Meditation on a Hymn – God Moves in a Mysterious Way

  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 sov’reign 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. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    but trust him for his grace;
    behind a frowning providence
    he hides a smiling face.

    5. His purposes will ripen fast,
    unfolding ev’ry hour;
    the bud may have a bitter taste,
    but sweet will be the flow’r.

    6. Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    and scan his work in vain;
    God is his own interpreter,
    and he will make it plain.

Have you ever gone through some physical or mental suffering that has left you wondering what God is doing in your life?

William Cowper, the author of ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way’, was familiar with these feelings. He suffered depression and even attempted suicide because of the mental anguish he went through.

This hymn is a beautiful description of how Christian’s should view the providence of God in times of grief and pain.

The hymn can be considered in three sections of two verses.

Firstly, we sing of the fact that God’s plans and purposes are beyond our understanding. They are as deep as the ocean as God “plants His footsteps in the sea”, as high as the storm clouds and as unfathomable as deep mines dug into the earth. But, despite the incomprehensibility of God’s plans, we declare that they are “wonders”, “bright designs”, full of “never-failing skill”.

Cowper’s language seems to be playing off Paul’s declaration in Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and how inscrutable His ways!”

Our knowledge of God’s mysterious ways must prompt us to a response. We sing about that in the next two verses. There are three commands that we sing to one another in these verses: take courage, don’t judge the Lord by your own understanding, and trust God for his grace.

It is easy to know and say these actions to ourselves, but it is another thing to live them. It is so difficult to do because the sorrows of this world look like great clouds that we dread. The suffering we experience looks like a frowning providence. But we must remember that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). The sufferings we go through will result in an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor4:17).

As we sing the 5th verse, we reinforce our knowledge and hope that God is working for our good even through difficult circumstances. Our life may contain bitter times but we trust that sweetness will bloom from the gloom. In the last verse we return to the idea that God’s ways are mysterious. We cannot see what God is doing through our sufferings and if we don’t trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God, we will “scan His work in vain”. Instead, we must hope in God whose “understanding is unsearchable” (Is 40:28) knowing that He will reveal His purposes in His time.

– Tom Eglinton