“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

Many could continue the next verses. It is a well loved hymn and is recognized by many, both within the church and without.

John Newton wrote the words to the song partly from an experience in 1748. He was a captain of a slave ship. On one of his passages, encountered a violent storm where he and the crew feared for their lives. They cried out for mercy. When the storm passed, and all were still alive, John believed God had spared his life. In his gratitude he pledged to follow God. His conversion didn’t happen right away. It took seven years for him to quit the slave trade, and more from health concern than from conscience.

The story can be framed thus. John, is a disgusting and despicable man. The ship he is captaining encounters a fierce storm, where all were feared for their lives. John called out to God, pleading for him to show mercy, and spare his life. According to John, his prayer was answered. God spares his life. This story could be used as an example of a loving God answering the prayer of a desperate and unworthy sinner.

While this is an inspiring story from John’s perspective, and fits the point of view of many a church-goer, there are other points of view, that have a tendency to create discomfort. How do we tell the story of human traffic being held in claustrophobic holds so cramped they cannot even sit up? Is it possible to believe in a God of mercy, when the horror around them point to a God who is not even paying attention to their plight? Could we blame those slaves, who, if given the opportunity, wrenched mercy from God into their own hands, diving into the sea, and letting their chains drag them down until they drowned?

Stories have multiple facets. There is truth on all sides. Some perspectives are more comfortable and confirming to tell. Some stories are not so easily told. Perception becomes our reality.

It is remarkable that the song,”Amazing grace” is so recognizable, and is performed so often, by such diverse groups. With a dubious beginning, it has risen to become one of the most recognizable hymns of the church. Perhaps, even with all facets stories present, there is a deep and universal truth, that we are all looking for grace, whether captain or slave, that we feel undeserving of that grace, but when it is bestowed, we experience as wonder.