The Gate of the Year
Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957) was a British writer, missions worker, London School of Economics student and teacher, and industrial welfare leader in the first half of the 20th century. In addition to her literary work as a poet and novelist, Haskins and Eleanor T. Kelly co-authored Foundations of Industrial Welfare, a significant publication promoting a spirit of cooperation between worker and employer. However, it is a small collection of poetry published in 1908 that contains the obscure poem for which Minnie Haskins is best remembered. Originally published under the title “God Knows,” this poem is best known from its popular title “The Gate of the Year.”
Princess Elizabeth shared a copy of this poem with her father King George VI. Although published 31 years earlier, the King quoted from Haskins’ preamble to her poem when he delivered his December 25, 1939, Christmas radio broadcast. Great Britain was facing the awful uncertainty that comes with war. The powerful words shared by the King from Haskins struck a chord in the heart of the nation during those early days of World War II. The words were widely acclaimed as inspirational, but the identity of their source remained unknown by most of the radio audience that heard them. The day after Christmas (Boxing Day 1939) the author was announced by the BBC as Minnie Louise Haskins, a retired School of Economics academic. The complete text of Haskins’ work is as follows:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year; “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.
God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.
Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.
The above words not only impacted the British Empire through that memorable Christmas broadcast of King George VI, but the message of Haskins’ words have remained a source of strength to Elizabeth. She had the words of the preamble inscribed on the gates to the Memorial Chapel of King George VI at Windsor Castle. She also requested the poem be read at the funeral of The Queen Mother in 2002.
As you and I face the New Year much is unknown. Biblical revelation, in harmony with human experience, verifies that we “do not know what tomorrow may bring” (James 4:14). In Macbeth, Shakespeare has Banquo speak in skeptical response to the “fantastical . . . great prediction” of the witches. To those witches, Banquo says, “If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me.” It is a reminder of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes which affirms:
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (11:5-6, ESV)
We cannot look into “the seeds of time” in the New Year and know which grain will grow and which will not. There are many unanswerable questions concerning not only the future, but even the past and present. However, sometimes it is the case that certain questions for which we do not have the answers (cf. Job 38-41) evidence the omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omni-benevolence of God. We do not know all the specific details of our lives, but we must trust God. Because of the information revealed in His creation and in the Scriptures there are good reasons for trusting God. It is not that we cannot know anything. God does not call us to a blind trust or a “leap into the dark” beyond adequate evidence. We can know that (1) God exists and (2) He is worthy of our trust. From evidence, such as that manifested in God’s questions to Job, one can know that there are good reasons for what happens in the world. However, this does not mean that we know or understand all the details of the past, present, or future. However, the very evidence of purpose on the face of the universe, even within one’s own body, mind, conscience, and soul, provides good reasons for knowing that we can know God, even while deeply being aware of our great limitations.
Hear the summation of this powerful message in Minnie Haskins’ words as you stand at the gate of the New Year: “So heart be still: What need our little life . . . to know, if God hath comprehension? . . . God knows . . . the stretch of years which wind ahead, so dim to our imperfect vision, are clear to God. Our fears are premature; In Him, all time hath full provision . . . rest . . . until God moves to lift the veil from our impatient eyes . . . [then] God’s thought around His creatures our mind shall fill.”
The Psalmist of Holy Scripture says it better:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. (11:1-18, ESV)
We need a return to God. As author and apologist John C. Lennox, professor of mathematics, University of Oxford, says, “[O]ur only hope [is] in a return to the confidence in God and his power that characterized the early Christians, whose lives were defined by their fundamental credo: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’” (qtd. in Renaissance-the Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness).
At the gate of the year, put your hand into the hand of God and face the darkness of the unknown while knowing God will be there. He is by the side of the suffering and has demonstrated such through the supreme instance of suffering—the cross of Christ. He is in the silent land of the dead. He awaits at the rising of the morning Sun. A child is born. A saint dies. Tragedy occurs. Terrorism strikes. A twig snaps. A star winks in the sky. God is there. We will not fear though the Earth gives way and the mountains be moved. Though the waters roar, the nations rage, and the kingdoms totter, the Lord is with us. At the gate of the year, hear Him say, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, ESV).