On God as His Own Interpreter

It is always easy upon reflection of a talk or sermon to identify something that I wish I had said. In the case of my recent talk on scripture’s authority, though, I really regret not including some comments on William Cowper. Friend of John Newton and a famous depressive, Cowper wrote many excellent hymns. God Moves in a Mysterious Way stands as one of the finest:

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 sov’reign 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 flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The hymn concludes with the comforting assertion that the confusion of the world finds God as its final interpreter. Because God is sovereign the troubling aspects of his providence are reflections of his will, and we must trust him in his infinite wisdom to interpret his providential actions. Cowper recognized that just as God, through Christ, is the ultimate interpreter of scripture, God, through Christ, is the ultimate interpreter of the events unfolding in creation. Creation as the general self-revelation of God has Christ as its firstborn, creator, and sustainer. It is through and to Christ that all things in creation are being reconciled (Colossians 1:15-20).

The definitive, interpretive grid upon creation’s circumstances and history is movement towards fulfillment in Christ. We can not see all the ways in which this is happening (“judge not the Lord by feeble sense”) or may rage against God for meaning (“and scan His work in vain”), but meaning is ultimately provided in creation by Christ, with Jesus himself being the telos. God is his own interpreter of creation, just as he is of his word, by and through the person of Christ. We may not always understand why what happens does, but we can trust God because he acted through and for Jesus.