Lessons from Hymns: Singing "It is Well" When It's Not

This will be the final devotional in our Lessons from Hymns series.

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

Every time I sing “It Is Well,” I experience the words differently. That’s the strength of this hymn. Each time we sing it, we’re in the midst of different circumstances, life stages, and emotions that affect how we interact with the lyrics. Our lives and feelings are constantly changing, and these words bring us back to the unchanging goodness of God.

This is not to say that our circumstances and emotions don’t matter; they do! Our faith is shallow when we deny that there’s darkness and pain in the world and in ourselves. Christianity is not, and should not, always be positive and encouraging.

Acknowledging our pain isn’t the same as living without hope. This hymn is a classic because it refuses to mistake sorrow for hopelessness. We don’t have to ignore grief, anger, injustice, mundanity, suffering, or anxiety to believe in the faithfulness of God.

Jesus entered into our world of pain and hardship to experience it as we do. He didn’t pretend everything was fine. He grieved with us. He shared his pain. He wept. But he also brought light into darkness. He healed people. He preached that the perfect Kingdom of God is coming soon. He brought us out of death and into life. He did all that while weeping and suffering.

When we sing “it is well,” we aren’t saying…
Everything’s fine
I’m too blessed to be stressed
Hakuna Matata (no worries)

We are saying…
God, I trust you
I will not suffer forever
I believe, help my unbelief

Matthew 5:4 says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Because Jesus promises to comfort us in our grief, we can lament without fear. We can cry freely because we have hope that Christ will someday wipe every tear from every eye.