Monday, December 30, 2013

A trusting heart

Kevin White at Mere Orthodoxy on William Cowper's God Moves in a Mysterious Way, one of the finest hymn lyrics:
Cowper
.... William Cowper lived a tragically sorrowful life. At what should have been a triumphant moment in his career, he fell into a suicidal depression. For the rest of his life, he was plagued by years-long spells of depression and delusion. Some of his delusions were too horrifying to relate here. John Newton’s sermon at Cowper’s funeral gives a frank account, though it is, I repeat, a disturbing read.

Cowper wrote this particular hymn around the time of the onset of one of his relapses, the one that Newton mentions as beginning in 1773.  When he writes of dreadful clouds and “a frowning providence,” he describes the oncoming storm in his heart and mind. He speaks, in short, from the place of grievous experience. ....
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Cowper forthrightly sets the theme of the song: the mystery of God and His providence. We cannot see His reasoning or plans, even if something of His broader purpose has been revealed. ....
White provides good commentary on each of the verses, from which I have selected only a few of his paragraphs. Continuing with the verses:
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will. ....

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
The dreadful cloud is full to bursting, and its storm will surely break on your head. But beyond the ominous outward appearances, there is mercy even in the thundercloud and blessings in the oncoming storm. The mercies and blessings may not be readily visible, but the eye that sees the divine goodness, as we shall see, is the eye that sees with faith.

This is where the context of Cowper’s suffering is vital. This is no saccharine promise of gaining your best life now. .... It comes from a man who has known despair in its most irrational of depths, but still girds himself to trust in God’s good providence.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Cowper speaks directly. Trust in the God of grace, and do not judge the Lord by outward appearances. Here Cowper says no more than what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:17-18:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
The trusting heart can understand what cannot be seen. The breakers and waves may cover you. The fierce storm may break out on your head. It may feel as if God is frowning over you. These are all too visible to the eye. But the wisdom of the matter is, at present, hidden in God’s deep mines. It remains unseen, along with the divine smile, because it rest in the Eternal One.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower. ....

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
Now Cowper comes to the bottom line. His words about unbelief are not meant to be a slur on those who lack faith. Rather, it is to say that God’s purposes can only be perceived from the perspective of a well-formed faith. It is similar with human relationships. If things look bad, we will only believe, or even listen to, someone’s explanation if we are already inclined to trust them.

Cowper is, in essence, suggesting the posture of “faith seeking understanding.” Unless we begin with a posture of trust, informed by God’s public revelation in Scripture, we will not see the broader picture. .... [more]
Related: Leading from the Pit (of Depression): How Can You Be a Spiritual Leader When You Can't Get out of Bed?

Reading the Hymns: God Moves In a Mysterious Way | Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture