I’m sure most hymn lovers are familiar with a guy by the name of John Newton. If not, you will recognize his famous hymn Amazing Grace (you know, the one I said I’d never interpret?). Well, I’m holding true to my word.
John Newton wrote several other songs, and from what I’ve seen, they’re all pretty good. Nothing carries the weight of Amazing Grace, but how do you follow up something like that? It’s kind of like that whole mountaintop experience. Once a person reaches that high point, be it spiritually, at a job, or wherever, sometimes all the rest of life is spent trying to maintain or achieve that greatness again. Now, I’m not saying that John Newton lived out his days trying to find that old glory again. Honestly, I have no idea. This particular song was written the same year (1779) as his magnum opus, so I’m not speaking to Newton’s life, but more to the common life that maybe you’ve experienced.
This song is one that I’ve stumbled across and meditated on for the past week. It has spoken to me in some seriously powerful ways, as I’ve really been walking a dark road as of late. There is a part of me that feels obligated to put on this spiritual-Superman facade for the sake of my family, my wife, and especially my kids. However, I don’t have the strength to pretend to have it all together, and I certainly don’t.
If I may be completely honest, I’m struggling to even want to trust God in many ways. The only reason I can is simply because I know that I have to. I grew up in church, began following Christ at an early age, and have spent my share of time living the wayward, back-slidden, drugged-out lifestyle. I’ve seen enough in my lifetime to know beyond a doubt that the God of the Bible is also the God of the universe. So to walk away now would be fatal. I can’t honestly look the King of Kings in the face and tell Him where to go. It sounds almost negative, but I have no other choice but to trust God.
Now let me be clear: this is not a bad thing. Freewill has always been a hot debate in Christian circles. One of my favorite arguments is concerning Saul of Tarsus. While he was on his way to kill a bunch of Christians, Jesus Himself shows up, all but smacks Saul in the face, literally blinds him, and asks him what he is doing. At this point, did Saul have any choice but to follow Him? I would say yes, but it was made abundantly clear that it would be a very bad choice. It’s like poring orange juice on your breakfast cereal. You could do it, but it’s a no-brainer. You just don’t do that.
My choice has been very clear as of late. Yeah, I could turn my back on God. I could throw Him overboard and appoint myself as captain of my destiny. But this would be a bad decision. I know that as surely as the sun rises in the east that God is infinitely more capable of being in charge than I am. I don’t have to like the way He is doing His job, but I’m not His supervisor, either.
People often discuss whether or not we should question God. I think it comes down to how we question. I don’t believe it is wrong to ask why. We are curious, after all, and our lives are affected. However, the problem comes in when we question God’s sovereignty and God’s ability to manage a situation. I may not like what He’s up to right now, but I will follow, because despite the circumstances right now, God has proven Himself worthy to be trusted.
I may have just said more than enough, so with that, here’s my rendering of Newton’s classic “Be Gone, Unbelief,” which I would say today is one of my favorite hymns ever!
I know that I know that Christ is with me, and
I know that I know that He is at work.
Despite the forces weighing in against me,
Despite the fires that long to consume me,
I know that my Lord will not permit me to fall.
Though darkness may creep in from all sides, and
Blackness as deep as death itself may shake its fist;
Though water may be rushing over the bow of the ship, and
All others around me fall victim to the scourge;
The Lord has spoken. The Lord will prevail.
The circumstances cannot dictate His love.
If I look only at what I can see,
If I determine His love based on my feelings,
It becomes clear that God must hate me.
Clearly, my feelings are not a worthy guide.
God will lead. How can I but follow?
God will lead. Can I even turn aside?
Surely I could choose to leave formation, but
Only to walk into the depths of hell itself.
Yes, I can leave, but only at my peril.
The eternal God has proven Himself eternally faithful.
His love isn’t dictated by my perception.
Struggles abound, just as He has promised.
His love never guaranteed a safe passage,
But most assuredly a complete one.
Doubtless, the questions abound. Why falls from my lips.
Why, God, why!? But never past that.
Who do you think you are, God? He is I AM.
Indeed, He is God. And without Him, I am nothing.
This is His world. By His grace, I am in it.
My suffering is assured this side of eternity, but
My suffering will end because of the cross.
Christ ransomed me from the torments of hell,
Christ suffered here, that I may not suffer there.
Who am I to question such grace?
All things are at work to produce my eternal good.
These trials are but medicine to bring it to pass.
I will struggle now; fight and travail,
Knowing that the worst of what this world has for me
Is nothing compared to the best that I will inherit forever.
Check out this original gem in its entirety here.