The Mysterious Ways of God
John Newton, whose life we looked at yesterday, mentored a man called William Cowper (1731–1800). Cowper had experienced tragedy. His mother died when he was six. His father died while Cowper was still young. He was educated at Westminster School and qualified as a barrister. Outwardly he was successful. However, he suffered from serious depression. When applying for an administrative post in the House of Lords that entailed a formal examination, he was so disturbed by the prospect of the exam he attempted suicide. For the rest of his life he suffered from mental illness and was sometimes confined to asylums.
When he was in his thirties, Cowper came under the care of John Newton. Newton encouraged Cowper to compose hymns. He wrote powerfully of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. In 1774 he suffered such a severe episode of mental illness that he was prevented from entering his intended marriage to Mary Unwin. He was crestfallen. Shortly afterwards, in perhaps his most famous hymn, he wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way.
His wonders to perform
God is good. God is love. God loves you. God has revealed himself in Jesus. All this we know. Then you read passages in the Bible that don’t seem to fit with your understanding of God. You have experiences in life that don’t seem to fit either.
You cannot put God in a box. He is far greater than you could ever conceive. Some passages in the Bible are mysterious. Jesus said on one occasion, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand’ (John 13:7). Sometimes that understanding may come in our lifetime. Some things we will only understand when we meet the Lord.
How should you respond to the mysterious ways of God?
Be honest with God
Psalm 74:1-9There are sometimes occasions in life when we feel that God has rejected us. This experience is also common in the history of the people of God. This psalm opens with this question: ‘Why have you rejected us forever, O God?’ (v.1).
Sometimes it may seem as if God is silent and not intervening to help you in any way. As the psalmist says, ‘There’s not a sign or symbol of God in sight, nor anyone to speak in his name, no one who knows what’s going on’ (v.9, MSG).
When you go through times like this, you never know ‘how long’ this will be (v.9). You might have questions about why a part of your life is working out as it is. Or perhaps you just feel that God is distant. St John of the Cross referred to these times as ‘the dark night of the soul’.
What should you do in times like this?
- Ask the questions
The psalmist does not beat around the bush. He pours out his heart to God. He asks God the difficult questions. ‘You walked off and left us, and never looked back. God, how could you do that? We’re your very own sheep; how can you stomp off in anger?’ (v.1, MSG).
- Ask for answers
‘Refresh your memory of us … you actually lived here once! Come and visit the site of disaster …’ (vv.2–3, MSG).
You are not alone when you have these kinds of experiences and emotions. One of the great blessings of the psalms is that you can turn to them in times of mysterious suffering and echo these prayers in your heart.
Lord, thank you that I can be honest with you when I pray and pour out my heart to you. Thank you that I am not alone when I experience the dark night of the soul within, or external problems and struggles. Thank you that at times like these I can echo the prayers of the psalmist.