Posted by: rcottrill | April 1, 2019

God Understands

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Words: Oswald Jeffrey Smith (b. Nov. 8, 1889; d. Jan. 25, 1986)
Music: Bentley DeForest Ackley (b. Sept. 27, 1872; d. Sept. 3, 1958)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal (Oswald Smith)

Note: In 1935, following a sudden family tragedy, Toronto pastor and hymn writer Oswald Smith produced a hymn about the Lord’s compassionate understanding. Smith’s sister Ruth and her husband had just finished their first term as missionaries in Peru. But before the boat sailed, Ruth’s husband Clifford was killed in a car accident, leaving her a widow, with two small boys, at the age of twenty-six. Her brother’s song brought comfort to her, and it has been used many times at memorial services, since then.

To “understand” something is not only to know facts, but to grasp their significance, and to realize how they fit together with other things. The word comes from an old English word, oferstandan, which seems to mean standing in the midst of. It speaks of an awareness, not from a distance, but from intimate experience,.

Sometimes a person will say, “I understand,” when they really don’t. This is particularly true when it comes to human suffering, which is a very subjective thing. What may be extremely painful and stressful to one isn’t, to the same degree, with another.

We may think, for example, that we’ve had headaches, so we can say to a person who has one, “I understand what you’re going through.” But that could be far from the truth. Not only so. To equate our experience with his or hers may seem as though we’re minimizing their pain, and suggesting it’s nothing to fret about.

Some form of the word “understand” is used in Scripture hundreds of times, from Genesis to Revelation. When it comes to God, we read, “His understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:5), it’s far beyond any boundary or measure. This includes an understanding of our hidden thoughts and feelings. “For the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts” (I Chron. 28:9). David confesses, “You understand my thought [or motivation] afar off” (Ps. 139:2).

This is brought into sharp focus with the incarnation of the Son of God. We see His perception of what people are thinking (Matt. 12:25; Lk. 6:8), and more than a dozen times the Gospels speak of Christ’s compassion, a deep concern that comes from His divine awareness of human need. Understanding and compassion united in Him. We read, “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

Even today, seated in heavenly glory at the right hand of the Father, His intimate understanding is recognized, and it becomes a motivation for prayer.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

There we see that old meaning of understanding lived out. He stood in the midst of us, and went through the various trials and testings of our humanity.

“The Word [Christ] became made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). And in doing so, He willingly entered into our human experience: our weariness (Jn. 4:6), hunger (Matt. 4:2) and thirst (Jn. 19:28), and a deep human sorrow (Matt. 26:38; Jn. 12:27). And in Gethsemane, facing the cross–an experience more dreadful for Him than we could ever imagine–the Lord Jesus was “troubled and deeply distressed” (Mk. 14:33, and “in agony” (Lk. 22:44).

1) God understands your sorrow,
He sees the falling tear,
And whispers, ‘I am with thee,’
Then falter not, nor fear.

He understands your longing,
Your deepest grief He shares;
Then let Him bear your burden,
He understands and cares.

3) God understands your weakness,
He knows the tempter’s pow’r;
And He will walk beside you,
However dark the hour.

Our understanding of others’ trials is significantly limited in many cases. But that does not mean we should do nothing. We’re to pass on “the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (II Cor. 1:4). And this should include pointing the sufferer to the greatest Burden-bearer of all, the Lord Himself.

1) For what particular trial have you experienced the Lord’s understanding and comfort in recent times?

2) How have you shown understanding and compassion to another person recently?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal (Oswald Smith)


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