God Moves in a Mysterious Way

This coming Sunday we arrive at Genesis 37 and the story of Jospeh, a story that will span the remaining thirteen chapters of the book. Nearly everyone is familiar with Joseph’s story — if not from the biblical account then through the silly and sarcastic play, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” Unfortunately, because we know the end of Joseph’s story — glory, fame, and riches — we can often gloss over the real-time suspense and, at times, agony that Joseph surely felt.

I think especially of Joseph’s traumatic early years. As a young man, Joseph was beaten by his brothers and sold into slavery to the Egyptians. In Egypt, he found short-term favor until he was falsely accused of sexual assault. Wrongly condemned, Joseph, the innocent, became ‘Joseph, the incarcerated’ and, given the severity of his charges, it was unlikely that he would ever be released.

This is Joseph! Remember: Jacob’s son, heir of all God’s promises to Israel, and the one that God promised to exalt above all his brothers. Humanly speaking, Egypt was never part of the plan, much less prison. Who could have known this was all part of God’s sovereign plan? 

But, wait. That’s not what I mean. 

We do know God is sovereign over Joseph’s sufferings. But, Joseph’s beating, enslavement, wrongful conviction and imprisonment don’t feel right. We stop and consider his circumstances and it doesn’t feel like God is sovereign. Rather, to us, the readers, it appears as though God has relinquished his sovereignty and arbitrarily allowed Joseph to suffer at the hands of evil men.

What We Know and What We Feel

“God is sovereign.” That phrase rolls off my tongue like water over Niagara Falls. It is my knee-jerk response to setbacks and sufferings. And I mean it. I believe it. Truly. 

But, for as easy as it is for me to affirm God’s sovereignty, when I am suffering I struggle to feel, trust, or rest in God’s goodness. In other words, despite my knowledge of God’s sovereignty, my sufferings often cause me to doubt his love and promise to work all things for my good. 

This is what suffering does, it draws out the tension between our professed theology and our practical theology. Your professed theology is what you say you believe to be true about God. Your practical theology is what you actually do when the rubber meets the road in the nitty-gritty of life. For example, my professed theology is that God is present everywhere at all times, but by my practical theology I often live as if God were not actually present in every moment of my day. I know he is but, a lot of the time, I feel (and therefore act) like he isn’t. Does that make sense?

Suffering uniquely exposes the disparity between what we affirm intellectually about God and how we actually live based on what we feel is true about him. In other words, a theologically sound mind doesn’t negate a skeptical heart.

So, how do we bring our practical theology into conformity with our professed theology? How do we sink theological truths so deep into our hearts that when sufferings strike we instinctively know and feel that God is sovereignly good?

One way: we sing.

The Power of Song

Singing marries the head and the heart by uniting biblical realities with the emotive power of music causing us to feel rightly about God’s truth. Good songs help us reconcile our professed theology and our practical theology.

This happened for me recently in a fresh way. 

A couple months ago, as I was anticipating our Genesis series — and Joseph’s story in particular — I recalled a few lines from William Cowper’s hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” The lyrics “behind a frowning providence [God] hides a smiling face” struck me. Not only did they speak to what I was seeing in Genesis, they also resonated with what I was experiencing personally and the sufferings I had seen so many of you, my brothers and sisters at Cities Church, enduring. The lyrics met me where I was at, feeling much like Joseph likely did — imprisoned and abandoned by God — and the words lifted my eyes to God’s enduring faithfulness and eternal wisdom. Then, knowing so many of the struggles and sufferings of our people, I had a strong sense that our church needed to sing this song; that we needed the renewed perspective these lyrics offered.

So, having never heard the original tune to “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” I decided to sit down, grab my guitar, and begin working on a new arrangement that would capture the hopeful weightiness of Cowper’s lyrics. Over the next several weeks I worked out a melody that fit and added a chorus that, I think, captures the heartbeat of the hymn.

Below, you’ll find the full lyrics for my version of “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” as well as a rough iPhone recording of me playing through it. My prayer is that this song would serve our church or, more pointedly, that it would serve you. My hope is that you would sing it and that the Holy Spirit would help you love God’s sovereignty over your suffering. I pray you would be filled with fresh faith in his ultimate purposes for your good. I pray that this song will move your practical theology at least one step closer to your professed theology, especially in the midst of your pain. It certainly has for me.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way
William Cowper, Nick Aufenkamp

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

Verse 2
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will

Chorus
Oh how deep is your wisdom, God
You’re just and true in all your ways
In every trial you prove your love
You are good, always

Verse 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

Verse 4
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust him for his grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

Chorus

Verse 5
His purposes shall ripen fast Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower

Verse 6
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain
God is his own interpreter
And he will make it plain
God is his own interpreter
And he will make it plain

Chorus