When we sing praise to God, we often confess what we, in joy, know of the God we worship: God’s goodness and mercy, his glorious handiwork in creation, his gracious covenant with Abraham, his mighty and loving work in Jesus. We’ve been given knowledge of the Lord’s great acts that we offer back in praise.

And yet, when we consider the mighty works of God, the King who took on flesh, died, and rose again in Jesus, our praise can also recognize the limits of our understanding. In a posture of awe, we can admit that the God we worship is incomprehensible, that even in our knowledge, we are blinded by the mystery of God’s light.

This wonder is at the heart of our faith: The Holy God has taken on our flesh in Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and rose for our sake. Our words are laughably inadequate in expressing the depths of this mystery, the mystery of God’s covenant faithfulness. Yet, in song, even our incomprehension can bow before the incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord, in awe of the mystery of his extravagant love.

Words of Wonder and Bewilderment

In his hymn “And Can It Be,” Charles Wesley (1707–1788) gives us a song that overflows with this form of praise, exaltation, and wonder. As the writer of thousands of hymns, Wesley displays an exquisite love for language that reflects the extraordinary acumen of his first teacher, his mother Susanna, who took joy in languages, including Latin, Greek, and French along with English. By the time of the writing of this hymn in 1738, the language of Scripture had been shaping Wesley’s imagination for many years. Wesley had even studied the church’s theology formally, leading to ordination in the Church of England in 1735.

And ...

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