9.11.2017

Well With Your Soul in the Storm




Like so many others, I spent much of the weekend holding my breath about loved ones in Florida and following along as they made plans to shelter or to flee.  Putting myself in their shoes is not hard to imagine and not easy to fathom.  You think about all that matters in your life – your family and your home – and all you have to do to safeguard them.  And then to think that there is a good chance that no matter what you do, it may be of no help against a force as mighty as Irma.

Yesterday in church, as an act of intercession for and solidarity with those in Irma’s path, we sang the famous hymn, “It is Well With My 
Soul.”  It was a powerful moment of considering storms both physical and metaphorical, our own and those we love who are in harm’s way.  And it called to mind for me the context in which the hymn was first written, by Horatio Spafford in .  This is the first paragraph in the Wikipedia entry on the hymn:

This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford's life. The first was the death of his son at the age of 2 and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford's daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, "Saved alone …". Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.

This is a far more bitter situation to contemplate.  Losing a son at 2 is tragic, although at the time it was not particularly unusual.  And financial ruin is devastating, too, of course.  But then to send ahead your wife and four daughters on a ship, and then to learn that a terribly shipwreck had left your wife the lone survivor…well I for one would be utterly stricken by grief and devoid of bearing.

For Spafford, it birthed in him these incredible words:

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.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath 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 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.

A very large number of people have been in the path of weather-related destruction in the past few weeks.  But there is a greater and wider storm that threatens mortal and moral destruction.  And, just like how the most fearsome thing about Irma (and Harvey and Katrina and Andrew) is that we are helpless against such physical might, sin (ours and humanity’s) has put us in a “helpless estate.”  That we are regarded by a mighty God, who has shed His own blood for our soul, is what allowed Horatio Spafford to be able to say, “it is well” in the midst of an unthinkably dark storm.  May we be able to say that too, no matter what storms we are facing.
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