Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family — a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.
On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.
About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Within approximately 12 minutes, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”
Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.
According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” while on this journey.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrow 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 With My Soul is with no doubt one of the most beloved and well known hymns of all time and it should come as no surprise that it was written out of unimaginable tragedy
A quick survey of scripture would reveal that many of our most loved passages were born out of trial and hardship so why should songs of worship and praise be any different?
As I’m sure you’ve guessed this hymn is the subject of our sermon this morning as we continue with our series Preaching the Hymns
However unlike what I have down with our previous hymns, this morning I am not going to break it down verse by verse to consider scriptural backing, instead I want to look at the general topic of suffering and more specifically the importance of how we respond and minister to those around us who are suffering
In order to do that I want us to consider a name that is synonymous with suffering and tragedy and that is the name of Job
We avoid them because it is too awkward or we feel that we have to give them the answer/solution to their problem and so we try defend God’s actions and hope that they can understand
One name that is synonymous with suffering and tragedy is the name of Job
If you know the story of Job you know that says
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
Yet through no fault of his own, Job was chosen as a pawn as Satan tried to prove a point to God
In just a matter of moments, Job lost almost everything, his wealth, his family, and all but a couple of his servants
Then because he refused to curse God through this first test he also lost his health receiving painful sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet ()
Job was so miserable that he just wanted to die and who can blame him?
And that’s when his 3 friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come along to offer him some support but as we will see, they were more like Larry, Curly, and Moe than Dr. Phil
This morning let’s consider what it is that they did right and what it is that they did wrong
Let’s begin with what they did right because not only did they do it first but it is so simple
The first thing that they did right was that they came to Job in his hour of suffering
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.
Far too often we avoid contact with those who are going through tough times, especially those in the church, not because we’re afraid of catching whatever it is that they “have” but because it feels too awkward, we don’t know what to say or how to act and so it’s just easier to avoid them
I can speak of personal experience in regards to this one for when Liane went public with her diagnosis of Complex PTSD and especially when we got Harley there was a noticeable difference in the contact of friends
Not in this church and not with our closest friends but there were those that just didn’t know what to say and so they stayed away
Job’s 3 friends got it right when they went to see him, it’s the heart of God,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
The second thing that they did right is that they empathized with him,
When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.
We might not always be able to fully understand exactly what the person is going through unless we have gone through it ourselves, but we can sit with them and share their pain and help to carry their burden
In his letter to the church in Rome Paul addresses what it means to live together in community and respond to each other out of love
He says in part,
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
You don’t have to fully understand their pain and grief to share in it with them, to allow them to cry and maybe even cry with them because you feel their hurt
The third thing that they did right was they spent time with Job
Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
I think that one of the worst things that we can do when someone is going through tough times is we make our self available
What I mean by that is when we tell the person, if you need anything just call me, or I’m just a phone call away
We need to take the initiative and not put the onus on the one suffering but take that upon ourselves instead and just go be with them
If they don’t want you there, they’ll tell you
How many times have I been told by people that were going through difficulties that the greatest thing I did was just be there, sometimes up front, sometimes just in the background but being there
This is not just the role of the Pastor, this is the role of the body of Christ to be present in the lives of others, in the good, in the bad, and in everything in between
And these are the 3 things that Job’s friends did right, they showed up, they sympathized, and they spent time with him all things that any one of us can do when we know that someone is facing a hard and trying time
But after 7 days Job can’t stand it any more and he lashes out against God for his situation and that’s when the 3 friends become the 3 stooges
They made the mistake that many of us make in this type of situation, they feel that they need to say something to make it better
That somehow they have to defend God and all that has taken place
The problem is, that like us, they were speaking in ignorance, not really knowing enough to make a comprehensible discourse
We all have certain mindsets that taint the way that we see things and so when they spoke to Job they said it as they saw it which, as God would later point out was not how it was
First he says that Eliphaz represents the Rabbinic tradition that simply states that God rewards the righteous and punishes the sinner
Therefore anyone suffering from tragedy must have sin in their life or, as he would later expand, in the life of someone in their family and so they need to repent
There’s 2 problems with that, apart from from the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ none of us are righteous and are deserving of punishment, the upside being that in Christ we should all be healthy and wealthy because we are all righteous
And secondly Jesus Himself spoke against this type of thinking,
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Bildad on the other hand represents the Mutazillite world view which says that all hardship is a test from God so that having come through it God can reward us with even greater blessing
Eliphaz tried to tell Job that he wasn’t doing enough good with what God had given him and so God was taking it away, Job needed to repent
It is this mindset that says to just suck it up, to quit whining and leave God alone
Bildad said it wasn’t the lack of good that was the problem but the sin that was in Job’s life or the life of someone in his family that Job was overlooking, Job needed to repent
But once again the Word tells us
Zophar on the other hand decided that this was all just due to the arbitrary will of God and there was nothing to be done except accept it
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Any of that sound familiar? Has anyone ever tried to tell you that? And maybe even had scripture verses to back it up.
Or maybe you have even found yourself at a loss for what to say and have said something similar to someone else
Listen to what God says of their words,
After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.
Why was God so angry with these 3 men?
Despite centuries of debate over this book I believe that the answer is actually pretty simple, because in all of their lengthy speeches to Job their focus was always on the same thing…Job
What Job did or didn’t do to bring this upon himself
What they should have done was to help Job to take the focus off of himself and his problems and put it where it belongs, back on God
In fact after the 3 friends have given up on Job and have concluded that he is a hopeless case, another man appears seemingly out of nowhere and he does what the other 3 should have answers Job’s questions by directing him to WHO the answer is not WHAT the answer is
His name is Elihu which means “Yahweh is my God” and in the longest speech in the book he reminds Job and his friends:
God is able to work and speak to us in the midst of our pain
God’s justice and prudence are vindicated by His sovereignty
Regardless of what comes our way there is an advantage to godliness and piety
God is great and beyond our understanding and knows what He is doing while Job and his friends are speaking out of ignorance
Then as quickly as Elihu appears he’s gone leaving Job, and us to consider the wisdom of his words
Which of course Job does which then opens the door for God Himself to speak to Job through a whirlwind which elicits this response from Job
Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, some mild some major and nobody is immune to the ups and downs that are a part of this mortality
What we do have control over, however, is how we will respond when calamity happens either to us or to someone close to us
We can ease our own sense of awkwardness by just avoiding them, or we can go to them out of ignorance and try and explain and remedy the situation or we can do what God’s Word teaches us to do, go to them, empathize with them, spend time with them, and, given the chance, help them take their focus off of the situation and focus their gaze on God
After all, as Paul wrote at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5