God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
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.
Judge not the lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
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.
-William Cowper, “Light Shining out of Darkness”
The man who wrote these words lived a tragic life. His mother died when he was six. He was in love with his cousin at a young age but was barred from marrying her by her father. Neither ever married. He suffered from severe depression his entire life, attempting suicide multiple times. During some of his breakdowns, he was convinced that he was damned to hell for eternity and believed that God was asking him to take his own life as a sacrifice. He died as he lived, hopeless and despairing.
But out of this tragic figure flowed poetry which has lifted souls to soaring heights for centuries. This hymn has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. What a fascinating human being. His writing is made all the more beautiful by knowing his background. People are drawn to this kind of person. One of his closest friends was pastor and reformed slave trader John Newton, who penned “Amazing Grace.” John Piper, when preparing a lecture on him, wrote:
“I devoted about three days from waking till sleeping to William Cowper, besides leisurely reading of his poetry up till that time. Those three days I was almost entirely outside myself as it were. Now and then I "came to" and became aware that I had been absorbed wholly in the life of another. But most of the time I was not self-conscious. I was not thinking about me at all.”So often are beautiful lives carved out of unfortunate circumstances. Out of struggle, and longsuffering, and pain. As Christians, there is often pressure to be cheerful and rejoicing at all times. “Smile, Jesus loves you!” Well, sometimes, I don’t freaking feel like it. Is that okay? Sometimes the futility of life and the weight of the world take its toll. Sometimes it is hard to feel the way we are "supposed" to feel. Sometimes what we know in our heads refuses to travel the twelve inches down to our hearts. Some people are able to ignore those doubts or, even better, bear them with some otherworldly display of grace. I am not one of those people.
Is it beneficial to hide how we feel? I mean, it is not realistic to respond to every "How are you?" with "Oh God the world is eating my face," but some people are so practiced at faking happiness that they convince even themselves of it. Maybe that is where happiness comes from to begin with. But how much weight does that brand of happiness carry? The Jesus I picture is a burdened, heavy hearted individual, aware of the weight of his responsibility. I find that quality to greatly magnify the beauty of his existence.
I wonder if William Cowper or any number of artists would trade away their suffering if it meant the loss of their art. If it meant living carefree but trivial lives. Sometimes I wonder if I purposely dwell on the darker facets of existence in an attempt to imbue some kind of deeper meaning into what I do. So far I have only discovered that I cannot force myself to be an optimist, or an extrovert. What end will come from who I am I do not yet know.