When this hymn was suggested to me by a friend, I hadn’t thought of it in many years. I can’t recall singing it recently, but it sure reminded me of my childhood. I’m not sure why, perhaps it we sang it often at the church my family attended at the time. It’s very familiar and I kind of like it, in a sentimental way.
The words were written by Daniel Whittle around 1883. He was influenced by Dwight L. Moody to become an evangelist and travelled throughout the United States and Great Britain preaching and being accompanied by popular gospel singers of the time, including Philip Bliss and James McGranahan, who wrote the music.
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, with mercy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
Refrain: But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I’ll walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.
This is a hymn of contrasts. The verses describe everything we cannot know. We cannot understand God’s grace, we cannot comprehend God’s Spirit, we don’t really understand why faith brings us peace and we don’t know what the future holds. And yet, the refrain professes a confidence in a belief that carries us – and everything we struggle with – to the end of earthly life. I suppose this is at the crux of what faith is. Understanding that we simply do not have all the answers, but believing in something anyway. Regardless of the details of what we don’t understand or what we believe, this is difficult. Sometimes trusting that there is something that can carry the weight we bear in this life seems impossible.
I guess I kind of like that contrast. I kind of like that this hymn acknowledges the struggle. In an era obsessed with sound bites that claim absolutes and complete philosophies reduced to a sentence, or less, I’m fine with not knowing. I don’t really need all the answers. Sometimes it’s enough to know that the foundation I’ve chosen, I’ve built and I stand on, will survive the challenges and questions; the debates and arguments; and even the unknown. Sometimes survival includes improvements. Sometimes it means expansion and growth. Sometimes it means necessary reductions. Whatever foundation you choose for your life, build it well and make it strong. Use strong materials, know what they are, and then let them guide and support you through this unknowable life.