Can we really relate to the tragedy of others? Do we have the kind of faith that weathers storms that threaten to blow our preconceived notions about the goodness of God right out of the waters? Some days I think I’m doing all right holding onto the peace of God. Then calendar reminders of unforgettable dates cause another walk through the tragedy of my own life, the day she died, retracing those steps to bury her ashes in the ocean, the three of us clinging to each other at such times each year…
There is a great hymn with the opening lines: “When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot I have taught myself to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” I’ve read that these lines were penned by Horatio Spafford, a Christian man who was a successful lawyer and loving husband and father to a son and four daughters. Within the span of two years, his son died, then the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of his investments, and a trip meant to bring comfort to his family ended horribly when his four daughters were killed in a collision of ships at sea while traveling with their mother to England. A telegraph from his wife on that fateful day said, “Saved alone.” Spafford reportedly wrote the poem-prayer on his way to his grieving wife as he crossed the same waters where his four daughters drowned. Where did this strength come from? His faith and peace were no mere human effort, I know.
For in my own strength, I fall to pieces. But I, too, look up to my Comforter. In my Lord’s presence, I am held up, trusting that He will rise up and command the storms in my life to be still. Not fearing I am rejected or tossed aside by some apathetic god, but believing the following:
“Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.” Further reading revealed that Horatio and his wife, Anna, had three more children, one son who died at the age of four from disease, and two daughters who lived to adulthood. Horatio’s religious views were also persecuted to the point of separating from the Presbyterian Church. He and Anna then became philanthropists to the people in Jerusalem, and their work continued by others was said to play a critical role in supporting those communities during and after World War I. We cannot know what will come about in God’s kingdom through the tragedies in lives devoted to serving God, but we can be assured that all will be well.
I love the encouraging words from Paul to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things…And the God of peace will be with you.”
Peace to us all.