The Stroke of Love
The small clapboard building was the center of the community, located at the head of a valley in the backwoods of Tennessee. The families could only reach their homesteads by foot or riding their mules or horses. Single file trails were the passages through the mountains. Their running water came from springs or streams and indoor plumbing was nonexistent.
The building was a church on Sunday and a schoolhouse on weekdays. Pews were backless, plank benches. They had no preacher, so elder Harden ministered to the rural community. His messages were always Hell-fire and brimstone. Each sermon spoke of an angry God who wanted to punish sinners. He preached of a harsh and judgmental Father.
In the school were eight children in five grades, taught by a single teacher. Chance was an outstanding pupil and read every book that he could lay his hands on. When he read every book in the community, he walked nearly six miles to borrow books from another town’s library. His appetite for knowledge earned him a reputation and a scholarship to a Bible college.
After years of sermons on an angry God, Chance discovered the attributes of a loving Father. He learned that God sent his Son, Jesus, to die as a ransom for man’s sin debt. Chance graduated, carrying the message of God’s love in his heart and to his community.
Back home, Chance found that Harden was still preaching on a wrathful God. Chance attempted to breach the walls of a vengeful God, but Harden fought back.
“If you’re going to try to teach that love foolishness in my church, I will throw you out!” Then he addressed the rest of the congregation, “Listen to him and you can leave the church as well.”
Chance countered, “Brother Harden, 1 John chapter four reads ‘God is love.’ It doesn’t just say, God loves, it says God is love. He sent his Son, Jesus to die for our sins. That’s a Father’s love, not someone who hates mankind.”
“Out! Out!” Harden screamed. Spittle flew from his lips.
Chance turned to leave when Haden collapsed. He helped the other men of the church carry Harden home. Chance stayed by Harden’s side.
The stroke left Harden weak. Chance worked Harden’s farm and his own, often eighteen hours each day. After many weeks, Harden was able with help, walk to church.
As he entered the building, a hush fell over the congregation. A fly could be heard buzzing overhead. Harden shuffled to the pulpit.
Pulling himself erect, he said, “God is love.” Turning, he stepped away from the pulpit and took a seat on the plank bench.