Monday, February 25, 2008

the birds their carols raise

We’ve been talking about creation in our Monday night Bible study. It’s led to some very broad and challenging topics—the nature and character of God, the problem of evil in the world (viz. Job), the Fall, the resurrection, evolution, predestination, eschatology, and so forth. Tonight we touched on most of those. At the end, we spent time in worship with the hymn from which the following verses are taken:
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.
The first of these two verses is often the concluding verse in hymnals. The latter I had never seen until I searched on Cyberhymnal (somewhat justifiably, because although the text isn’t bad, it doesn’t scan well with the traditional tune).

When I was younger, I thought the phrase “though the wrong seems oft so strong” meant that, when we are making choices, the wrong option is frequently attractive. “God is the ruler”, and so we should take that into account when we are trying to make the right choice. The context of the verse shows that, rather, a fundamental question is being addressed: why are things still going wrong all around us? It answers only with hope: we have plenteous evidence of God’s presence, not least in the natural world, and we have faith that Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s sovereignty will conquer at last sin, and death, and sorrow. (Another line reads, “This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?”) This is the constant problem one finds people in the Bible facing, particularly in Job, Ecclesiastes, and the psalms: why do the wicked prosper? And usually the only answer we receive is that God is waiting for the proper time to intervene and stop the world with its suffering. Not good enough, we want to say. But when we turn from the question of why is God allowing these things to why are we carrying them out, we have to face some dark features of ourselves. We can’t fix them; somehow, we can’t stop ourselves from being bad. We will need God. Maybe he’s just waiting for us to realize that. Once we do, we realize that all we ever needed was God.

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