‘Independence Day for Norway!’ So I imagine the newspaper headlines exulted throughout the land when, on 7 June 1905, the Norwegian Parliament declared the union with Sweden dissolved. This year celebrates the centenary of that event.
Being a third-generation Norwegian I ask myself, ‘But how are things in the mother-country today?’ Like much of Western Europe, Norway is materially prosperous and affluent, but that is not the answer to my question. Let me rephrase it: ‘What is the spiritual climate of Norway today?’
In terms of weather, we know parts of it are bitterly cold. Most of us have seen the photos of gleaming ice and snow fields, majestic fiords and cloud-piercing mountains. But the winds of faith in Norway also blow with polar frigidity.
Only 5% of Norwegians say they worship at least once a week. One European observer, Rocco Buttiglione, comments, ‘The new soft totalitarianism that is advancing on the left wants to have a state religion. It is an atheist, nihilistic religion — but it is a religion that is obligatory for all’ (2003 European Social Survey; Reuters).
However, there was a time when the fires of revival swept across the countryside, replacing frozen, unfeeling hearts with the incandescent heat of Christian fervour and love — love first for Christ and then for one’s neighbour. How did it all begin?
It began on 3 April 1771 with the birth of Hans Nielsen Hauge on a farm near Ostfold, about fifty miles from Oslo. What marked Hauge’s early years was his enthusiasm for religious books, and much anxiety over the state of his soul. Young Hans was an obedient son who worked with diligence on the family farm. But although reared in a devout home, he was still a stranger to the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.
And so he remained until 5 April 1796 — when the grace of God found him out just a few days after his 25th birthday.
His conversion experience is best described in his own words. ‘One day while I was working outside under the open sky, I sang from memory the hymn “Jesus, I long for thy blessed communion”.
‘At this point my mind became so exalted that I was not myself aware of, nor can I express, what took place in my soul. For I was beside myself. As soon as I came to my senses, I was filled with regret that I had not served this loving transcendentally good God. Now it seemed to me that nothing in this world was worthy of any regard…
‘Now I wanted very much to serve God. I asked him to reveal to me what I should do. The answer echoed in my heart, “You shall confess my name before the people; exhort them to repent and seek me while I may be found and call upon me while I am near; and touch their hearts that they may turn from darkness to light”.’
And so, with the gospel call firmly planted in his soul and the love of Christ in his heart, he began to travel and preach in Norway and Denmark. And what did he preach under the sky, in the fields, and along the rim of the sea? What was the message that turned Norwegian society upside down for generations to come — in spite of savage opposition from the state church, its clergy, and the upper classes of society?
The message that motivated this peasant to endure arrests, imprisonments, and the scorn and contempt of his fellow countrymen was the same as that which motivated the apostle Paul. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21: ‘For the love of Christ constrains us… we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him’.
In similar fashion, Hans Nielsen Hauge heard the call of the risen Christ to turn the hearts of his fellow countrymen from darkness to light; from the bitter cold of unbelief to the fires of gospel fervency and love of the Saviour. He was and remains Norway’s greatest son.
Dear reader, what wind blows in your heart — the wintry wind of indifference or the warm summer breeze of ardent love for Jesus Christ? Seek him who will dispel the darkness of your soul with the light and warmth of the love of Christ