At the beginning of George Eliot’s novel, Silas Marner, the main character, is introduced as a lonely weaver, home-working, like many of his time. Shunned in love and falsely accused, he exiled himself and toiled constantly at his loom. His one consolation in life was the accumulation of gold coins he earned from his skills. Then one terrible day, catastrophe struck. He was robbed of his treasury, leaving him in utter despair, bereft of his security and the legacy of his work.

 At the end of the novel, Silas discovers the answer to the mystery of his devastating loss and he is confronted with a deeper assessment of the person he had once been. The unexpected, life-changing developments between these two bookends of his life had transformed his understanding of what really mattered in terms of love, relationship, sacrifice and happiness itself. It is a story of redemption, healing and renewal.

Another story of recent times, features a young boy, sent to England by his father, to live with his extended family. The plan was to provide life-enhancing education and opportunity, but in fact, none of his relatives could actually afford the extra expense. One day, aged eleven years, he wandered the streets with his few possessions in a bin bag, feeling the despair of one who felt himself an unwanted burden. In a church yard however, he was found by a concerned youth worker who took him in to the loving care of his own family home. Encouraged to develop his musical talent, he grew in confidence and skill. Now he sings the music of the heart that knows the healing power of love and redemption. It is well with his life, and well with his soul.

The Apostle Paul, who called himself the “chief of sinners” knew that there would come a time when he would no longer “see through the glass darkly”, but would be brought into the crystal clear understanding of how his freewill choices had been interwoven with the foresight and protective guidance of God. “Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. (1 Corinthians 13v12). What will he know? The power of the Creator to make all things new. When will he know? At the end of earthly days when all tears are wiped away. Yet how would God manage to take him through the map of his pilgrimage without provoking tears of regret and self recrimination? Simply this, the triumph of God’s grace and the totality of atonement made for Paul and for us, through “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”. The bookends fit into place, enclosing another story of faith, trust, endurance and revelation.

Back in 2020, our frenetic activities, lists, routines and expectations were suddenly robbed of stability. Our targets were put on hold, our time schedules disrupted and re-ordered. Even the fragility of life presented challenges that had lurked, unanswered at the back of our minds. What have we learned about ourselves? How have these long months changed our outlook? The stories of our experiences and anxieties stretch along the shelf towards the bookend. We can ask ourselves, is it personally true that we have learned truths more valuable than gold and have we gained treasure that will endure beyond our troubled times? Until then, God will still strew our pathway with abundant tokens of his redeeming grace.

Iris Niven

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