Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mysterious Ways

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

                        Isaiah 40.28 


In 1779, the British psalmist William Cowper published an anthology of poems that included “Light Shining Out of Darkness.” The first stanza reads: “God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.” Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) was well acquainted with life’s turbulence. Chronic bouts of depression shuttled him in and out of insane asylums, which were little more than holding tanks for people incapacitated by mental disorders. Mystery shrouded their conditions and what caused them, leaving their attempted cures rooted in superstition rather than science. Physicians in Cowper’s day diagnosed depression as “melancholia,” a symptom of bile-polluted “black blood” typically treated with bleedings. At best, the therapy temporarily calmed patients’ anxieties by making them too weak to worry. But as their physical strength returned, their darkness accompanied it.

Cowper managed his depression by embracing God’s will—a mystery far greater and more impenetrable than his disease. Bereft of reasons for his suffering or means to eliminate it, he summoned faith to explain and ease it. His poem drew on God’s declaration in Isaiah 55.9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” When dark storms buffeted him, Cowper anchored himself by knowing he couldn’t know why God allowed his troubles. Yet concession to God’s elusive purpose built the poet’s confidence in His inescapable presence in his depths of depression and His incomparable power to carry him safely through each storm. Although Cowper couldn’t explain this any better than his struggles, faith and experience taught him difficulties we can’t control or comprehend are the mysterious ways God works wonders we can’t imagine.

Don’t You Know?

Only fools expect to sail through life on tranquil seas. Without warning, we get swept into violent currents with dangerous undertows threatening to drag us under. At other times, we spot dreadful tumults on the horizon. We may try to avoid them by stalling in hopes they’ll dissipate. When they don’t, we steady our nerves, steel our faith, and steer through them. Like Cowper, we counter natural impulse to ask, “Why? Why? Why?” with unnatural trust in God’s mysterious ways of performing marvelous wonders. We can stare at looming trouble and rely on human instinct to navigate it, or we can dare to look into God’s Word, where answers we can’t see on our own are plainly visible in black and white.

“Don’t you know?” Isaiah challenges us. “Haven’t you heard? God is everlasting.” He survives. He’s the Creator of the ends of the earth, Isaiah says. Nothing in the world—no problem, power, or person—is beyond His reach and outside His jurisdiction. After His transformation from mortal human to resurrected Christ, Jesus tells His followers “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” and leaves them with this promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28.18, 20) When He enters trouble with us, any doubt we’ll come out alive is moot. We stop trembling in panic at the storm and rest in confidence as we watch Him work.

Tireless and Unfathomable

Some storms seem too relentless to end. They batter us past the point of exhaustion. Left to us, their ferocity would carry us off to be lost at sea or drowned beneath. But our storms are God’s media for miracles, and according to Isaiah, He’s as tireless in His methods as His mind is unfathomable. He doesn’t give up until He finishes what He intended by creating storms to guide us through. His reasoning is too deep to delve, yet we invariably survive storms with more knowledge, experience, and faith than we possessed before we faced them. We always come out awestruck by what God does for us—and through us—during the storm.

Cowper’s storms produced dozens of timeless hymns that strengthen believers to this day. It’s highly unlikely he imagined the far-reaching impact his poems would have as he put pen to paper. Quite possibly, he left this life never knowing the full extent of why he suffered. Centuries later, however, we clearly recognize God’s purpose. All Cowper knew was God moves in mysterious ways, and rather than allow man’s solution for his depression to bleed him dry, he dealt with it by moving as God moves. We’ll never completely know why trouble comes or all of what will come out of it. But when God moves mysteriously, moving with Him is the safest, sanest option we have.

After opening yesterday’s post with a Beatles reference, I’m reluctant to finish today’s with U2’s “Mysterious Ways” video. Yet it speaks directly to embracing the mystery of God’s ways by encouraging a guy named Johnny to follow his sister’s example of moving as His Spirit moves.

(Tomorrow: Daily Denial)


Prudence said...

Video worked perfectly. Loving all of it.

Tim said...

Pru, couldn't imagine you wouldn't, knowing how familiar you are with mysterious ways! Thanks for the comment.

Peace and joy,