Monday, December 14, 2015

In Opposition to "When Peace Like a River"

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."

Horatio Spafford, the author of this most famous hymn, had incurred huge financial losses in the Great Chicago Fire.  He sent his four daughters and wife across the Atlantic, and the ship sank, his wife alone of his family surviving.  In his great sorrow, he wrote this hymn, to encourage himself and all of us to consider that our souls are worth more than our sorrows, and retaining a generally optimistic view of life.

Although I appreciate the poetry and the lulling verses, leading to a powerfully climatic chorus, I dislike this song, and refuse to sing it.

It seems to me to stand against the sorrows of Scripture.  Yes, it is true that Jesus told us to "rejoice" in our persecutions, but it is because we are in the place of the prophets who were also persecuted for standing with God.

But Spafford is not speaking about persecution.  He is speaking of the everyday, if terrible, tragic circumstances of life we all must face.  God did not give us these circumstances, or orchestrate them, neither for our understanding, nor for our punishment.  Rather, we obtain assurance of our standing with the prophets because we have stood for God's love and mercy and people have hated us for it.

Scripture gives us example after example of people who suffered terribly in sorrow.  Job, of course, suffering deep depression, but many others as well.  Aaron, who had to hide his sorrow over the loss of his sons for the sake of the community.  David, who wept aloud and fasted over the loss of his children.  Even Jesus, who wept for his own sorrow and for the sorrows of women yet to come.

To set aside horrible circumstance and say, "Well my soul is in good shape" lessens the tragedies of life.  We should weep with those who weep, not tell them, "Buck up! Your spiritual life is great!"  We must allow sorrows, and even encourage them, for it says in Ecclesiastes, "A sad face is good for the heart."

I also question the level of assurance of the man's soul.  I do not know much about Spafford, but I know about myself.  I know that if I assured myself of my own standing before God at all times, then that assurance easily moves toward arrogance and spiritual laziness.  I must be challenged to be a better person, or else I won't be that better person.  

If I am constantly assured, "It is well with my soul," then I will do no work on my soul.  My soul is in good shape, why mess with perfection?

I believe that our spiritual lives are a process that we work on with the Holy Spirit.  A receiving and dispensing of God's grace that we are constantly striving toward.  My soul is not well.  It is sick and weak and must improve, with God's help.  I am but an amateur at love, a beginner at obtaining peace for my fellow human beings.  I will not give myself any false back patting.  I will continue to strive for my soul's health.

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