But if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are seldom in such a state that every area of our lives is indeed in such a state of wellness. Oh, we might be generally at peace, or for the most part functioning without serious turmoil or trauma…but to say that we are completely well in every area would be a reach. Horatio Spafford knew what this was like. Mr. Spafford lost his home and his considerable business holdings during the Chicago fire of 1871, and had set about making plans to rebuild his business and home. In 1873, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him on a ship bound for England, with the plan to follow them a short time later. On November 22, 1873, the ship that Mrs. Spafford and the girls traveled on sank at sea, and of the family only Mrs. Spafford survived…all four of the daughters drowned. While traveling to England to meet his bereaved wife, Horatio Spafford penned the words to the well-known hymn, “It is well with my soul”. But let’s back up for a second. This man had just suffered loss on nearly every side. He was, by all standards, NOT in a state of “wellness”! He was in deep grief over losing his only four children, he had lost his home by fire, he was re-building his business, he was under immense emotional stress, probably lacking sleep and, like most people experiencing grief and hardship, not eating quite normally. All of these things add up to one very “NOT-well” individual…and yet he wrote “It is well with my soul”.
Do we see the point here? He didn’t lie to himself and say it was well with everything in the world, while he was going through tragedy after tragedy. He didn’t suggest that his unfathomable losses were of little consequence or that they were minor setbacks rather than major hardships. He recognized the situation for the painful challenge that it was, yet in the midst of it he said it was well with his SOUL. He lost his home. His business. His livelihood. His children. Possibly his physical health. And yet he said that it was well with his soul.
I said my final goodbye to my Dad on December 13th, 1997. I felt like someone had cut off both of my legs, I was so lost after his passing. Never did I know such extreme grief until the loss of our six month old son on October 25th, 2006. Again, my grief was so overwhelming that at times I feared I would suffocate under the sheer weight of it…and at other times I wished I would. The loss was so intense that I couldn’t see how life could ever be right again. Oh, I knew life would “go on”, but deep in my heart I believed that nothing in my world would ever again be beautiful and bright and lovely…my pain blinded me to any hope of goodness , or to the love of a gracious God who was carrying me through every moment of that grievous time. I had always said, “I can handle just about any trial that comes my way, I could trust God and bear up under whatever hardship comes, as long as nothing ever happens to one of my children. Losing a child would do me in.” Now suddenly I was in the midst of the greatest pain and deepest fear I had ever considered, and I was lost. Ask anyone who knew me at that time, I was definitely not well. I was an emotional train wreck. I wasn’t eating, I couldn’t sleep, my ability to focus on even small tasks was severely compromised. I was forgetful and depressed. I fled every church service I tried to attend because even the mention of a baby or the sound of an infant in the congregation would reduce me to tearful sobbing. My husband and I were utterly broken. Horatio Spafford would have understood perfectly. I can imagine that he would have sat quietly, tears likely spilling down his own face, taken our hands and said something like “Let us pray together, for my heart knows the very same pain that yours does.” Sorrow. Grief. Suffering. Loss. They rip our hearts out and cause us to feel decidedly NOT well. And yet…”it is well with my SOUL”, Horatio Spafford said. Paul said in Philippians 4:12-13 “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” My emotions may flail about searching for relief, my mind may cry out for the blessedness of sleep to restore strength and clarity of thought, my body may ache with fatigue and tension, my heart continue to beat even though I cannot see how it possibly can wracked as it is with spasms of pain…yet my SOUL lives outside of these realms where pain attacks. My soul is with Christ in Heavenly places, and His Spirit lives in the deepest recesses of my heart no matter how heavy that heart may feel to me. Christ in me…”the hope of glory”, Paul wrote to the Colossians (1:27). Me in Christ…the safety and assurance of my place in the Father’s house! Paul reminded the Ephesians (2:6) that our Father loved us so much, even when we were lost and dead in sin, that He saved us through His grace “and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”. That is the TRUTH: no matter what sorrow befalls me, no matter how severe or how devastating any grief may be…it is well with my SOUL.
But sometimes we still think we need more to go on. We are, after all, rational, intelligent human beings who demand answers to questions and would like reasons for the things we are supposed to do. We deserve answers, don’t we? Well…no, not really. Just ask Job. God is not obligated to tell us anything, but I think He had fun revealing the end of His plan to John in the solitude of Patmos just so we could one day read “the rest of the story”. How this all wraps up is no mystery. There is no need to sit in puzzlement, because God told us what was going to happen and what to expect as the end of history unfolds. Why do we have hope? How can we possibly hold on when we are at our wit’s end and we see nothing good coming our way? Horatio Spafford must have asked some of these very same questions in some moments, but he knew where to look for the answers. He knew the rest of the story. He knew that God did not leave us in the dark, asking us to blindly trust Him or to just assume that everything would somehow work out. No, Horatio read the Book and received strength to carry him through. “Oh Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll”, he wrote. There was no question that the day would come, just a plea for it to come quickly! Roll those clouds back, Lord, and please don’t wait very long! “The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend…”. Okay…the clouds roll back, trumpets heard everywhere, and down comes the Lord Himself! Isaiah, during his vision of God’s throne, fell on his face and cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts”(Isaiah 6:5)…and yet God’s people will see Jesus coming in the clouds and rejoice at His coming! No “woe is me”, but “Yes! Come, Lord Jesus!” THAT is the hope! Face-to-face fellowship, seeing Him in His glory and being able to marvel at His appearance! Being completely restored, no broken bonds, nothing left undone or incomplete, no pain, no sorrow, no more being sifted like wheat! It’s DONE! Here He comes, I’m in the family, let’s go! THAT is the hope He holds out to us. THAT is why we can say “It is well with my soul” in the midst of all these other things that WILL happen until He appears.
“It is well with my Soul” by Horatio Spafford, 1873
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.