… except the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. ‘The day you eat from that tree,’ God told him, ‘the blight of death will come upon you!’ Then Satan appeared in the form of a snake and said to the woman, ‘Oh no, there won’t be any blight on you. God only said that to you because he’s afraid you’ll become like him with knowledge of good and evil.’ The woman looked at the tree and liked what she saw. She really wanted to eat from it and she thought it would also be able to give them knowledge. She picked some fruit and ate it and gave some to her husband and he ate it too. Then God called to Adam saying, ‘Have you eaten from the tree I told you not to eat from?’ Adam replied, ‘It was my wife who gave it to me.’ God said to the woman, ‘What’s this you’ve done?’ She said, ‘The snake told me it would be a good thing to do.’ Then the curse of God fell upon the snake so that mankind and the snake would always be enemies. Then God said to the woman, ‘with sharp pains you’ll give birth, and you’ll be under your husband’s authority.’ And he said to Adam, ‘You’ve eaten from the tree which I told you not to eat from. From now on there will be a curse on the earth because of you. With wearisome toil you’ll get your food from it all the days of your life. The earth will bring forth brambles and thorns and you must find what you’ll eat from amongst them. With the sweat of your face you’ll get your bread until you yourself return to the earth, for from earth you were made and to earth you will return.’” Faithful paused, then he said, “That’s how the world was spoiled on account of our father Adam, because he and his wife disobeyed the word of God. But it’s not only they who have disobeyed his word. Their children right down to the present generation still disobey it. Disease and wearisome toil and death are inevitable for all of us, because we are so far from what God requires of us.”

“What you say is absolutely right,” agreed the Hermit, “And that’s why there’s this awful blight upon the world: because God has cursed it, and there is no longer any hope for it.” “A curse is certainly upon it,” said Faithful, “but God has not left us without hope, because he’s sent us one who is able to remove the blight – one who can heal people and give them perfect health and eternal life. Listen, all of you, and I’ll tell you about the one who brought the blessing of God from heaven to earth. One day he was going out of a town, accompanied by his disciples and many other people. A blind man was there, called Bartimaus the son of Timaus; he was sitting by the roadside, begging. Hearing who was going by, the blind man called out, ‘Help me! Help me!’ The people rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he kept on shouting even louder, ‘Help me!’ Our Saviour stopped and told them to call him. ‘Cheer up,’ they said to the blind man, ‘Get up – look he’s calling you to him!’ The blind man leapt to his feet, threw his cloak to aside and came to him. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ asked our Saviour. ‘O Sir,’ replied the blind man, ‘I wish I could see!’ ‘Go then,’ he said, ‘You are healed because you believe.’ In that instant he could see, and he followed him along the road. And there were many others, blind and paralysed and dumb people and epileptics – he healed them all.”

“This one you call your Saviour,” said the Hermit, “it’s clear that he was full of the power of God so he could heal people from their illnesses. But the blight of death, that’s the biggest problem.” “Well,” replied Faithful, “one day he went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and many others. When he got to the town gate, some people were carrying out a young man who’d died. His mother was a widow and she had no one apart from him. Many of the townspeople had come with her. When he saw her, he felt very sorry for her. Then he said, ‘Don’t weep!’ and he went up to the bier and touched it. The men carrying it stopped. Then he said, ‘Young man, I command you, Get up!’ The dead person got up and started to speak. Our Saviour took him and gave him to his mother. The people were all awestruck. They praised God and said, ‘A great prophet has come to us. God has drawn near to help his people.’“

“That Saviour evidently had power to heal people,” observed the Hermit, “and power even to raise the dead. But there’s still something in this world which afflicts it more severely than sickness and death: it’s human conflict – quarrels and disputes on every hand!” “You’re right,” said Faithful, “People don’t know how to treat one another well or be patient with one another, nor how to help and do good to one another. Everyone is envious of what someone else has, reluctant to let others get what they’re entitled to.” “There’s no peace and quiet where people are to be found,” agreed the Hermit, “because every one is sticking up for himself. A continual blight this is upon the world! And it’s the worst thing of all!” “When Adam was created,” replied Faithful, “he was perfect, but when he disobeyed God, he became like this ruin. And it’s the same with us: we’re not at all like we were when God created us, for something has happened to spoil us just as it spoiled Adam.” “Now I can see what’s happened to us,” declared the Hermit, “We’ve disobeyed God’s word just as Adam did, and we no longer do what God requires of us.” “Correct,” said Faithful, “So what do we need now? We need someone who can rebuild this human house and remove the blight from our hearts. We need someone who can take away the sin that spoils us.” “Well, who can take away sin?” asked the Hermit.

Faithful replied, “One day many people came to see our Saviour, and the house was so crowded that there was no space at all inside or even outside the door. Four men came carrying a paralysed man, but they couldn’t take him in to where our Saviour was because of the crowd. So they climbed up on to the roof, removed a section above where he was, opened a hole and lowered the mat with the paralysed man lying on it. Our Saviour saw how much they believed in him. He said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are taken away!’ Some teachers of the law were there, thinking, ‘How can he speak like that? It’s blasphemy! Who can take away sins apart from God alone?’ But our Saviour knew in his spirit what was going through their minds, and he said to them, ‘Why do you have such thoughts? Which is easiest, for me say to this paralysed man: Your sins are taken away, or to say: Get up, pick up your mat and walk? But I’ll show you that I can take away sins.’ He turned then to the paralysed man saying, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and go home! He got up immediately, picked up his mat and went out in front of all them all. Everyone was astonished and praised God saying, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this.’“

“That’s an amazing thing!” said the Hermit, “This Saviour of yours had power to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and even to set people free from the bondage of their sins. He removed the blight from all of them – but how long ago did this happen?” “About two thousand years ago,” replied Faithful. “Ah well!” said the Hermit, “Your Saviour no longer lives in this world, and the world still suffers the blight!” “Listen carefully,” said Faithful, “to what I’m going to say. The first time, he came to show us he has power to remove the blight, but he’ll come a second time at the end of the world, and then he’ll remove it completely and make everything new.” “How we long for such a time!” sighed the Hermit, “when the world could be made new! As it is, the world is exceedingly sick and completely futile.” “The time is very near,” replied Faithful, “but God has not left us in the world just to sit in useless futility. The one who came to remove the blight has sent us to help people suffering from it. He himself went from place to place helping all who were sick and supporting all who were weak… and he wants us to do likewise.”

Then Faithful looked round at them all and asked, “Do you think we can find a way to do something positive for the world before it passes away? Can we add a little to the good in it and reduce a little of its evil? Look, who was it built this house? Who dug the well? Who planted the trees? Who cut down the thorns? Who cleared the stones from the earth? Didn’t our ancestors find something useful to do in this world?” The Hermit replied, “They did all those things because they wanted to leave their children with more than they had themselves.” “Yes, and that’s what we must do too,” agreed Faithful, “so we can leave our children more than we have ourselves.”

At this, the Hermit stood up. “Now I understand,” he said, “how my life can have a useful purpose. First of all, I’ll come along with you and help all the people we meet. Then I’ll return to rebuild my house.” “God bless you!” they all cried. Then Amsiggel spoke up: “We’ll no longer call you the Hermit (Master of the Ruin): We’ll call you the householder (Master of the New House)!” Then Faithful broke into song with a Psalm: “Sing praise to God, O all mankind! Glorify him, all who live the world! How great is his steadfast love towards us! He’ll never abandon us in this world or the next!” They all took up the words, singing happily together.