Before last week, my general association with this age-old hymn — thanks in no small part to Kel and Tian En — was it being a melodious little catchphrase on any encounter with good food (ie. “Wow this laksa is damn shiok — it is well with my soul, man!”). Joking aside, I realise that I’ve never really understood — or perhaps never bothered to understand — the true meaning of this hymn.
Only the short excerpt at the end of my dad’s sermon last week made me realise this. He shared about Horatio Spafford, the writer of this hymn, and how he wrote this song not when “all was well” with his world, but after he had just done a modern-day Job (as in, the biblical character, not a position of employment) and lost his possessions and family to some unfortunate events. He actually penned the hymn as he sailed over the spot where his 4 daughters drowned in a shipping accident previously. There couldn’t be a more jarring contrast between his situation and the words of the hymn — how could tragedy have produced such peaceful and assured words?
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It was then that it hit me. I’d always thought that saying “it is well with my soul” was just a euphemistic Christian way of saying “I’m feeling fine, I’m happy, this situation is not that bad”, but it’s not. Horatio Spafford was able to say that not because he felt fine or happy — it had nothing to do with feelings at all. Instead, it had everything to do with what he knew from the gospel, that despite all the trials and pain that he faced in life, Christ’s work on the cross for him and his family ensured that it was well with his soul. No matter what, he knew, he had a hope and salvation to cling on to.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
And so it is a great reminder that as Christians saved by Jesus’ work on the cross, we can always say that it is well with our souls — and there’s really no better statement than that.