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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Dark Night

Week Five readings are listed at the end of this post.

Job 35:1 thru Job 37:24

It's Friday!  And it is the last day we hear from Job's friends.  Over our weekend we will hear from God. Job has been asking many questions and he is about to get his answers.

We all have them, questions that is, when we go through the midnight of life filled nights of sorrow, nights of persecution, nights of doubt, nights of bewilderment, nights of anxiety, nights of oppression, and nights of ignorance.

Today I want us to focus in on one verse from our reading.

Job 25:9-10 says, People cry out when they are oppressed.  They groan beneath the power of the mighty.  Yet they don't ask, 'Where is God my Creator, the one who gives songs in the night?...'

It is Well with My Soul is one of the most famous hymns of all time.  But most people are not aware of the circumstances surrounding its origin. 

The hymn was written by a Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford and you might think to write a worship song titled, It is Well with My Soul, you would indeed have to be a rich, successful Chicago lawyer.  On the contrary, they came from a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy.

Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio's legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of Evangelist D.L. Moody.

In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords' only son died of scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, in 1871, every one of Spafford's real estate holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.

Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest, D.L. Moody needed the help. He was traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns.

Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer Ville de Havre across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay.

Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed east to Europe while Spafford returned west to Chicago.

Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read:

Saved alone.

On November 2nd 1873, the Ville de Havre sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters.

Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford's first reaction was one of complete despair.

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife.

Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father's voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. A careful reckoning has been made, he said, and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.

Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great 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, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The sweetest songs often come from nights of affliction. 

Anybody can praise God when times are good.  Spafford's song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering.

It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under circumstances similar to those experienced by the Spaffords. But we do know that the God who sustained them in the night will also be with us.

The Spaffords went on the have more children and moved to Jerusalem and helped found a group called the American Colony whose mission was to serve the poor. The colony later became the subject of the Nobel prize winning book, Jerusalem, by Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf.

God's unfailing love enables us to be masters of our circumstances and not victims and the Spaffords' refusal to give up on God and life is an inspiration to us all. 

I love what Jennifer Rothschild remarked upon learning she was losing her eye sight at age 15.  She said, It is well with my soul, even when it is not well with my circumstance.

Job has been a victim of his circumstances for quite some time now. God is about to turn it all around.

In his dark night, Job is about to emerge with a song.

Week 5 Readings

January 29
Job 35:1 thru 37:24

January 30
Job 38:1 thru 40:5

January 31
Job 40:6 thru Job 42:17

February 1
Exodus 1:1 thru 2:25
1 Chronicles 6:1-3a
Exodus 3:1 thru 4:17

February 2
Exodus 4:18 thru 7:13

February 3
Exodus 7:14 thru 9:35

February 4
Exodus 10:1 thru 12:51

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