Theology of a Song – God Moves in a Mysterious Way
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” – Isaiah 55:8
As Toby was preaching on Matthew 1:18-25 this week, I was freshly reminded and enamored with God’s plans for all of time. Jesus did not come to this world in the way that was expected of a King. He came into this world, in fact, in the way that was least expected. Had the story of the gospel been made up in order to fool people into believing Jesus was the Messiah, why in the world would Matthew make up a story about a virgin birth? It makes no sense. But it’s not made up. It’s the very way that God intended it to be. Jesus came into the world humbly in the way that no one expected (except the prophets) because God moves in mysterious ways. His ways are higher, deeper, wider, and more lofty than we could ever know. That fact, my friends, should give us much hope that God will work in wondrous ways, no matter the circumstance.
William Cowper’s hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, encapsulates his clinging to the above thought while he dealt with crippling depression in the year 1773. He writes:
God Moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
What Cowper remembered is that, in their deepest need, God never failed His people. When they cried out to Him whilst enslaved in Egypt (Ex. 2:23), He rose up to save them. When they came to the Red Sea, their backs pressed up against the waters while their enemies surrounded them on the shore, God parted the waters and delivered them decisively and triumphantly. God saves in His timing, for His purpose, so that He would be glorified.
Cowper continues on in his hymn to write:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
The Psalms show us that it is not only okay, but it is good to ask the question: “Why?” or “How long?” But the Psalmists always ask these questions with the knowledge that God has made a promise, and His promises never fail. David, in Psalm 13 cries out to the Lord with questions, pleading that the Lord answer Him. But he ends by stating: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation, I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:5-6). I can imagine that Cowper wrestled with the same questions, and that he was tempted to feel that God was against him. Much like David, Cowper ends with the truth He knows about God. That He has has been more gracious than could ever be deserved, and that God delights in His people. Behind every situation of pain, and sadness in the Christian life, God is smiling on His people.
Cowper finishes his final verse giving hope to us who have hoped in Christ.
His purposes will ripen fast unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Friends, there is hope. God’s purposes are unfolding every hour as He works His will. Though this life is full of toils and troubles, Paul reminds us that “…this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). The bud may be bitter now, but when we reach the celestial shore of God’s new garden, we will see and savor the sweetness of the flower.
Here is a recording of a re-imagined version of this sweet hymn, written by my older brother, Nick Aufenkamp. I hope it is an encouragement to your day.
Wherever you are during this Christmas season, I encourage you to stop for a moment and savor these truths: that God is at work currently, redeeming, restoring, and creating life and light in the darkness. That God is smiling on you because of Christ, even on the darkest of your days. And that God will one day make the bitter bud into a sweet flower. What a mysterious, and wonderful God we have to place our hope.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23