The story of Horatio Spafford reads much like that of Job in the Bible, compounding calamity upon calamity at what seems to the average onlooker a bizarre rate. A crushed career. His city ablaze. Financial ruin. Four daughters drowned at sea. A son—his namesake—taken by scarlet fever. And from the depths of this man on the proverbial ash heap, a string of words too heavy for even the hardiest of Pollyannas is penned: “It is well with my soul.”
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.
I love the picture that peace is a river and sorrows an ocean—two distinct bodies of water, and Jesus has a personal history with them both. He’s a good shepherd leading us to the calm of quiet streams. He’s a good Savior who soothes tossing sea storms. The Maker of water still walks on it, still provides for His flock, still teaches His terrified disciples to trust His heart. Our God is no less in control in the hurricane than in the breeze. Another major point about this verse is that, despite what the world would argue, it can be just as hard to remain spiritually unaffected by success as by hardship. In the words of Sylvia Gunter, “Adversity may have slain its thousands, but success has slain its ten thousands.” To humbly accept everything that comes as the sanest, most loving option the Father could offer our souls (rather than the thing that could either make us or break us) is a major mark of maturity.
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.
As a girl with control issues, the second line sounds like redemption. Choosing to be mastered by truth (what is real) rather than by circumstances (what feels real) is solid gospel ground for my feet. It’s okay to acknowledge when life stinks. But to sit there and wallow in the stink is poison to the soul. Let’s not get stuck in the ruin when rescue is at hand. Yes, Satan will buffet. And of course trials will come. But there is a truer truth, a realer reality, that we can grab onto—that glorious cross of Christ. It’s our anchor, our lighthouse, our life raft. Because the cross stands, I can rest assured that nothing will ultimately defeat God’s good plans for me. The cross says that at great cost, He’s already taken down my biggest enemy: my own sin! There remains nothing else to fear.
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!
Can I nerd out for a minute? The ring takes its toll on Frodo. The black alien suit thing corrupts Spiderman. The cursed gold binds the crew of the Black Pearl to immortal misery. These are all imperfect metaphors. Our sin is the biggest threat to our souls imaginable, and it’s been sliced off of us forever. Jesus entered Himself into the fight on our behalf and obliterated the enemy. Knowing this helps us face whatever else comes because we know that whatever else comes comes at His allowance for our benefit. C.S. Lewis says it best—”If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” This world can’t be our heaven; it would be a horrible heaven. Heaven is on the way, but until then, we can walk in victory because of the cross.
And Lord, haste the day when the 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!
This, this is our hope! Every other functional savior seems laughable. The perfect relationship won’t last. The fancy house or boat or car will get old. The promotion can’t help but bring increased stress. The bank account will leave you empty. The goal weight can’t satisfy for long. Christ is the only Rescue that has any skin in the game—skin that’s been bruised, ripped, pierced, spit upon, skin with your name on His hands. He held nothing back in claiming you as His own. So now we’ve come to the point at which theology gives way to doxology. The character of our God prompts a welling up of worship. Because we’re utterly convinced that a happily ever after with this lover of our souls is on the horizon, we can wait and cry, “Alleluia! It is well!”