Rivers of Peace or Waves of Sorrow

Sometimes adding a simple conjunction can go a long ways. Things easily passed over appear in a new light. Or at least this happened for me when I was recently singing one of my favorite hymns, "It Is Well with My Soul." After the very first line I dropped in "or," like this:

When peace like a river attendeth my way /
Or when sorrows like sea billows roll /
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say /
It is well, it is well with my soul.

This “or” makes explicit the paradoxical truth that we can have healthy souls in the midst of peace and (often simultaneously) in the midst of sorrow after sorrow.

For instance, I'm surrounded by good things: my wife and daughter and friends, not to mention just celebrating my own birthday. In Christ, I am a happy man. Life is good.

And, at the same time, one of my friends suffers from a debilitating health problem that seems incurable. Another friend has a three-month old with leukemia. And another has a newborn with significant disabilities. This is painful. I grieve with them. And yet, it is well with my soul.

The Bible speaks to such waves of joy and pain. For example, we are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Even though we are treated (for good reason) as sorrowful, like Paul we can also continue rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). As Christian Hedonists, in both celebrations and agonies, our aim is to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).

As one of my mentors says, “God always gives us enough to remain hopeful and he always gives us enough to remain dependent.” That’s right. Both are for more of him. Both belief and suffering are loving gifts (Philippians 1:29).