I am assuming that close to 100% of the people reading this know the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” or also titled “When Peace Like a River.” But I am also assuming that many of you may not know the origin of the song or about the writer of the hymn, Horatio Spafford.
So, this hymn is one of my favorite hymns to sing. I absolutely love it and always makes me emotional. I know we sing it a lot in my church, but it’s such a great song. I would sing it every Sunday if I could! But I love this song, not just for the lyrics or music but also the story behind the hymn is also quite emotional and to be honest, always conflicts my heart. I can never understand how Horatio believed in such a way he did in order to write this song and I probably will never know how he must have felt in those moments the hymn was written.
Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago. However, everything changed quite quickly for him in what seems matter of seconds. In 1871 the Great Chicago Fire, ruined him financially and in that same year his4 year old son passed away. In 1873, his investments took a hit with the economic downturn. In that year, Horatio planned to go to England with his family (4 daughters and wife) to help D.L Moody, an evangelist. He had to make a change before the trip because he had to take care of his finances that were affected by the Chicago fire. So, his wife and 4 daughters left before him. He later finds out that the ship that his family was on going to England collides with another shipping vessel. The boat that his family was on, sunk, and 4 of his daughters died. Thankfully his wife survived but was traumatized by this event. Spafford traveled to meet his wife and Spafford’s ship passed the exact same location his daughters passed in the middle of the ocean, and he wrote the now famous hymn. Now when you read this hymn you can imagine what he is seeing, “when sorrows like sea billows roll,” though satan should buffet, though trials should come,” “Christ has regarded my helpless estate,” “the clouds be rolled back as a scroll.” Can you see it? Horatio on that ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, at the sight of his daughters’ death?
If there is any comparison to the book of Job, here is Horatio Spafford. Can you imagine in 2 years you lose all your children, finances, and everything that made you feel safe and stable? What would you do? Maybe the only thing to do weep, scream, and find the only thing that can comfort you. For Horatio, it was God. I can imagine Horatio being angry, sad, depressed, and in doubt. But he was moved, to find any kind of healing through his faith.
It’s unbelievable to me. I can never understand what Horatio had gone through. I can only feel that burden when “It is Well with My Soul” is sung. Through the words I can feel every Horatio tear drop, every shaky pen stroke, every tremble in his voice. Who can he turn to? God, even if he feels lost, he went to God.
Hey this is Rev. Brian Choi's random thought throughout my week. Most of this stuff, will probably be about family, church, fishing, music, movies, food, whatever I think of, hopefully it will have some sort of theological reflection (maybe).