If you have been around church very long, you have probably heard the story of Horatio Spafford. He was a wealthy man, who lived in Chicago in the 19th century, and invested most of what he had in real estate. He lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, including his home and just about all of his money.
In 1873 he put his wife and their four daughters on a ship heading to England while he stayed behind to try to get some of his business back up and running. A few days after the ship departed, he received a telegram from his wife: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” There had been a shipwreck, and all four of his daughters perished at sea.
Horatio was grief-stricken, and quickly boarded another ship to England to be with his wife. As it passed over the very same place in the ocean where his daughters had drowned, he wrote these words, which would later be turned into a cherished hymn:
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 is well, it is well with my soul.
I have been to several funerals in the past few weeks, and one thing they all had in common was the playing or singing of that hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.No doubt the words of faith that Horatio Spafford penned in his time of loss have served as a comfort for others going through their own difficult times.
But I found myself thinking, what does it mean for “it” to be “well” with my soul?
The soul is not something we talk about much these days, except maybe at funerals where eternal destinies are being discussed. In some ways, I believe the term itself has grown out of style a little in today’s world. That’s ironic, since the word “soul” comes from the Greek word “psuche” from which we get our modern word psychology, and everyone seems to want to talk about psychology. Even Sigmund Freud, with whom I wouldn’t agree often, wrote that “Treatment of the psyche means…treatment of the soul.” But nowadays I think most people today think that the territory of the soul is more about religion than modern psychology or psychiatry.
Many of us have adopted the popular view that somehow we as humans are almost divided entities between body and soul, and that the soul is that which exists for eternity, more than who we are in the here and now. Yale psychiatrist Jeffrey Boyd, who is also an ordained minister, has written extensively about the soul, and says that most church attenders have bought into what he calls the Looney Tunes Theory of the soul. Here’s how he describes it:
“If Daffy Duck were blown up with dynamite, then there would be a transparent image of Daffy Duck that would float up from the dead body. The translucent image would have wings and carry a harp. From the air this apparition would speak down to Bugs Bunny, who set off the dynamite.”
It may sound silly to talk about cartoons when it comes to the soul, but I’m sure you get the picture. And, as Aristotle said, “The soul never thinks without a picture.”
In that light, what picture comes to mind for you when you think of the soul? A few years ago a woman named Lori N. offered to sell her soul on eBay for $2,000 after a car accident left her strapped for cash. Apparently, eBay ended up removing it, because of their “no soul-selling” policy, mainly because if you sell something on eBay, you have to be in position to deliver what you sell. As John Orberg wrote, if you could buy a soul through anybody, it would probably be Ikea, but then you would have to take it home and assemble it yourself from instructions that made so sense at all.
In reality, the soul is simply who we areon the inside, in the depths of our being. And so, when it is well with our soul, it means we are at peace, contented and satisfied, no matter the outward circumstances. We often seek to find happiness through achieving, or attaining or acquiring material things in the world, but those things never bring us a genuinely contented soul. As Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he forfeits his very soul?”
At the risk of being simplistic, I would suggest that the only way of finding real soul-satisfaction is through trusting in God alone, not just for after you die, but for while you are alive. Hear what David wrote in Psalm 62:1-2: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is the rock of my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”
That sounds like a man who would say, “It is well with my soul.” I hope you know that rest, and that itis well with your soul today. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.