If you have been in a church that sings hymns, I’m pretty certain you’ve heard the backstory to the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”.
Or at least the most popular version–Horatio Spafford lost four daughters in a tragic accident. Only his wife survived the sinking ship on its way to England. Once there, she sent a heart-rending telegram, “Saved alone” to Spafford who had not accompanied them on the voyage.
As the story goes, Spafford, upon crossing the Atlantic to meet his wife, passed over the spot of the sinking and the words to the famous hymn came to mind:
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.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
But, as Paul Harvey was famous for saying, here’s “The rest of the story”.
Spafford belonged to a congregation that staunchly believed difficulty and tragedy were divine chastening for sin or lack of faith.
Apparently, in the minds of at least some of his friends, the awful things that happened to Horatio and his wife were their own fault. Eventually, Spafford and his family removed themselves from the church and created their own fellowship.
Tragically, it seems that Spafford died confused, dismayed and perhaps, disbelieving.
Why is this important?
Because the support (or lack of support) bereaved parents receive from their fellow Christians can make all the difference between losing sight of Jesus and finishing well, with our eyes fixed on the “Author and Perfector of our faith”
We love the shortened version of the Horatio Spafford story because it ends with a triumph of faith, a crescendo of hope and a tidy finish to a messy story.
But the same reason the broad sweep of Spafford’s life is rarely brought to our attention is the same reason many find it difficult to walk beside grieving parents in their journey–even sincere, committed Christians can have doubts.
Even those who have read and believe the Bible can take longer than anyone would like to settle firmly on trusting God again after tragedy.
And even when we who struggle because of deep grief reach the place where our hearts can again rest in the sovereignty and goodness of God, we may always have unanswered questions.
Believers in Christ are called to minister to the members of His Body. We are commissioned to encourage, uplift, care for and help each other.
It often involves more energy, time and effort than we are willing to give.
But if we believe, as Paul said, that every single member is called by God to serve a specific purpose then can we afford to ignore even one of them?
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
I Corinthians 12:25-26