On the Other Hand…

In the last two posts, I griped about a hymn. I figure it’s only fair to praise one lest I focus only on the negative.

William Boyd Carpenter only wrote two hymns so far as we know, but I really appreciate one of them. As we sang it in church the other day, I thought, “This is a hymn for our age…”

Before Thy throne, O God, we kneel;
Give us a conscience quick to feel,
A ready mind to understand
The meaning of Thy chastening hand;
Whate’er the pain and shame may be,
Bring us, O Father, nearer Thee.

Search out our hearts and make us true,
Wishful to give to all their due;
From love of pleasure, lust of gold,
From sins which make the heart grow cold,
Wean us and train us with Thy rod;
Teach us to know our faults, O God.

There are those in the church that feel crushed by their guilt. They acutely feel every wrong done, and for those, this hymn is perhaps nothing new and small comfort. But in this culture, I feel like they are not the majority. Most of us are entangled with American culture, which touts self-gratification, avoidance of pain and suffering, denial of wrong, and a constant chasing after pleasure and entertainment. This hymn is for you. For us.

We are not humble. American culture doesn’t praise humility; it praises ego and bursting through barriers and throwing off shackles. I recently watched an interview on television with a man that made topsoil look deep as he lauded himself and his pursuit of pointless things, yet this man has made millions and is idolized and followed by thousands of people. We don’t want to look at what’s bad, particularly in ourselves; we’re primarily interested in what’s good or at least in making ourselves look good.

Yet here, Boyd Carpenter displays the Christian coming to God and saying, “Help me see what’s wrong.” “Search me and know my heart,” said David (Ps. 139), and the hymn echoes that. Only when we know what is wrong can we begin working with God to have it made right. We need to know the truth of ourselves, both the good and the bad.

I think that’s actually part of what God’s been working on in me lately. I think he’s put me in particular circumstances to demonstrate just how arrogant I have become in certain realms, how judgmental I can be. It’s not a comfortable place, but maybe if I know it’s happening, maybe then I can offer it to God and say, “Yeah… I kind of need your help, here.”

The hymn points to another counter-cultural matter, I think. Americans are a bit simplistic in their relationship to suffering. Pain is bad. Pleasure is good. Our bodies are designed to work this way, really, so it isn’t incredibly surprising that the culture is organized around these opposing poles. Grab all the good you can and get rid of all the bad you can. Of course, if this is all we are, I’m not sure how we’re all that much more complex than a paramecium. They run away from negative stimuli and toward positives, too.

What Boyd Carpenter points to here is that somewhere, even in the midst of what’s bad, God’s still there, and he’s still doing something. Bad isn’t only bad; it might actually be a doorway to something good. He equates suffering with God’s chastening, which is a bit problematic since sometimes in a fallen world, bad stuff just happens. But he may also just be pointing to a specific kind of bad experience. Either way, he looks at the suffering as a means of drawing closer to God. So often, we say, “God! Take this pain away!” Boyd Carpenter instead says, “Lord, use this pain to do something good, and use it to turn me to you more and more.”

Lord, grant us the humility and the patience to live up to Boyd Carpenter’s ideals.

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