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Understanding “It Is Well With My Soul”

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

Kwong Wai Cheng

About the Songs We Sing

Throughout the Bible, we read about people enjoying God through songs of praise. Indeed, music coupled with meaningful words, goes a long way to soothe our weary hearts, refresh our souls and help us connect with God again. Through this series, I hope to share my findings and reflections about some of the hymns we sing in church. Perhaps it will also help you to enjoy God better, just as it has helped me.

It Is Well With My Soul

Written by Horatio Spafford (1873)

Whenever I feel discouraged or troubled, this has always been one of my go-to songs. The words “whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul…” never fail to bring me back to God’s promises of protection and providence. We typically sing the song like this, but I managed to find the original lyrics here. But knowing the circumstances under which hymnist Horatio Spafford wrote this song made me appreciate true surrender even more!

This hymn was written after a series of traumatic events in Spafford's life. In 1871, Spafford’s two-year-old son died in the Great Chicago Fire. His property investments also went up in flames in the same fire. His business was further hit by the economic downturn in 1873. In the face of financial difficulties, he lost his four remaining daughters in a collision at sea. His wife, who alone was saved, sent him this heart-breaking message, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”

Shortly afterwards, as Spafford travelled to meet his wife, his ship passed the exact place where his daughters had drowned. It was during this journey, in the face of painful losses and troubles that Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul”.

When we have lost those whom we hold most dear, it is almost inhuman to say, “... it is well with my soul”. How did Spafford do it? When I think about the lines, I realise Spafford didn't say, “... it is well” because he no longer grieves. It is exactly the opposite! At that moment, he was feeling the full intensity of his pains. His sorrows were like “sea billows roll”, he felt “buffeted by Satan”, he felt tried and “helpless” as he stood facing the very waves that swallowed his daughters. The song was actually his cry to God for comfort, for the “clouds to be rolled back”, for God to “whisper Thy peace to (his) soul” when he was struggling to surrender and trust...

Can I praise God while I'm still hurting? True surrender is to say, “it is well”, even when life has not treated us well, and to remember that we can only be truly well when we are with God.

Kwong Wai Cheng

Wai Cheng is fascinated with words, especially the Word. Her life has always been revolving around words/Word, in one way or another. And she hopes to always hold fast to the Word, to draw strength and gain wisdom, to do the right things in God's sight.

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