lyrics for living 6 (but this i know)

When things get tough I try to look in two directions.

One is horizontal. Maybe chronological is a better word. I bring to mind the way God works with a 24 hour day and how dawn follows midnight. Always. Without Fail. Then in many countries, far from the equator, He works with a 4 season year. Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter. But then ... always ... without fail ... spring follows winter. What is true in the rhythm of creation is true in the rhythm of the new creation. The 24 and the 4 breathe hope into my life during difficult times.

The other direction is vertical. Deep though the pain may be, deeper still there is a God who is true and real and faithful. Ten years ago - last month - I began my message at the funeral of a young woman, who had a brain tumour accompany her through her entire (almost) life, with these words:

"There is this hymn that I love…
 The first line of every verse starts the same way: 'I cannot tell'
       …as if to say
                    I don’t understand
                    It is beyond me
                    I just don’t know
Then… further down – half way through the very same verses 
each time, there comes a response: 'But this I know'
       …as if to say
                   I am sure
                   I rest my life on this
                   I am convinced of this
The words in the hymn are great.

But it is actually the way these phrases are arranged 
on the page that gets me every time.
      The very fact that they even coexist…
       - 'I cannot tell' & 'But this I know' -
       and hang out together in the same verse is remarkable
                   - just like with life -
And then more subtly, the ‘But this I know’ always lies deeper and lower 
in the verse & on the page it is the foundational phrase
                   - just like in life it can be, as well -
By way of Reflection this morning I want to focus 
on the deeper and the foundational: the ‘But this I know' ... "

Here is another young woman (her name is Hope!) singing this hymn:

Ten years ago - next year - I visited Zambia with my son, Martin. Two days after returning to New Zealand I was to speak at a World Vision Prayer Day. I remember feeling panic, as I had no idea what to say. But then God dropped an idea into my mind. I had been immersed in the sadness of Meredith's State of Africa as I traveled and also the Psalms of Ascent. 

These psalms are borne in pain. I decided to hold these distressing stories of African nations emerging from colonization in one hand and these Psalms in the other hand. Context and Text. Just how I like the conversation to be in my heart and mind. I read bits from the book and then read bits from the Bible. Zambia - Psalm 120 - deceit. Rwanda - Psalm 121 - fear. Sudan - Psalm 122 - war ... On we went, through the countries and through the psalms ... even USA/UN/France - Psalm 130 - guilt.

When they engage with these stories, Christians around the world get knotted, and ask, "Where is God in all this pain? Has God left Africa?" But I didn't hear Christians in Africa asking those questions so much. They kept on worshiping God. But sometimes I thought I could hear them wanting to articulate, "Where are God's people - our brothers and sisters - in all this?" 

Oh yes, the worship weeps - but deeper down the worship knows certain things to be true about God. The experience changed me. I came home with a vibrant testimony of 'I cannot tell, but this I know' which will shape my life for forever. The pain is real. The suffering is huge. Don't minimise it. I cannot get my head and heart around it. But deep though the pain may be, there is something deeper going on. Down through the pain there is Someone else. 

Just as with the hymn, down lower and further in these Psalms can be found truths to know for sure. Psalm 120 and the God who saves. Psalm 121 and the God who protects. Psalm 122 and the God who peace-keeps. Psalm 123 and the God who shows mercy. Psalm 124 and the God who helps. Psalm 129 and the God who judges. Psalm 130 and the God who forgives. Psalm 131 and the God who stills...

The horizontals and the verticals. 
It is the way to live. 
May God help me so to do.

nice chatting



Anonymous said…
Thank you Paul.
Sometimes the 'I cannot tell' is so large and hard to understand that it seems to overwhelm me. Then there is only one way to respond, dig deep into the faithfulness of God and to 'be still and know...'
It is good to be reminded of this truth again in the midst of pain.

I've been thinking a bit more on this... It is important to rest our uncertain questions ('I Cannot Tell') on the certain bedrock exclamations about which we are convinced to be true ('But This I Know'). People get into trouble when they do it the other way around. I'm thinking, for example, the way God is described in the different parts of the biblical story. I don't always understand - but that is not where I am going to start...

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