Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

In yesterday’s post, I gave the back ground to the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which permeates the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ film, True Grit. It is not actually sung until the end of the movie, when a version of the hymn sung by Iris DeMent offers a haunting, touching conclusion to the film. This version (at least as I was able to purchase it from iTunes) does not actually contain the third verse of the hymn, though it did appear on DeMent’s original recording (Lifeline, her 2004 collection of hymns).

Here are the original lyrics of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” including all three verses:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Chorus:
Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning on God

Inspired by Deuteronomy 33:27, which includes the promise of God’s “everlasting arms” being under Israel, this hymn offers the reassurance of God’s presence and support. But, notice that God is not carrying us through life as if we were infants. Rather, we are leaning on God’s arms for support, even as we “walk in this pilgrim way.”

Mark-Dad-toddler-5.jpg

I am reminded of how young children learn to stand and then to walk. They literally lean on the their parents, perhaps theirs arms or legs or hands. From this posture of leaning they get the support they need, until they are able to support themselves in their own strength. (Photo: I am leaning on my father in order to stand.)

Of course, once you learn to walk, you don’t need to lean on someone any more, at least for a long time. I remember when my grandfather was well into his eighties. He was very unsteady on his feet. So if we were to go anywhere, he would put his hand on my shoulder and lean on me.

The writers of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” picture the Christian life as a matter of leaning upon God at all times. Some would say this is evidence of weakness; I would say it is evidence of the fact that we were made to depend upon God, even as we also walk in our own strength. Ironically, as we lean upon God, we find greater strength to live more freely and fully.

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