“Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
The writer of this beautiful hymn’s name is Horatio Spafford, and the story behind this hymn is quite remarkable. Behind every song is a story, and behind every God-centered song is God Himself. He ordained the tragedy that led to the writing of the song, so that He could put Mr. Spafford’s genuine faith on display. Spafford endured not only well, but joyfully praising the Lord and looking to the cross.
In 1873 Horatio Spafford put his family on a ship to sail to England, and tragically their ship ran into another ship, sinking. The shipwreck took the lives of his four daughters, and his wife barely escaped. He received a telegram from his wife letting him know about the tragedy, and we can only imagine the great sorrow he must have felt. Remembering the last time he spoke with them, the last few days leading up to the tragedy, and all the regrets that come with a sudden loss of life must have created the greatest of sorrows. I can only imagine the images of saying goodbye one last time to his daughters searing into his mind forever, and creating the greatest of sorrows in his soul.
Horatio got on a ship to sail to England to see his grieving wife. While he was on the ship he wrote ‘It Is Well With My Soul.’ When he passed over the area where his daughters drowned he wrote these words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.” You can hear the beautiful irony in the song. As the sound of the waves that took his daughters lives enter his ears, his heart begins to write, “When sorrow like sea billows roll.” You can almost hear the sound of these sorrowful waves through the song. What is incredible is that even as he listens to the sound of these life-taking waves, he does not become bitter at God, angry at God, but instead brings to mind what he has been taught by God, “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”
What a refreshing approach to suffering this song is. We are indoctrinated with this idea that if we just do everything right, say everything right then suffering avoids us, and this is not true. Jesus said, “In this life you will have troubles.” Troubles like the loss of loved-ones, illness, financial difficulties, etc. These things are coming to some degree to every person with breath in their lungs. The wonderful news of the gospel isn’t that Jesus is the way to avoid these things, but that Jesus is sufficient in all of these trying circumstances. Horatio Spafford understood that he would have different ‘lots’ in life. That the dice would roll some days, and fall in a fashion that wasn’t so pleasant. It would seem random, harsh, and unbearable. But what he understood, and I wish we all would understand, is that there are no random events. There is not one meaningless event. It all has meaning, it all has purpose, and if you belong to Jesus, it is for your good. He understood this, and that is why he could say, “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”
This world is fallen, the consequences of sin creates death, yet God in His sovereign will means for these sorrowful moments to bring about a great refining of our faith. In our moments of suffering, Jesus is all we have. Money cannot help us, status cannot help us, nothing can help us but a genuine faith in Christ. All of our immaturity, worldliness, and pride melts away in the great fire of trials. Leaving us with nothing but Christ to hold onto.
The great question when we listen to this song is how can a man go through such a tragic event, and say it is well with his soul? How is this possible? How could he look his suffering in the face, smile, and say, it is well with my soul?
Here are three reasons he could say it was well with his soul:
- He understood the gospel:
He understood that this was not the end for his daughters. Because of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection he knew that they would one day rise again. He could look over the deck of the ship, and in his heart know that they would rise one day from the bottom of the sea. That even the depths of the sea could not stop the power of the resurrection through Jesus Christ.
2. He had the Holy Spirit:
Make no mistake about it, only Christians get to experience joy in trials. Devoid of the Holy Spirit suffering breaks a person in half. If not for the preserving work of the Holy Spirit, even Horatio Spafford would’ve sang a completely different tune in the midst of this great sorrow. Yet, through the power of the Holy Spirit he endured this trial with great fruitfulness, and left this wonderful song for us all to be reminded of the power of God in our suffering.
3. He experienced the miracle of, ‘Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’:
“As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” – 2 Corinthians 6:10
No dichotomy, simultaneous sorrow and rejoicing. Some would argue that without the sorrow, there is not genuine rejoicing in this life. The sorrow brings a reminder of the gospel, and the rejoicing is a product of that. Horatio Spafford, through the Holy Spirit, could smile through the tears, and praise through the storm. His broken heart rejoiced, and this is nothing short of a supernatural miracle, only produced by the new birth. He understood that these waves of suffering were there to cleanse him, not cause him to drown. That God would preserve his faith in the storm. This was at the heart of his joy in his sorrows.
One of my mentors once told me, “You are either heading into a storm, in the middle of a storm, or just getting out of a storm.” And this is true. We are either on our way to suffering, in the middle of suffering, or healing from suffering. Yet, what we as Christians have the privilege of saying, regardless of circumstance is this:
Whatever my lot, God has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.