The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: G

Previous Index Next

God moves in a mysterious way

I would like to consider one of my favorite hymns. It was 92 in the old hymnbook, and 142 in the new one.

1. God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

2. Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

3. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take.
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

4. His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

5. Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
This hymn was written by William Cowper -- who was not a Christadelphian, and in fact believed many "false doctrines"; but as a beautiful statement of the providence of God this hymn is -- in my opinion -- without parallel.

Cowper (pronounced "Cooper") lived in the eighteenth century; throughout his life he was physically frail and emotionally sensitive. At an early age he suffered a mental breakdown and attempted suicide, because of the pressures of school work. He spent time in a mental institution. In later years he continued to be plagued by bouts with depression. But in the times between such spells, he devoted himself to reading the Bible, and composed many hymns characterized by a strikingly vivid use of Scriptural imagery. (In our new hymnbook, his hymns are also found in Numbers 244 and 317.)

Another hymn by Cowper which I find particularly striking, but which is not included in our hymnbook, is "There is a fountain". I can imagine that it would not be considered for inclusion because of its strong reliance on the imagery of Christ's blood. Such imagery might be thought to be too "emotional" -- although it also has good Bible backing. It contains words such as...

"There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains."
"Too much! Over the top! We should be governed by reason, and not by emotion." That's probably what many Christadelphians would say. And I can appreciate that; we just don't DO that! But at the same time we should note that the symbolism of this hymn is solidly Bible-based:

"On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity" (Zec 13:1).
And that fountain is, of course, the sacrifice of Christ:

"If someone asks him, 'What are these wounds on your body [or 'in thine hands': AV]?' he will answer, 'The wounds I was given at the house of my friends' " (v 6).

Returning to our Hymn 142... notice the progression:

The theme of the hymn (which is based in large part on Job 28) is that, one day, God will make it all plain -- and the things we don't really understand now will be explained in their fullness then. This is not only an idea to be found in Job 28; it is perhaps the main point of the whole Book of Job. It is God's main theme when He finally communicates directly with Job.

The suffering Job asks, "Why? Why?" in ever increasing pain and bewilderment, which finally comes to border on sin, if not cross the line, into anger with God, and bitterness, and an unjustifiable pride in his own "righteousness". (We shouldn't be too hard on Job, however; we haven't come within miles of experiencing the degree and depth of suffering and loss that he did.)

And finally, toward the end of the Book, God reveals Himself to Job. Ironically, He doesn't give Job a point-by-point analysis of the reasons for every loss and every trial Job went through. Instead, God bids Job look at the world around him, with its natural phenomena: "Job, were you there when I created the heavens and the earth? Can YOU feed the wild animals? Can YOU explain how the child grows in the womb? Can YOU tame the mighty beasts and sea-creatures, and get them to do YOUR will?" Etc, etc. In short, and rather crudely paraphrased, God is telling Job: "I AM GOD, AND YOU ARE NOT!"

And evidently, Job finds that answer satisfactory, for he repents "in dust and ashes", and is forgiven for his indiscretions and his speaking against God. And God at last blesses Job once again.

But still, there is no definitive answer from God -- not really -- as to WHY Job needed to suffer as he did. The real answer is, instead: "Job, you let ME worry about that!" The answer is not that much different from the familiar parental answer: the child asks, "Why? Why? Why do I have to go to school? Why do I have to eat my broccoli? Why do I have to go to bed at 8 o'clock? Why? Why?" And the parent says: "Because I said so!" Or... "I'm the parent and you're not!"

Which is another way of saying, "Trust in Me to do the right thing, even with your life, and one day I will explain everything. That will be the day you will be prepared to understand My ways. Until then... why, you just have to have faith!"

A hard answer to accept, because we imagine ourselves very intelligent creatures, and we think we can handle all knowledge, if it is just communicated to us! But we can't, apparently! God tells us, "You can't handle all the truth; I'll tell you what you need to know for now... and the rest will come later."

That's what this hymn is all about.


God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
The image of God's footsteps in the sea is the profound thought of this stanza. Paul concludes a main section of his letter to the Romans with a doxology of praise to God, with these words:

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom 11:33).
The wisdom of God, Paul says, is in the "depths" (of the sea!), and it is "unsearchable" or "mysterious". It is a place where man can scarcely venture, without sinking into oblivion. Just as Peter tried to walk on the water, and sank -- so there are certain depths of knowledge and understanding that we cannot reach, for now. And while Peter's desire to walk on the water to Jesus was commendable, such a walk wasn't meant to be... at that time. Better to remain safe in the boat.

There was a time, however, when Israel did follow the footsteps of God through the sea -- and that was when He led them out of Egypt! Psa 77 alludes to this:

"Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (vv 19,20).
The footprints were not seen, because after the Glory of God led them through the sea bed, the waters closed over their path -- drowning the Egyptian army that attempted to follow them there.

The only way we are safe in the "depths" of the sea is when our Heavenly Father takes us by the hand to lead us, and even then we must stick close to Him -- like the flock of sheep must stick close to the shepherd. Those who attempt to walk through that "sea" on their own initiative, like Pharaoh's army, will surely sink and drown in the "sea" of their own pride and ignorance.


Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Here we get even closer to Job 28 -- which is an extended parable: the miner tunnels underground to find the precious metal ore, or gem stones, which are hidden from ordinary view... "But where can WISDOM be found?" (v 12). It cannot be bought, yet it is worth far more than any precious gems, like diamonds or rubies. "God understands the way to it -- that is, WISDOM -- and he alone knows where it dwells" (v 23). It is buried as far as natural man can see; it is... here's that wonderful word!... "unfathomable". We cannot reach the "depths" where it is hidden!

Elsewhere, however, Job himself has spoken about this theme, for he says, in Job 23:8-10: "But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold."

There is an irony here: wherever Job seeks to find God, he cannot. By this he must mean: "I look for Him like I might seek a man, but... He is never there!" However, even though Job cannot "find" God, Job is never out of God's sight -- God is always with him, seeing him, and watching over every step he takes: "HE knows the way that I take!"

God is always there, though never seen. And all the while Job is asking his questions, and seeming to get no answers, and looking for the face of God, and seeming to find nothing... all that time God is mining, and extracting, that most precious of metals -- GOLD -- out of the life of Job! "When HE has tested me, I will come forth as GOLD!" Out of the "unfathomable" mine of human nature, God is -- by His never-failing skill -- mining and extracting and refining and purifying His own special treasure: the tried faith of His servant Job, which is like gold tried in a furnace (1Pe 1:7)!

So the treasure to be desired, as Job 28 (and Proverbs) says, is "wisdom", but it is not wisdom in the abstract. It is instead wisdom tried and tested, that has traveled in the way of God: "He knows the WAY I take!"

Wisdom is not so much the "object" one finds, somewhere along the way. Rather, it is the "journey" one takes in the quest for that wisdom! It is by the journey of our lives in the Truth, and out of that journey, that God Himself -- in His wisdom, His "bright design", His "sovereign will" -- extracts the "treasure" He is seeking: a character that has been put to the test, and purified, and prepared for eternity with Him.

God's work of "creation" did not end on the sixth day; it is an ongoing work of "creation" (called in the New Testament the "new creation"), whereby we are being turned into something worth preserving, something worth God's love and time and effort. "Behold, I create all things new!" And that includes US!


Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take.
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
From a discussion of "wisdom" being mined out of the earth, the Book of Job moves to a consideration of the heavens. Elihu finally speaks, and he describes a God who is beyond our understanding -- even as the phenomena of the sky is beyond our understanding, or control:

"How great is God -- beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out. He draws up the drops of water, which distill from the mist as rain; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? See how he scatters his lightning about him, bathing the depths of the sea" (Job 36:26-30).

The clouds bring rain, which nourishes the earth, and thereby nourishes man. But those clouds can be frightening, even to the "saints" of God! In Job 37, Elihu seems to be describing -- in great detail -- an approaching storm (vv 1-5,11-13; etc). Closer and closer it comes, and fiercer and fiercer grow its manifestations, until... finally... God Himself speaks out of the storm (Job 38:1)!

The scene here is similar to the one described in 1Ki 19, where the prophet Elijah has fled for his life to mount Horeb, or Sinai. There he experiences a "theophany" -- a manifestation of God which is frightening in the extreme: a great and terrible wind (a tornado?) tears the mountains apart, and a savage earthquake shakes them even further. Then comes the great fire (lightning?) -- so that the prophet flees into the cave to escape. And all this to introduce Yahweh Himself, who finally speaks... in "a still, small voice", or by a "gentle breeze".

The way God acts, in the world at large and with the nations, OR in the individual trials of each of our lives, can seem -- at first -- to be fearsome, like the rumbling of thunder or the crash of lightning! But we find, in time, that the "clouds" we so much dreaded are in fact filled with... the mercy of God, and that all that He does is, ultimately, for our blessing. When He speaks to us in the gentle voice, then we understand that all that went before was for our good (Rom 8:28) -- and that He is truly in charge, and has a design and a purpose for each of us, in every particular.


His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
The parable of the farmer and the seed and the harvest -- found throughout Scripture, in many forms -- is the basis of this stanza.

The farmer must sow his seed, and then trust in God to bring the sun, and the rains, at the proper time, in order to produce a harvest -- even though he cannot understand how it all works together (Ecc 11:1,5,6).

The family, down to their last stores of grain, must sow in faith -- trusting that God will give them an increase to support their lives (Psa 126:5,6).

The preacher of the gospel must cast his "seed" into all kinds of soil, trusting that some of it will take root and produce a good harvest (Mat 4; Mark 4).

The single kernel of wheat (Jesus Christ himself) must fall into the ground, and DIE, before it can produce the harvest of much grain (those who, in faith, partake of that life) (John 12:23-28).

And, for each of us, discipline and correction from God -- though unpleasant -- WILL "produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:11). The "bud" may be exceedingly "bitter", but the "flower" -- the final result -- will be "sweet" beyond our reckoning.


Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan [ie, observe] His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
God WILL make it all plain, in His own time. What we need is patience, and faith, and trust in Him. What we need also is a recognition that all the answers are not immediately available -- that we may need to WAIT for them to be given to us! What we need is the willingness to LET GO (of our own desires, and our own timetable, and our own preconceived ideas of "how things ought to be"), and LET GOD... let God decide how, and when, and where to try us, and to mold us, and to discipline us -- for He alone knows best what we need.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1Co 13:12).

"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he [Christ] appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1Jo 3:2).

"These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev 7:14-17).
Previous Index Next