There’s a Wildness in God’s Mercy

The classical hymn “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” always makes me joke in the vestry before service, “There’s a Wildness in God’s Mercy” then during a dull moment in church I thought, “Truest words are spoken in jest. There is actually a wildness in God’s mercy.”

What is ‘wildness’, well first thing I think of is unpredictability. I don’t know what’s coming next with God. In fact, whenever I think I do know what’s coming next I can be pretty sure that it’s NOT God at that point because my own ideas of what should come next and what is coming next are never big enough. God’s mercy is wilder than that. So there’s this sort of wild unpredictability.Things are open ended. The universe is open ended. Reality is rubbery. There’s more flex in it than I thought. Just when I thought he was coming in grandeur he comes as a peasant child on a wintry night. Just when I thought he was my friend and buddy he appears as the Lord of Glory and Judge of all.

The second idea of the ‘wildness of God’s mercy’ is that wildness is strange. God’s mercy takes us where the wild things are. We encounter God and it was not what we thought. It’s not only wild. It’s weird. It’s wacky. It’s wonderful. If you can’t see the strange ness of God you’re looking at religion. This wild strangeness is also frightening. Going to God is going to a place that is disturbing and unsettling. Aslan is not a tame lion.

There’s a wildness in God’s mercy like a wild child. There is passion. There is a wild carefree joie de vivre. There is the wildness of joy and abandonment and creativity. God’s mercy is playful. It is mischievous. It is subversive and wild and free.

Finally, if there’s a wildness in God’s mercy there is also a wilderness in God’s mercy. See how the holy men always go out into the wilderness to pray? That’s where they find God: out in the wilderness with the wild beasts. Where the wild things are. There in the wilderness God’s voice is most wildly heard. There in the cave not in the earthquake wind and fire, but in the still, small voice– a voice more wild and unexpected and terrifying in its demands than anything safe or predictable or tame.


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  • Susan Peterson

    Great column. Moral people are always setting aside categories of evil, perhaps different from one century to the next, for which they want to insist that God certainly doesn’t, could not, must not, have mercy.

    Are you aware -you probably are-that this hymn, which I have heard sung only in Episcopal/Anglican churches, is a Catholic hymn, written by the Oratorian, Fr. Faber?

    Susan Peterson

  • Barbara B.

    For years I thought that *was* the title. Made sense to me.

  • Ryan M.


  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Yes, I should add, the convert from Anglicanism–Fr Faber. We sing it at OLR church in Greenville

  • Christian

    I like the lyrics, but absolutely love the melody we use to sing it, called “In Babilone”:

    “IN BABILONE is a traditional Dutch melody that appeared in Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlities en Contradansen (Old and New Dutch Peasant Songs and Country Dances), c. 1710. Ralph Vaughan Williams (PHH 316) discovered this tune as arranged by Julius Rontgen (b. Leipzig, Germany, 1855; d. Utrecht, the Netherlands, 1932) and included it in The English Hymnal (1906), from which it gained widespread use. ”

    Once again I have RVW to thank for something musical.

  • MaryS

    I learned the song as a kid back in the late 60′s, and the melody was beautiful and haunting, though I can only remember the first two phrases. :-( It was quite different from the one that’s been in our songbooks lately. Haven’t found it set to that haunting melody in many years. If anybody knows what I’m talking about and has a link… I’d much appreciate it, so I’ll be able to hear how it ends! ;-)

  • FW Ken

    We sing it in or Catholic parish, but I’ve not sung it to In Babylone since my Anglican days. I think we’ve sung “Once to every man and nation” to In Babylone.

  • Mark W.

    Reminds me of a rock song from years ago:

    “I want to know if love is wild,
    I want to know if love is real.”

    – Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”

  • Deacon Nathan Allen

    “After all, he’s not a /i/ tame /-i/ lion!”