HANS HAUGE AND NORWEGIAN INDEPENDENCE
by Pastor Paul K. Christianson
“Independence Day for Norway! ” So I imagine the newspaper headlines shouted throughout the land as the Norwegian (Storting) declared the union with Sweden dissolved. June 7, 2005, celebrates the 100-year anniversary of that event.
Being a third-generation Norwegian, I asked 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 really the correct answer to my question.
Let me rephrase the same: “What is the climate, or landscape of this northern European country, and particularly, the spiritual climate?” We know parts of it are bitterly cold. Mosl of us have seen the photos of gleaming ice and snow fields or majestic, cool fjords and cloud-piercing mountains.
But the winds of faith in Norway blow with polar frigidness. Only 5 percent of Norwegians report worshipping 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)
But there was a time when the fires of revival swept across the countryside, replacing frozen, unfeeling hearts with the incandescent heat of Christian fervor and love … love first for Christ and then for one’s neighbor.
How did it all begin? It began on April 3, 1771, with the birth of Hans Nielsen Hauge on a farm near Ostfold, Norway, about 50 miles from the capital, 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. While reared in a devout home, Hans was still a stranger to the Lord Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. And so he remained until one day, April 5,1796, to be exact, 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 with the love of Christ in his heart he began to travel and preach in Norway and Denmark. And what was the message he preached under the sky, in the fields and along the rim of the sea? What was the message which virtually turned Norwegian society upside down for generations to come, in spite of savage opposition from the state church and its clergy, as well as from the upper classes of society? What was it that motivated this peasant to endure arrests, imprisonments, and the scorn and contempt of his fellow countrymen?
The same thing which motivated the Apostle Paul. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:14a, “For the love of Christ urges us on.” Hans Nielsen Hauge in similar fashion 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 Savior. He was and still 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.