I am Not Skilled to Understand
“I am Not Skilled to Understand” was written by Dora (Dorothy) Greenwell a recognized English poet of her time. Greenwell published books and essays on women’s suffrage, the slave trade, and even some biographies along with her poetic work. This text was selected and set to music by William J. Kirkpatrick, securing its place in hymnody. Recently Aaron Shust has set this text to new music and added his own chorus. For many years this text has helped the church express its wonder at the mystery of God’s plan of Salvation.
Each verse of this hymn ends with a comment about the Savior, using this repetition to continually draw the singer’s attention to Jesus. The Gospel begins to be clearly articulated in verse two, beginning with Greenwell recalling what the Scriptures say, “Christ died for sinners.” Verse three begs the question that Christ did in the garden of Gethsemane, “And was there then no other way/ For God to take? I cannot say.” Greenwell follows this verse by describing the wonder of the Gospel and reminding the singer of how strange this news is to those who do not believe, “That He should leave His place on high,/ And come for sinful man to die,/ You count it strange? So once did I,/ Before I knew my Savior.” The resurrection is not forgotten, as in the last stanza we read, “That He who lives to be my King.” Overall this song does so much more than just describe the Gospel story; it revels in it, and wonders at its mystery too.
Names of God
Though God’s work and person are greatly described in this song, Greenwell only sparingly uses His names. We sing “God,” “Christ,” “King,” and “Savior.” Even though there is not an abundance of names it is clear who this song is about and who has accomplished the work of Salvation.
This song lifts our eyes far from what we experience on earth and reminds us that God is working in ways that are above our comprehension. Greenwell also guides the singer in a heavenward response to these truths in the line, “I only bless Him day by day.”
Theological vs. Doxological
While some songs might have more definitive sections of revelation and response, “I am Not Skilled” weaves these two ideas throughout. The last verse, especially, serves as a response of devotion and gratitude while recognizing our complete dependance on God. This song is both theological and doxological, reminding the singers of the mystery of God’s ways and instructing them to devote themselves to Him because of Christ’s sacrifice.
Why Did it Get Its Score?
This song received a 98% from the “Is it Helpful? Chart.” That is a very good score, and Greenwell earns this song every point. She beautifully works through a challenging theological concept–the idea that God’s ways are unlike ours and we often cannot understand them–by rehearsing the Gospel and instructing believers to trust the nature of the Savior. Not only is the Gospel, informed richly by Scripture, prevalent in this song, but this song also lifts the singer’s eyes off of the things of earth to heaven and God Almighty.
Utilizing it in a Service
This song makes a great closing hymn, in my opinion. If there is a particularly difficult idea that has been presented in the sermon, this song can serve as a reminder to trust in God even when it is hard to do so. It also follows a testimony well. Someone might tell of how God has moved in their life to bring them to Salvation, and it is often not the way we would plan, so this song can help to tie those concepts together.