I have always loved the song “It Is Well With My Soul”, written by Horatio Gates Spafford and I’ve known that he penned this hymn after his four daughters died in a shipwreck at sea. While it is known that only his wife survived the event and that Horatio was not on board the ship with his family, it is perhaps lesser known that Horatio had already lost his only son to illness. Horatio had surely been afflicted in a way that Job could relate to. Sometime between the loss of his son and the death of his daughters, the Chicago fire destroyed his real estate holdings. Horatio had lost the ability to provide for his family and then he lost every.single.one.of.his.children. I cannot even fathom the depth of pain; the wildness of grief. Horatio must have often wondered, ‘What next God?’
Sadly, Horatio’s life, at least in our human estimation, did not improve from here. Instead his life was marked by more loss. The loss of another son at the age of four from scarlett fever. Only two daughters survived to adulthood. Ultimately Horatio and his wife moved to Jerusalem and began a colony there. Some argue that Horatio ultimately became delusional and thought he was Christ himself. Much evidence points to a battle with malaria from which he died at the age of sixty.
Unlike so many of us who turn our backs on Christ after a multitude of disappointments, Horatio and his wife KEPT pursuing God. In August of 1882, Horatio wrote in his journal, “Lord, I have always up to this day been holding on to something of the flesh. I crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Henceforward I live a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. I rely exclusively, exclusively on the power and grace of God in [Christ]. I am a miracle of grace! Blessed God how patient thou hast been with me!”
Despite all of the heartache, despite all of the loss, Mr. Stafford was, amazingly, able to declare “It Is Well With My Soul.” Honestly, I’m not sure that I would still have been standing in those circumstances. (I might have been in a corner sucking my thumb and rocking; and wearing a little white jacket that ties in the back.) It seems that Horatio’s relationship with Christ was filled with such trust that he could continue submitting, continue surrendering. And when challenged with more loss, Horatio was able to reaffirm his total reliance upon God in his journal. An entry from Mr. Stafford’s journal in August of 1882 reads, “Lord, I have always up to this day been holding on to something of the flesh. I crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Henceforward I live a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. I rely exclusively, exclusively on the power and grace of God in [Christ]. I am a miracle of grace! Blessed God how patient thou hast been with me!” Horatio was still able to recognize that he was holding onto a shred of the flesh!
My husband and I were talking about this today. We agreed that sometimes we are waiting for God’s other shoe to drop on our lives. The idea that God bragged to Satan about his servant Job is impressive, but perhaps not something we necessarily we are comfortable with God doing in our lives. Job suffered so much loss. I’m terrified about losing people I love! What does that tell me? That I’m holding on to things and people that aren’t God. That I haven’t fully submitted myself to Him, His will, His way. Ultimately, I have to ask myself if I can say ‘It is well with my soul?’
In this excavation of thoughts and heart, I realize that there is a very big difference between the soul and the body. When our physical lives are rocked to their very core, we come to critical points when we are given the choice to trust God, not just with our lives but with our souls. We can choose to trust God with incredible loss (which if I’m honest I can’t fully say that I do…I suspect that only comes after meeting that type of loss). How are we to handle the death of a parent, worse yet a child, or even a spouse? Devastation is not too strong a word to use when describing grief like that! And yet, death is something we all are on a one way street racing towards. It exists as a sort of black hole that sucks everything into it-all that we can know and see within our current limits. If we can trust God in those darkest moments when our bodies and emotions fail us, and when our broken spirits are separating at the seams from our eternal souls, we come to a point of trusting God with our deaths too. And finally, if we can trust God with the prospect of death, He is trustworthy indeed.