rebelling against low expectations

All Things for Good


Have you ever heard the phrase: “God works in mysterious ways”?

I’m sure every Christian, regardless of how long he or she has been one, has come across this statement at least once before. Have you ever wondered where it came from?

The famous phrase is actually the (slightly edited) first line of a poem entitled Light Shining out of Darkness. It was written by English hymn writer William Cowper in the 1700’s (that’s where all the good literature’s from, really). Cowper wrote the hymn during a period of severe depression and in the midst of a few suicide attempts.

A Sustained Hope

Even amid crippling darkness, Cowper was able to hold onto his faith and eventually, by God’s grace, got through it. He only died in 1800 at the age of 68 due to a disease from which very few recovered at the time.

So, what was it that helped Cowper during his time of immense emotional and mental turmoil? What part of faith contributed the most to his eventual recovery? We can see it in the full lyrics to the hymn. For the sake of space, here are the first three stanzas:

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.

It seems Cowper realized something that the Apostle Paul also emphasized in his inspired writings: God is in control of all things and means for them to work for the good of His people.

The Bittersweet Doctrine of Providence

This truth is found in one of my favorite verses of Scripture, Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

That’s the doctrine of God’s providence. He is making sure all that happens on this earth—from the smallest leaf that falls to the ground to the history-defining decisions being made in the highest offices of government—happens according to His plan. Providence is God’s governing all occurrences so as to bring about His intended end, which includes our good.

You may read that and think—like I’ve done many times— “Yes, God makes sure it all works out in the end. But… really? All things?”

What about the broken families? What about cancer diagnoses? What about the ______? Fill in the blank with any tragedy.

This is why it is a bittersweet doctrine. While it is wonderful that our Heavenly Father is always caring for us, it also understands that He has a purpose for allowing even the most bitter of circumstances, situations, and occurrences in our lives. But if God is the one working amid these awful situations, they are not only bitter, but sweet as well. Relating this to the recent pandemic, John Piper writes in Coronavirus and Christ, “He is sovereign over the coronavirus…. This is good news—indeed, it is the secret of experiencing the sweetness of God in His bitter providences” (p. 38).

This is shown to us in Joseph’s story. Think of the evil Joseph faced: his brothers’ hatred, being sold into slavery, a false accusation, an unjust imprisonment, and years of being forgotten by one whom he consoled. Yet despite all this, when his brothers came to him and feared that Joseph would finally get revenge, he said: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20, emphasis mine). God was sovereignly using evil to bring about good.

Fear Not

When the dark clouds Cowper wrote of begin to appear above us, it is the natural response to begin to question everything, especially God. Job did the same thing when he underwent his trials. He wanted God to come down to him so that he might demand of God an answer. But we must—we must—understand that if God is God (and He is), nothing—absolutely nothing—is ever out of His control. He is never caught by surprise. He is never unaware. He is never ignorant of any facts. Nothing occurs without having been in His eternal omniscience, and thus included in His plan for our lives.

Also remember, those dark clouds are not the storm clouds of God’s wrath. The thunderclaps are not the voicing of His displeasure. If you are in Christ, He has already saved you from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10). For the Christian, even death itself, the greatest of calamities, is no longer a just punishment we deserve. For the Christian, death is but our guide who transports us into the presence of the Lord, where it and every other form of evil will never touch us again. And if the God of providence can make even death a good thing for believers, what can He not transform into a beneficial occurrence for us?

God, like a master craftsman, weaves the tapestry of history—including the threads of your own life—with the sole purpose of providing for your good and His glory. What hope we can have when we come to know that is our unalterable reality! In Cowper’s words, “The clouds ye so much dread” are only following our Father’s orders to shower blessings upon those whom He loves.

So, fear not. Continue to seek God’s grace to persevere, no matter the dark season you may be facing in your life. Trust Him each step of the way, even if the path lies through fiery trials and deep waters and valleys of death’s shadow. Know He is with you at every turn. Your Father has not lost control of history yet, so fear not, for that means He has not lost control of your story either.

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About the author

Brian de Britto

is a college student currently working towards his Biblical Studies degree. He is actively involved at his church as a children’s ministry teacher, a youth group student leader, an interpreter, and an occasional preacher. Brian’s favorite things to do are reading, writing, drinking coffee, and traveling with his family.


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  • I loved your conclusion! Thank you for reminding me to just trust God, because He’s in control if it all!

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →