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Words: Avis Marguerite Burgeson Christiansen (b. Oct. 11:1895; d. Jan. 14, 1985)
Music: John Willard Peterson (b. Nov. 1, 1921; d. Sept. 20, 2006)
Note: Avis lived in Chicago and was married to a vice president of Moody Bible Institute there. The present song was published in 1961. It seems to display echoes of Charles Wesley’s great hymn And Can It Be?
Star Trek, the television program, first broadcast in the 1960’s, was followed by a number of spin-off series and movies. Part of the fascination for these science fiction stories was that they explored strange new worlds, with creatures that were so different from human beings.
It was all fiction. But there is a world, far nearer to us, at our very feet, that can illustrate the same kind of strangeness and disconnect. We find the creatures of that world in our lawns and gardens–and sometimes, appearing as an unwanted nuisance in our homes. I’m speaking of ants.
Just as God created the stars in the vast reaches of space, He also created these tiny creatures. And He designed all He has made to teach valuable lessons (Job 12:7). For example, the Lord offers the busy labours of the ants to remind us to be industrious and hard working. As Proverbs bluntly puts it, “Go to the ant, you sluggard [you slothful, lazy person]! Consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).
But, let’s suppose for a moment that you wanted to talk to the ants. To converse with them in order to teach them about yourself, and maybe assist them in some way. You can see the problem. We are so far above them in size, and intellect. And finding a common language that we both could share seems beyond us.
What if you saw an ant at your feet, and told him you loved him, and were concerned about him. Think of how an ant would feel to see this enormous moving mountain towering above him, and hear an unintelligible sound thundering at him. Bewilderment, terror and flight would be the likely result. If only the ant could become a man or, failing that, if you could become an ant. Then perhaps you’d be able to relate to one another.
Apply that simple illustration to our relationship with God. How can the eternal and omniscient Creator of all things, the one whom the Bible says fills heaven and earth (Jer. 23:24) communicate in any intelligible way with us, puny little creatures that we are? The answer is that God had to become Man to do so most effectively (Jn. 1:1, 14). The incarnation of God the Son brought Him into our world.
During the time Christ was on earth, He spent many hours teaching people about spiritual things. And He related to them in a close and caring way. He healed many of disease, and reached out to the outcasts of society, even having time minister to little children. Finally, He went to the cross.
The Bible explains that this was an act of God’s love. There Christ, the sinless One, took upon Himself the debt of our sin. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8). That’s the message of a familiar Bible verse, John 3:16. Yes, the Bible speaks of that love, but the Bible’s authors are hard pressed to explain the reason for it.
Why would God love us enough to suffer so terribly for us? How is it that He loves us at all? The answer, incomplete though it is, lies in the character of God. He is a loving (Rom. 5:8; I Jn. 4:16) and gracious God (Eph. 1:7: 2:5-8). He made us in His image (Gen. 1:27) as those who are capable of having a loving relationship with Him (I Cor. 1:9). A relationship He desires (Jn. 14:2-3; 17:24). Beyond that, all we can do in response is wonder and worship.
One hymn writer who pondered the question is Avis Christiansen. Over a period of sixty years, she wrote hundreds of gospel songs. One of them, called How Can It Be? expresses her marvel at the mystery of Christ’s loving sacrifice.
1) O Saviour, as my eyes behold
The wonders of Thy might unfold,
The heav’ns in glorious light arrayed,
The vast creation Thy hast made–
And yet to think Thou lovest me–
My heart cries out, ‘How can it be?’
How can it be? How can it be?
That God should love a soul like me,
O how can it be?”
I don’t know. But He does.
1) What should be our response to the love that sent the Saviour to the cross of Calvary to pay our debt of sin?
2) What other hymns do you know and use that express the wonder of what the Lord did for us?