One of my favorite Christmas hymns is Michael W. Smith’s “All is Well”. If you haven’t heard it, here’s a link to a lovely version on YouTube. While I know there are those who might feel it’s a little early to think about Christmas, I find myself drawn right now to the simple assurance this song brings…simply that because God is, then all is well.
This idea that all is well because God is present comes from a quote by English mystic theologian Julian of Norwich, who lived in the mid-to-late 1300s and early 1400s. She spent much of her life in seclusion, living in a small room within a church where she prayed and contemplated God. Throughout the course of her life, Julian documented many spiritual visions, one of which came as she was pondering the nature of sin, and grieving the idea that all sin might have been prevented if God had so chosen. In today’s terms, we might paraphrase that Julian was asking the eternal question of faith: Why do people have to suffer?
The answer which came to her is one that has provided much comfort to believers for nearly a thousand years. Julian heard Jesus say, quite clearly, that it was necessary for there to be sin, but that all shall be well…
This refrain was repeated three times: all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. What a powerful mantra! And what an extraordinary exclamation of faith, to stand before a world that seemed to be falling apart (the plague, civil unrest, economic crisis) and proclaim that all shall be well because Jesus said so.
I think we, in this present moment, can draw a lot from Julian of Norwich’s brazen declaration of God’s goodness. We look out on a world where all does not seem to be well–far from it, in fact. Personally, I have found the crisis in Afghanistan, the devastation from natural disasters, and the continuing pandemic to be heartbreaking. Time and again, throughout the course of each day, I find myself turning to God and asking, “What can I do?” I feel powerless in the wake of so much tragedy.
But then I think about Julian of Norwich. I consider her vision. And this reminds me that we serve a God of vision. God takes a long view of history–he sees past the present to a future I cannot even mathematically fathom. From the dawn of creation God has had a plan, it’s a journey that both begins and ends in a garden, a path of reconciliation and redemption that culminates in a new heaven and a new earth where there is only light and love. And we are a part of this plan, a small brush stroke in the greater masterpiece that God is painting throughout time and space. We are invited into the vision, even though at times, it might seem like the vision is obscured, to stand at the precipice of calamity and say, with conviction, that all shall be well.
Consider Abraham, that pillar of faith. In his letter to the Romans, Paul lifts Abraham as the model of visionary leadership. When all was not well, Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promise and make Abraham the father of many nations, and it was credited to Abraham as righteousness. Paul says that:
Abraham believed the vision, and he acted on it. He left his home, he traveled to an unknown land, he took Isaac up that mountain and prepared him for sacrifice. (I know, that one’s a struggle for me, too!) Time and again, when he should have thrown his hands up and said, “I give up!”, Abraham acted on the vision God had given him, even though he never saw the full manifestation of it.
Like Abraham, we are called to go into a world where everything is hopeless and to believe anyway. And, like Abraham, we must decide to act not on what we can do, but on what God said he would do. For some of us, that might be making monetary donations to organizations that provide relief to refugees and victims of natural disaster. For others, God might be calling us to pack up and go volunteer our hands and feet in an area where help is sorely needed to rebuild or heal or provide meals or shelter. Still others of us might be inclined to volunteer within our communities to help new neighbors settle in or be present with neighbors in need. There’s a lot we can do to further God’s vision, and no act is too small–look at what happened when the Israelites walked around a block!
I’ve been researching some ways to help Afghan refugees and victims of natural disasters. In fact, when I was writing this post, that was going to be the focus. I was going to give you concrete ways you could provide aid in these two areas. But God’s vision isn’t about how I think you might help or who I think you should help…it’s about how God is actually calling you to help those he has placed on your heart. I would encourage each of us to prayerfully consider how God might be calling us to act in our communities, and our world, to further his vision. And then to take the first step–whatever that looks like for you. Pray. Act. Repeat.
God invites us to plant the seeds of his vision, so that one day, who knows how far ahead, future generations might benefit from it. In that way, we help ensure that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.
Blessings and Peace,