Those Mean, Peevish Christians and the Life They Lose
“It is well with my soul,” she sang. A friend shared Audrey Assad’s lovely version of that moving hymn. The friend wanted to encourage people with the words. Words that came from a man in deep, horrible pain.
Almost right away, someone commented, “Except Audrey is getting divorced … not sure all is well.” The guy’s reaction to beauty and wisdom is to make a personal remark about the messenger. That’s bad enough. But typical of Christian commenting.
But then came a worse comment — also, sadly, typical. Someone else declared: “Yeah … sorry, this one has lost all legitimacy.”
Wait, what? A performance “loses all legitimacy” because the singer is having a hard time? It does that how? We can’t enjoy it if the singer doesn’t live up to our standards? It does that why?
I make no judgements about Assad. I don’t know anything about her. I’m responding to what her critic thinks. No, what he assumes. Note that he assumes the worst. That’s peevish and mean, and also dishonest. Because he doesn’t know.
The hymn would be moving were it sung that well by a Richard Dawkins-loving atheist. Especially if you know the story. (I tell it here, and include the words of the hymn.) The writer, Horace Spafford, had lost all four children in a freak accident in the middle of the Atlantic. Sailing to England to get his wife, who alone survived, he passed near the spot where his life changed beyond recovery. And wrote the hymn with lyrics like this:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
And the chorus, “It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well, with my soul.” I have four children and thinking about losing them all at once makes me sick. Knowing what Jesus had done for him, and would do for him, Spafford could say “It is well with my soul” while suffering unimaginable grief.
How Does He Know?
The commenter wasn’t trolling, because as far as I can tell he spoke sincerely. But he still spoke unkindly and dishonestly. He was mean and peevish. It was a stupid comment.
The commenter almost certainly knows nothing of the situation. How does he know the singer’s not feeling the truth even more deeply now? That in suffering, the words mean even more to her? Even if she were completely at fault, God is always quick to heal, to make things well with your soul.
A singer who screwed up might sing the hymn with even more understanding of its meaning. A singer who’d been the victim of someone else screwing up might sing it with even more appreciation of its meaning. The hymn declares God’s love for you, whether you’ve sinned or been sinned against, or both.
The Catholic writer Friedrich von Hugel liked to say, “No holiness without suffering.” It’s an uncomfortable, and unsettling, truth. It’s a way of saying what Jesus says when He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him.
Life drops crosses on us we have to carry whether we want to or not. We can drop crosses on ourselves. Those we have to carry too. Someone you love might walk out on you. You might walk out on him. Carrying that cross with Jesus’s help will bring you closer to Him, make you holier. The evidence? It will teach you to be a person who can say, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Suffering with Christ does something else for us. Faced well, trusting in the Lord, it keeps us from saying stupid, cruel stuff about others. Like “Yeah, sorry, this one has lost all legitimacy.”
And what fruits come from not judging. We gain from not jumping to judgment. We get blessed, as my Evangelical friends put it, by listening with openness to others. By assuming the best of them and trying to put ourselves in their place.
The people who make such silly remarks — and they are legion — annoy me, I admit. But I also feel sorry for them. Their meanness and peevishness keeps them from seeing so much they should see. I know this. I have been that person. Don’t be.
They don’t see people as they are. They see objects to be judged, not people who might be friends. People whom the Father loves. They don’t see the beauty of God at work in them. Because they prefer the brief, sour pleasure of judging them.
To see the better way to listen, read the comments on the song’s Youtube page. Many of them will move you as much as the hymn. People suffering real, irreversible pain speak of the comfort the words bring them. The words as sung by Audrey Assad. The way she sings the words makes them even more powerful. And maybe she sings them the way she does because she knows how true they are.
“My son died of colon cancer last September and now, my husband has been referred to hospice by his doctor,” one woman wrote. “I sit alone looking out at the sunset and this old hymn came to mind. This ministered to me, thank you.”
A young person wrote: “Listening to this as my parents fight. I can hear them screaming and how much they hate each other, it’s exhausting and sad. They’ve been like this all my life. This song came to mind and is a beautiful reminder that God is always present, no matter how hopeless the situation, you are not alone. He will work it out for good.”
Other hymns sung by Audrey Assad that readers may enjoy are Holy, Holy, Holy; Abide With Me; I Shall Not Want; Come Thou Fount; and Softly and Tenderly.
David Mills is a senior editor of The Stream. After teaching writing in a seminary, he has been editor of Touchstone and the executive editor of First Things. His previous article for The Stream was God Is Not a Christian. This article has been slightly expanded since publication.