We’ve identified the theme of opposition in our recent study of Nehemiah, leading me to dust off an old story about this very theme. The novel is Witch Wood, a classic about two kingdoms at war: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.
Written by Scottish author James Buchan, Witch Wood is a story about fighting the good fight and standing on the promises of God amid hostility and conflict. It helps us see the nuances of opposition through a gospel lense.
Set in the 1600s, Witch Wood centers on David Sempill, a young, idealistic pastor who arrives in the rural Scottish town of Woodilee to assume his first pastorate. He has great expectations for ministry. He sings as he first approaches his parish and weeps with worshipful joy when he first sits down in his study closet.
Yet a foreshadowing comes to David in the words of one of the townspeople: “You see the ills of the land and make haste to redd (bring order to) them, but you have no great notion of what [evil] is possible.”
What follows is a minister’s journey from naiveté to experience. David‘s sermons and calls for repentance go unheeded by his congregation. He struggles constantly against his own sin, questioning the promises of God. His ministry dreams dashed upon the rock of reality, he considers fleeing the church. David becomes a fully formed character with virtues propelled by God and vices that he knows must be constantly surrendered to God.
David then learns that some in his congregation are stealing away into the nearby woods to revel in pagan rituals. Their identities remain a mystery, but David knows they sit among the worship services and elder board. His righteous anger rages against the wickedness and hypocrisy.
In his fight against this pagan worship, David leans into the promise of God that his fight is not of flesh and blood, but of the principalities and powers in this dark world. Even in his weaknesses, David fights to surrender himself to God and to persevere despite physical and spiritual opposition. He believes in his Father’s power to overcome evil and the call on his life to “hate what is evil and love what is good.”
David’s fight for the promises of God leads to a myriad of ministry disappointments: He is shunned, attacked, censured, neglected and blamed. As one reviewer states, “making a clear allusion to the ministry of Jesus Christ, the narrator avers that although [David] had the ‘publican and sinners’ on his side, ‘the Pharisees and scribes were against him.’”
This leads to a climactic encounter with the head elder who has been practicing the pagan rituals. David drags him into the wood, pleading with him to make a final choice between God and the devil.
Eventually, David’s anger turns to meekness as he is stripped of all his worldly gain. He comes to embody the cost of Christian ministry and stands as example to us all as he shines light in the darkness of the wood by displaying Christ’s love and fervor in sacrificing himself for the ungodly, certain of God’s promises.