When Tragedy Strikes

We continue to stagger from unexpected tragedies like the Valentine’s Day Florida high school murder of students, teachers and coaches. Another sad reminder of how unstable life can be, another addition to similar events before that found us unprepared. What great grief was felt by the parents who sent their children to school never imagining it would be the last time they would see them alive. Dreams shattered…hopes smashed…the future stolen. Each family walked through its own set of bewildered unbelief at what had taken place. Each one dealt with the sorrow in personal responses that only they could embrace.

Sometimes these circumstances overwhelm and engulf us. How we respond is extremely important.

In another time, somewhat different than these recent events, some other children died. Their circumstances and conclusion were special. Here is their story as related by Ernest Emurian.

“The French liner, ‘S.S. Ville du Havre’, was the most luxurious ship afloat when it sailed from New York in November 1873. Among her passengers was Mrs. H. G. Spafford of Chicago, making the trip with her four children, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie. Mr Spafford, a highly successful businessman, had business commitments and was unable to accompany his family on this voyage, but planned to join them later in France.

At two o’clock on the morning of November 22, 1873, several days out from New York, sailing on quiet Atlantic Ocean waters the Ville du Harve was rammed by an English sailing vessel, the ‘Lochearn.’ In two hours the ship settled to the bottom of the ocean. Two hundred twenty-six passengers were drowned. Among that number were all four of the Spafford children.

Nine days later when the survivors landed at Cardiff, Wales, Mrs. Spafford sent her husband a cablegram of only two words: ‘Saved Alone.’

H. G. Spafford had already gone through one great tragedy. The business matters that prevented him from making the trip with his family were the result of the great Chicago Fire. It had destroyed all his business establishments. Now he struggled with the greater loss of his children.
Spafford booked a ship to Europe to join his wife. On the way over the Captain called Spafford to his cabin and said, ‘I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Harve went down.’

Dare we imagine how he felt. Sleepless, he began to put his thoughts and feelings into words. He wrote five sections that later would become one of the greatest expressions of faith in tragedy that has ever been stated.

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.”

– Living Stories of Famous Hymns, pp. 66-67

Such great faith in deeply troubling moments. Would we have responded in this way? Do we have a trust that would so characterize us amidst such tremendous times? Can we look up regardless of terrible events and say “It Is Well With My Soul?”

We cannot predict when good or bad things will come, but we can claim the Lord’s Presence whenever or whatever it might be.

If we do not walk in right paths under Divine guidance in the usual steps of life we will not find strength and support when our world falls apart. Let’s start now!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Till next time, Don Johnson, Kirby Pines Chaplain