New International Version (NIV)
17 The chariots of God are tens of thousands
and thousands of thousands;
the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.[a]
Until I had re-read Hannah Whitall Smith’s “A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life”, I thought of the chariots of God as a metaphor for the power of God. A recent re-visitation to this classic written in 1875 gave me some new, fresh insights.
Her chapter, Chariots of God, introduce something I had missed reading this book in 1983. My copy is a Whitaker House publication, and some sources say there has been millions of this book sold. The pages are yellowed and aged, yet I was beckoned to read them once again upon the recommendation of another.
Is it possible that thirty some years ago I had not the capacity to understand her metaphor? In the bloom of a young marriage and with a heart full of hope for a blessed future, I think my naïve and inexperienced mind was incapable of comprehending the depth of what Hannah W. Smith said.
She tells us God’s chariots do not look like the biblical buggies one might imagine, with Charlton Hesston riding and thrashing a whip behind a fine set of prized Arabians, but look like enemies of our happiness and success. They could be trials, sufferings, disappointments or even misunderstandings or unkindness encountered from others.
Yet, she beckons us to open our eyes and see these thorns as God’s invitation to higher living. We must make the choice as to how they will be perceived; “We can either lie down under them and let them roll over us and crush us, or we can view them as chariots of God and make them carry us triumphantly onward and upward.”
Unlike the chariots of transportation or a metaphor for God’s power, these chariots of God are invisible, internal, and many times unlovely. She says “they may be a nasty friend or relative… the result of human malice or cruelty or neglect.”
The explanation is given that our chariots, our earthly chariots, are tangible and real. She gives the examples of having a trusted Bible study group or pastor, and then being unable to participate any longer or interact with those individuals due to changes in circumstances. Having our rugs pulled out from under us, like losing our jobs, marriages, or health, causes us to see how fallible the chariots we cherish really are.
Encouragement is given to release these foibles and turn to the “unseen chariots” of God. She assures us that they are always sent in love, because God is love. As hard as that may be to imagine in some of the most dire situations, Mrs. Smith says: “Perhaps He doesn’t command or originate the thing, but the moment we put it into His hands, it becomes His, and He at once turns it into a chariot for us.” Of course, she follows with Romans 8:28, which reminds us that no matter what has come into our life, God can bring something good out of it.
No, in 1983 I had not the capacity to understand what she meant. In the past thirty years, I have ridden in many of those chariots of God, my ride at times being grueling, painful, and devastating. What I have today that I didn’t possess then is the knowledge, assurance, and overflowing presence of a Sovereign God who never fails, is always present, and assures me of His Eternal companionship.
Is it a coincidence that the year this book was published is the same year her husband was involved in a scandal of sorts? She says: “That irritating member of your household, who has, up to now, made life a burden to you and who had been trying to crush your soul into the dust, may from now on be a glorious chariot to carry you to the heights of heavenly patience and long-suffering.” Could she be referring to an unfaithful mate, whose sins visited tribulation throughout several of their children’s lives, causing loss of faith and falling away from their mother’s cherished beliefs?
As Christians involved in the Quaker faith, the Smiths did not divorce, although some sources say they never reconciled after his indiscretions. Hannah Whittall Smith continued to write, giving her secret to a happy life, even though she did not possess one in an earthy sense.
Reading this chapter again, thinking of the broken heart which penned these words, I can now see what she meant. As a woman who has traveled in God’s chariots, I understand that each trial has been an invitation to trust God more deeply. Each pain has been a bridge to the arms of Christ. Every place of disappointment has been has been shared with a Savior who, as my High Priest, is able to empathize with my every weakness.
Let me encourage you to read this classic as well. Put it on your shelf for a few years, and read it again after you have been driven in the chariots of God sent to you to bring you closer to Him. Chose to enter, willingly and fully—”these are chariots waiting to carry you to the very heights of victory you have wanted to reach for so long.”