‘It is well with my soul’

The prophet Habukkuk boldly questions God: “How long, O LORD, must I cry for help but you do not listen?” I can relate; I’m sure you can too. We admit intellectually and assent theologically that God cares for us: he created, he died for us. He tells us that he “will draw near to those who draw near to him”; and even that he works all things for the good of those who love him. But God can seem silently occupied elsewhere. Worse, our fervent, biblically-spirited prayers that try to give him glory seem deliberately answered in a way to thwart us.

Ed and I have a friend from church, a deeply Christ-centred, middle-aged woman who was in the midst of a career as a fine, caring veterinarian when she was struck with ovarian cancer. Over several years Melinda has suffered with great faith and courage, a shining witness to all who encountered her, the more so to dozens of medical personnel. We have prayed for her regularly and she participated in our monthly healing services as she could. But as I write she is near death.

I was taught long ago that the first aim of our prayers, as indeed our lives, must be that God’s name receives glory. That is more crucial than our wants or needs, however dire. Had God acted to miraculously grant Melinda complete health when she was prayed over and anointed with oil not so long ago, I know she would spend the rest of her (far longer) life testifying to God’s mercy and grace; as would we.

But God hasn’t done that, and I’ve been pretty upset with him that he hasn’t. I’ve reasoned with him: such healing would “hallow his name.” I’ve reminded him how he answered with 15 extra years of life the pleas of dying King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20). But it appears God has other plans, and his purposes escape my frail reasoning. “Who has known the mind of the LORD, that we should instruct him?” Paul twice asks (Rom. 11:43, 1 Cor. 2:16, from Isa. 40:13). The answer, of course, is no one. God is GOD; and we are not. Yet we may despair: God can seem the ultimate Immovable Object, not our compassionate heavenly Father.

Wait for it
I was still feeling that last Sunday when we arrived at church. Then the first thing we sang, from “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now,” was: “Unseal our lips to sing your praise in endless hymns through all our days; increase our faith and light our minds; and set us free from doubt that blinds. Then shall we join the hosts that cry, ‘O holy, holy Lord Most High!’” As the music director, I chose that hymn. God is not above using perfect bit of irony to lead us to change an attitude!

Shortly later we prayed: “Benevolent, merciful God: when we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us.” Then this, starting with the very Habukkuk verse that I’d been mulling for days (talk about irony!): “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” The LORD answers by assuring his Prophet, “There will be a vision for the appointed time . . . If it seems to tarry, wait for it. It will surely come.” Psalm 37 then urged and assured, “Take delight in the LORD, who shall give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the LORD; put your trust in the LORD and see what God will do. . . . Be still before the LORD and wait patiently.”

The Spirit further spoke to my faltering spirit. In the Communion hymn: “When peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul!’” And: “O LORD, haste the day when our faith shall be sight. . . !” In our final hymn we prayed, “To you our wants are known, from you are all our pow’rs; accept what is your own and pardon what is ours.”

I still don’t know the mind of the LORD, of course. But he gave me a gracious, comforting – and very timely – reminder that I (we) don’t need to, because he is God.  We need only trust him, and wait for him. And, in his time, he will give us our heart’s desires.  

Author

  • Marian Van Til is a former CC editor who lived in Canada from 1975-2000. She now freelances for journals and writes books. Marian is also a classical musician and the music director at a Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Ed Cassidy, live in Youngstown, NY.

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