That was the telegraph Horatio G. Spafford received from his wife informing him that she was the only survivor and his four daughters were tragically lost at sea. It had only been two years earlier that the family had lost everything in the Chicago Fire of 1871, leaving the family destitute and in financial ruin.
Horatio Spafford had lost it all and yet during this time, he penned one of the greatest and well-known hymns of our day, “It Is Well with My Soul”.
How could Horatio Spafford sing in a moment like this? His children are dead, everything to his name was burned up by fire. How can you in your circumstances say,
“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 not easy to say those words in the middle of suffering. Let’s be real, in the natural it doesn’t make sense to say “it is well” when your child dies of cancer or your mother is wasting away right before your eyes with dementia.
How can it be well with your soul when your life is filled with so much personal tragedy?
For Horatio Spafford, it was well because he had Christ.
Jesus, the one who forgives and saves sinners and who is the treasure of heaven, is the source of true and perfect contentment in all circumstances.
What makes Jesus so significant and so necessary in times of affliction is because he alone can dispense peace to those who are suffering.
In his final address to his disciples in the gospel of John, Jesus speaks about tribulations that will come about for following him. It is true, contrary to what many people believe, being a Christian is not easy nor is it a pathway to prosperity and worldly comfort. No, it is often filled with trials, suffering, and sorrow. Christ knows this and doesn’t mince words when he says, “In this world, you will have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33a).
Yet Christ delivers a profound promise to those whose lives are rattled to the core and are desperately troubled. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn. 14:27a).
This promise of peace is meant to be manifested in and through suffering and it begins with having a right standing with God. Without having a repaired relationship with God, our lives are in eternal trouble. Any hope of peace is instantly evaporated because, in our sin, we are at war with a holy God.
But Christ through his sacrificial death destroys the hostility between the repentant sinner and God and secures peace between the two by the blood of the cross (Col. 1:19-22).
And unlike the world, which considers peace treaties contingent or temporary, the peace that Christ promises is eternal. In other words, God and the Christian are forever in harmony.
When an individual realizes, as Horatio Spafford did, how infinite this peace is between God and them, it overflows into situations that are extremely difficult. Why? Because they are assured that God is for them and not against them (Rom. 8:31) even in the middle of tragedy. That is the only reason why a man who has lost it all can write and sing with authenticity about the wellness of his soul and if you are in Christ, it is the same for you.
When an individual has God in their life, they have everything and although there will be famine, sickness, and storms of life, God will remain forever a refuge and a source of strength (Hab. 3:17-19).
Personally, I have no idea how someone can walk through this waste howling wilderness without Christ. How do they cope or deal with the sorrow and grief of this fallen and broken world?
The truth is they don’t. Any semblance of peace or contentment in hardship is only a surface covering the depth of hurt that an individual experiences. Even the most well-developed coping mechanism given to us by secular psychiatry can’t penetrate the depth of pain that one feels in this life and bring about true lasting healing.
Christ can and does.
Wellness of the soul amid difficulty and everlasting peace can be found in Jesus.
Turn to Him and He will give you peace like a river.