To say that Horatio Spafford knew the meaning of trials and tragedy is an understatement. Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and a church elder who lived in Chicago with his wife, Anna, and their four daughters. When the Great Fire of Chicago destroyed the city of Chicago in 1871, Spafford suffered severe financial loss due to significant real estate investments he had made there. Two years later, the Spafford family decided to take a trip to Europe. Just before they were set to sail across the Atlantic, Horatio was detained by business, so his wife and daughters sailed to Paris alone on the steam ship Ville de Havre. As the ship made its journey across the ocean, it was rammed by a British ship and sank within twelve minutes. Although Spafford’s wife, Anna, survived this tragedy, their four young girls all drowned.
Anna Spafford sent Horatio a telegram to tell him of the tragedy that had struck their family, and Horatio immediately left to travel to Europe and bring his wife home. On Spafford’s trip across the Atlantic, the captain called him to his cabin to let him know that they were passing over the very spot where the four Spafford girls had perished. In a moment when grief, pain, and immense sorrow must have brought his heart to the point of breaking, Horatio Spafford did not wallow in self-pity. He did not look to the heavens and ask God why He had allowed this to happen. Instead, he put pen to paper and wrote one of the most beautiful hymns that we still sing even now, “It Is Well with My Soul.” In his original lyrics, Spafford wrote:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Despite his great loss and incredible grief and sorrow, Spafford knew peace, a peace that can only come from God. Spafford’s story brings to mind that of Job who, despite the loss of his crops, his livestock, and his children, gave praise to God (Job 1:20-22). Rather than blame God for what had happened, Spafford instead wrote of the peace that God had given him and, like Job, gave Him praise.
When we experience loss, when our hearts are filled with grief and sorrow, when trials and tragedy threaten to bring us down, the best thing we can do is look up to the heavens, to the One who knows what we feel, who loves us, and desires to bring us peace. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort and He promises comfort in our afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When the trials, troubles, and tragedies of life threaten to wear us down under their weight, we need to look to Jesus. He has promised that He will share that burden with us and give us rest (Matthew 11:28). When we praise God through our sufferings, when we seek His face through our tragedies and trials, we will feel His peace and our hearts will be able to sing, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”