This hymn text was written by the English poet, William Cowper (1731-1800). Cowper’s life was filled with mental anguish, which included an eighteen month stay in an insane asylum and several attempted suicides. During his time in the asylum, Cowper began reading the Bible. At the age of thirty-three he had a genuine conversion experience. Yet he was periodically haunted by deep depression, voices and visions, and the overwhelming thought that God had forsaken him and would doom him to hell.
But between these times of melancholia, William Cowper was a gifted writer. For nearly two decades he worked closely with John Newton in Olney, England, and eventually their combined talents produced the famous Olney Hymns hymnal. In this ambitious collection of 349 hymns, 67 were written by Cowper, including such favorites as “O For a Closer Walk With God” and “There Is a Fountain.”
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” was originally titled “Conflict: Light Shining Out Of Darkness.” It is thought to be Cowper’s final hymn text and a reflection of God’s leading throughout his own lifetime. There is even speculation that it was written following a failed attempt at suicidal drowning.