Headmaster's Blog

Bad Things Can Happen To Good People

I read something this week that helped me and I hope it will help you too. It was sent to me by Mr Schroder, who is a thoughtful kind of bloke. It was the story of a fellow named Horatio Spafford. With a name like that it could be expected that life would be tough, but it wasn’t, at least at first – but more on Horatio later.

At church on Sunday I heard something that helped me and I hope it will help you too. The visiting minister, Rev Andrew Matthews, spoke on Psalm 73. At first the Psalm did not seem like it would be helpful at all. Basically Psalm 73 starts off with an acknowledgement of God being good to Israel and then descends quickly (beginning in verse 2) into a rant (ending in verse 12 – thankfully) about how bad people, dropkicks and ratbags, seem to be leading great lives whilst the author (verses 13 to 16), a self-proclaimed virtuous, kindly, pure-hearted do-gooder is left poverty stricken on the bench; sidelined from the main game. Bad things can happen to good people. Then the Psalmist does something that is not as common out there as it probably should be: He goes to Church. The context is not clear, but there he is reminded of something pretty important: God is always with him (v23); God holds his right hand, gives him counsel and at a time of God’s choosing, takes him to glory. God knows what happens to those who reject God. Their rewards are here, but only for a lifetime. There is no towbar on a hearse.

Back to Horatio Spafford. He was a prominent lawyer and business man in Chicago in the late 19th Century though most church goers would recognise the unusual name at the bottom of the popular Hymn “It is well with my Soul”. You know the one –

“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 with well with my soul”.

In October 1871, the Great Chicago Fire brought the city to ashes along with all of Horatio’s material possessions. Desiring a respite for his devastated family, he sent his wife and four young children on a ship for a holiday in Europe, where he would join them later. His family’s ship, the Ville de Havre, would never make it to Europe. While crossing the Atlantic the steam ship was struck by a passing iron vessel and 226 passengers lost their lives, including his eleven year old Tanetta, nine year old Bessie, five-year-old Margaret Lee, and two year old Annie. Only his wife survived, sending him a telegram from England with the simple words,“Saved alone.”

Horatio Spafford took the journey across the Atlantic to meet his shattered wife in England. Some distance into the journey, the captain notified Horatio that they had reached the spot where the Ville de Havre had gone down just a few weeks prior. This was the watery grave of his beloved daughters. It was in that moment, at that spot in the open sea, that Horatio Spafford wrote the song “It is well with my Soul”. (Source: Stephen Crawford, Austin Stone Worship – edited)

Why would someone write “It is well with my Soul” when he had suffered such an immeasurable loss – his livelihood and his four children? Why would the Psalmist decide to stop envying wicked people? There is a saying going around which runs something like this – “The Bible reassures us that God will never give us more than we can bear” this is balderdash. It doesn’t pass the Pub test. Please never say that to a person who has recently lost a soulmate or a young person facing chemotherapy. The reverse is true. God sometimes gives you more than you can bear. When you go past the point of being able to solve everything for yourself; of being able to rationalise and sanitise everything through logical cause and effect – that is when you fall
to your knees – … and when the fog glides away …

…. and you notice that your hand is being held by the God who loves you