Much-Afraid lives in the Valley of Humiliation, a fearful little servant of the Great Shepherd. Hurnard doesn't even give us a depiction of conversion in this allegory; she simply says "For several years Much-Afraid had been in the service of the Great Shepherd" and off she goes from there. Much-Afraid might be a good servant, if she wasn't crippled and ugly and living near her cousins, the Forebodings. There's a fearful lot of them: Mrs. Dismal Forebodings, Gloomy, Spiteful, Craven Fear, and others unmentioned. They are determined to marry Much-Afraid to Craven Fear. an abusive wretch that she despises, but is to timid to send packing. After her relatives try to kidnap her, Much-Afraid flees to take counsel with the Good Shepherd. She utters a wish to leave the Valley of Humiliation, the Good Shepherd surprises her by saying that he has waited a long time for her to wish that. He offers to take her to the High Places, to make her feet like hinds' feet, to give her a new name, and to place the flower of Love in her heart. The hinds' feet will come in time; the new name is not yet for her to know; but the flower must be planted immediately, and the Great Shepherd drives a long sharp thorn into Much-Afraid's heart.
Love and Pain go hand in hand, he says.
Much-Afraid soon finds that the journey is not to be all to her liking. Instead of having the Good Shepherd with her for the entire journey, she must accept the companionship of "Sorrow" and "Suffering", two veiled women that cannot speak her tongue. They are there to guide her crippled feet on the path she must follow to the High Places. If this wasn't bad enough, Much-Afraid is forced to face the geographic difficulties of Pride, Injury, Tribulation, Loss, and Loneliness. Gradually, as she overcomes her fearful heart and learns to obey the Good Shepherd wherever he bids her go, her journey seems to lead ever closer to the end she longs for--the High Places of her Lord.
The most stunning part of this whole book is Hurnard's use of Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs if you prefer.) The one book of the Bible that causes little children to burst into fits of giggles and skeptical teens to roll their eyes becomes the cry of Much-Afraid's heart, as she prays and sings to her Good Shepherd, and uses it to boost her shrinking courage. Hurnard turns it to rhyme and places sections of it throughout her story, giving it fresh meaning in an all-too-cynical society. I absolutely loved it, and I hope that the Church of Christ takes to valuing all of Scripture instead of just what's comfortable or relatable. Well done.
The Christian life is a journey from one High Place to the next High Place to the next High Place during our life on earth; it never ends. A High Place is a season of fellowship with God, where we have a heart surrendered and trusting, ready to learn from him. Oftentimes when we've learned one thing the Good Shepherd moves us on to the next mountain. That's another theme that resonated with me. My own journey of spiritual growth was at one point very similar to Much-Afraid's living in the Valley, longing for more. But now I am on a journey up to one mountaintop, and then for a time I rest in its green fields before moving on to the next one. And yes, Sorrow has held one hand and Suffering the other much of the way. But they are strong companions, and sturdy ones, even if they never speak a word or show me their face.
A good allegory: true, relatable, and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it for all Christian bibliophiles.
Now, I'm afraid, we must move on to Hurnard herself. And I must start with the disclaimer that I was not aware of the following information until Wednesday, when I started drafting this post. I didn't know that Hinds' Feet had sequels, and I certainly didn't know the controversy surrounding Hurnard herself. While I endorse one of her books, I certainly don't endorse her as an author. If this would disturb you or spoil your enjoyment of the book, I highly recommend that you end here, but if not, then by all means continue.
This is what I found.
Hurnard grew up a Quaker, but she never had the 'experience' with God that the rest of her family seemed to enjoy. When she finally received the 'experience' she craved, she felt God telling her that he would heal her stammering difficulty and use her as a foreign missionary. She served in Israel many years as a housekeeper in a hospital, and brought the gospel to others through her speaking and her writing.
But later in Hannah's life her theology derailed. Into her beliefs crept such heresies as universalism, pantheism, and reincarnation. She took to vegetarianism after embracing the belief that God was within his creation, and therefore eating animal flesh was sin.
“In fact, in the later years of her life, Hannah herself ceased to attend church. Her lifelong conviction that God would speak to her personally, giving her deeper and deeper insights and ‘light’ that was to be widely shared with others, led her to believe that there could be no spiritual authority over her or her speaking and writing except the Lord Jesus Christ himself”
(Standing on High Places, by Isabel Anders, pg. 170).
As good as this sounds, God doesn't speak through some mystic, inside voice. He uses his Holy Spirit to illuminate the truths of Scripture, not to give us an entirely separate revelation.
Invitations dwindled, and Hurnard passed away in 1990, in Florida. Up to the end of her life she opened her home every Monday evening to explain reincarnation, vegetarianism, and New Age thought to those who wished to come.
To quote the third book in the Hinds' Feet trilogy, Eagles' Wings to Higher Places:
To the depths of her soul she knew that she could live here no longer where there were no Higher Places in sight. No, it was not sorrow for the hopeless plight of the poor people in the dark places which caused her grief; it was anguish at the thought of the hopelessness of the only message which she had to give them. Lost forever with no hope if they rejected it! Cast off by the God who had brought them into existence, if they rejected His call now. All her unacknowledged doubts and questions arose again concerning a God who called Himself Love and who brought myriads of souls into existence without being able to prevent them from condemning themselves to an eternity of hopeless darkness and suffering, lost to Him forever. How could He possibly love them, if He let this happen to them? How could He possibly be good, if He brought them into an existence where it was possible for them to separate themselves from His love and joy and goodness forever?” (pp. 21-22)
This really tugs at the heartstrings, but a closer look at Scripture shows us where Hurnard's error lies. First of all, Hurnard says "Cast off by the God who had brought them into existence"; however she neglected to remember that we cast him off first. He gave Adam the choice to disobey, and Adam took that choice. From here on out, mankind was justly punished by a righteous God. God could not be holy if he did not punish our unrighteousness with death. He had the power to prevent us from condemning ourselves, but that would have taken away our voluntary obedience and love for him, and he did not want us to be puppets in his hands. "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." Revelation 22:17. Whosoever will. That means according to the Greek "he that desires, he that is willing, he that wishes". God is not willing that any should perish; his only requirement is that we keep his law. Once we break that, we are cast upon his mercy.
And he gave it to us. But some of us still reject it.
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.--Revelation 21:27.
As hard as it is for some to accept, Christianity is an exclusive gospel. One way to heaven: Jesus Christ. You either are saved, or you aren't. There is no in-between. Those who aren't saved go to hell. After death the time for repentance is passed. But those who humble themselves and enter through the narrow gate find themselves in a blissful eternity with God. The gate is open; the gift is outstretched; it only remains for us to accept it.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. --Revelation 20:11-15
The Bible teaches clearly on hell, and sadly, many people will be there for eternity. But they made that choice of rejection, and hell is the consequence.
Please don't mistake my meaning. I don't intend to come across as indifferent or unnecessarily harsh. My objective is to show that God is a God of justice as well as of mercy, and a God of wrath as well as a God of love. Each of these qualities must be accepted to have a full understanding of God's character, and through that, His redemption.
While further refutation of these false theologies are beyond the scope of this blog post, G. Richard Fisher wrote an article entitled From High Places to Heresy, which I recommend to my readers for more information concerning Hurnard, and the false theologies she embraced.
Hinds' Feet on High Places holds much useful Biblical truth, and I hear from several sources that its sequel, Mountain of Spices, is theologically sound as well, though I would have to check it out to be completely sure. But do avoid Eagles' Wings to the Higher Places, as that book contains much of the faulty thought she embraced later in life.
Hannah Hurnard did not move on from one High Place to the next. Sadly, she ran down one after another and ended her life in the Valley. It's always sad to see an author produce a valuable tool for Christian living and then walk away from the very truth they taught. We must not allow it to become a cause for fear in ourselves, but search the Scriptures ever more diligently to lay our faith's foundation, and trust Him alone Who is able to keep us from falling.