I have always appreciated the old hymn “It is Well With My Soul.” The melody is hauntingly beautiful. The words are especially touching, as they were written while Spafford was crossing the Atlantic when he was near the place where his four daughters died after the vessel in which they were traveling was involved in a collision at sea.
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.
I can barely sing these words without tears welling up. Imagine the faith Spafford must have had to pen these words—especially in that place and at that time. Imagine how he must have suffered and agonized on his journey to being able to speak like that. He must have known God’s word well, to be able to lean on God’s promises like he seemed to do.
Spafford and his wife Anna experienced such intense and unimaginable loss, and yet still exhibited Job-like trust: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b). Being a father of two daughters, I could not imagine being faced with what the Spaffords encountered.
This past weekend I met a man named Larry. In my initial conversations with Larry I was struck by his peaceful calm and quiet joy in the Lord. I could tell by the lines on his face that he was a man of sincere joy. As we talked further, I discovered that the peacefulness surrounding him was not contrived, but was earned. Years ago, his oldest daughter became suddenly ill, and died shortly afterward. Not long after that his younger daughter was beset by the same illness, and also died. Only a few months ago his wife also went home to be with the Lord.
As he shared the account of how the Lord took each one home, this peaceful joyous man could barely speak. His lips quivered, and his jaw tightened as he was determined to get the words out. And what he wanted to share was how incredibly difficult it was for him to comprehend how the Father could love us so much that He would give the life of His own Son so that we could have life in Him. From his own heartache he shared of the faithfulness of God.
Larry wasn’t hopeless, and he wasn’t lost. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he knew well the last verse of Spafford’s hymn:
And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
A song in the night, oh my soul.
(“A song in the night, oh my soul” was changed at some point to “Even so, it is well with my soul.”)
Larry’s peace came, I am certain, from knowing the hope of resurrection, that we shall all meet together one day, and shall all be together with the Lord (NKJV, 1 Thes 4:13-18).
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Larry understood that there was comfort to be found in those words. Larry’s family will be reunited one day, so the loss—as painful as it is every moment in the meantime—is temporary.
I am so thankful to have met Larry. His testimony of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness teaches me much. I expect to have a lasting memory of him excusing himself after worshipping the Lord in song next to me on a Sunday morning, and walking to the front of the room to make himself available to those who wanted to know about the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of God. Humbly, quietly, and peacefully—a hero doing heroic things—Larry is a hero of the faith. He would probably (gently) scold me for saying so, but I say it not to glorify Larry, but the God he trusts and serves. Because God can use our pain for good and turn our suffering into joy.
“…do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10b).
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.