When peace,like a river,attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Horatio Spafford, the writer of this classic hymn, knew a lot about suffering. He and his wife lost their four year old son to scarlet fever. Within a year they would also lose all of their significant real estate holdings in the great Chicago fire of 1871. In need of respite, Spafford decided to take his family on vacation to England. The trip would not only offer much needed rest but would also allow the family to reconnect with longtime friend D.L. Moody, who was there on an evangelistic tour.
Horatio had some business dealings that needed his attention so he decided to send his family on ahead of him. Nine days later he received the devastating news that the ship had sank and his four daughters had drowned, his wife only narrowly escaping the same fate. Spafford took the next available ship to England in order to reunite with his wife. While en route he was notified by the captain that they were crossing over the site of the wreck that claimed his children’s lives. At that moment of great sorrow, Spafford returned to the quiet of his cabin and began to pen the now famous words, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
How could he do this you may ask? In the face of such overwhelming personal tragedy, how could he trust so fully in God? I believe that Horatio knew there is ultimately nothing in this world that compares to that which is to come in the next, for Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
In the current spiritual climate we are told that if we have enough faith we need not suffer. That we can be healthy, wealthy, and free of pain if we just believe hard enough. This “prosperity” gospel, while widely popular, is really just another false gospel that dilutes the true teachings of Jesus Christ. Think about it. Can a gospel that excludes Jesus ever be true? For He surely never had great material wealth and he certainly suffered greatly. Jesus even tells us to expect suffering: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Notice how He not only leaves his followers with a warning but also a promise of comfort. This sentiment is echoed throughout the Bible. Though we may face times of great trials, God never abandons us and we can take great comfort in the fact that He is our source of peace.
Inevitably in these situations the question arises, Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Before answering this question I think we must first realize that we live in a fallen world. God did not bring suffering into the world. Rather, it came as a natural consequence to sin. When Adam and Eve chose to willing disobey God they forever brought pain, suffering, and death into the world.
Secondly, I believe we need to see that there is purpose in our suffering. Romans 5:3-5 states “ … we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” And James 1:2-4 adds, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Clearly, we can see in the midst of our suffering that God is using it to refine and grow us, sanctifying us for His purposes.
In no way am I trying to diminish the reality of any pain we experience. Certainly the hurt we endure is physically and emotionally tangible. I am simply pointing out that we are not alone in our suffering. We do not serve an unfeeling God. He cares deeply for us and shares in our pain. “Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18).
Remember also that “Jesus wept.” These two words are found in John 11:35 and are famous for comprising the shortest verse in the Bible but should be remembered more for their significance, for they show so much about the heart of our Lord. He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but still He shed tears. Why? Because He was wholly sympathetic to the grief of those around Him. His heart was filled with sorrow for the pain of His children.
Suffering is an inescapable reality of life. Yet, how we choose to approach it can define its ultimate outcome. We can become self-absorbed and bitter, cursing God for our pain, allowing our trails to be in vain. Or we can choose to seek out God and allow Him to use our suffering for His Glory and for our good. We can choose to inspire and encourage those around us through our understanding and steadfast faith. We can trust that His promises are true and that we will one day share in His glory. The decision is ultimately yours. I pray you choose to suffer well.
By: Kyle Hubbard