By SHERYE S. GREEN
3 ways it can be well with your soul
“It is Well With My Soul” is one of my favorite hymns. Its calm, composed lines speak of a secure faith — “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say” — one that has no reservations about the goodness of God. While I’d like to think my faith is that secure, I know I’ve never been tested to the degree that hymn writer Horatio Spafford and his family were.
I cannot comprehend the heartbreak and emotional devastation Spafford suffered in 1873 upon learning of his four daughters’ drowning deaths after the ocean liner Villa de Havre sank in the icy waters of the Atlantic after being struck by another vessel. Spafford’s wife, Anna, survived the disaster. Catastrophe, however, had struck two years earlier in 1871. Spafford and his family lived comfortably in Chicago, where he was established as a prosperous, well-respected attorney. Their only son, who was 4 at the time, died of scarlet fever. When a massive fire swept through Chicago later that same year, Spafford lost a considerable portion of his fortune when the hungry flames consumed his many real estate properties. Spafford wrote “It Is Well” after experiencing all these tragedies.
Unfortunately, his life would not always match the doctrinal truths of his famous hymn. He and Anna moved to Jerusalem in 1881 and founded the American Colony, which — though it operated a soup kitchen and hospitals during World War I — was a heretical cult that followed ungodly practices.
If “It Is Well” reflected a clear-eyed vision of Christ, Spafford abandoned that vision (possibly due to the tragedies he suffered) for delusions of personal grandeur.
So how do we avoid doing the same? Especially in this peculiar year of 2020, which has brought tragedy, heartbreak, disappointment, disillusion and setback?
Here are three principles from the hymn itself that I pray will keep each of us strong and grounded in our faith:
The third line of the first stanza of “It is Well With My Soul” begins with the phrase, “Whatever my lot.” Where does faith come into play when the storms of life knock you off your perch? The word whatever means “no matter what.” Spafford walked away from an orthodox faith in Christ, but we are to cleave to the Lord and remember that He works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
The second phrase in that third line, “Thou hast taught me to say,” speaks of a close relationship with the Lord. It is possible to develop a faith that holds on, no matter what. We just need a willingness to be taught by God, instead of leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The last line of the first stanza states: “It is well, it is well with my soul.” This simple line is a bright torch in the darkness, a declaration of faith that shouts out a refusal to shrink in the face of life’s greatest tragedies. This might seem too simple — and certainly we aren’t to bottle up our grief — but the Lord calls us to a childlike faith that, regardless of our emotions, trusts in His eternal goodness and mercy toward us (Psalm 107:1). No matter what, it will always be well, because the Lord is the One who goes before and is with us.
During this Thanksgiving season, may our hearts be filled with gratitude for God’s many blessings. My prayer is that we will be encouraged to hold on tightly to our faith — not that of our own, and not that of fallible men, but one the Lord has given us. Whatever our lot, I pray we can truthfully say it is well with our souls.
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian and a wife, mother and grandmother. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul and Tending the Garden of My Heart.