In November of 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre, was carrying 313 passengers from the United States to Europe when it collided with the Scottish vessel, Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre sank within twelve minutes, killing 226 of the passengers, including the four daughters of Horatio and Anna Spafford. Anna Spafford survived the crash, having been pulled from the water while clinging to a piece of floating wreckage. Her husband, Horatio, was working in Chicago at the time of the collision.
When Anna Spafford landed in Cardiff, Wales, she wired her husband, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” Horatio booked passage on the next available ship to Europe in order to join his grieving wife. About four days into his journey, Horatio was summoned to the captain’s cabin. There the captain informed him that they were over the place where his wife and children’s ship went down.
It is on this grievous journey that Horatio Spafford penned the beloved words to one of the most widely known and sung hymns:
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.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7, ESV
The Peace Of God
Peace, ειρηνη, is not harmony between us and other men and women. It is not an absence of conflict. Neither is this a reconciliation with God. That has already occurred. There is something to this peace that is deep, profound, and internal. Note that it guards our hearts and minds, not our bodies and homes.
This is a subjective calm and visceral relaxation. And it is of such profundity that it defies both explanation and understanding. From that standpoint, it seems foolish to even blog about it. Blog about what? We don’t understand it!
When my soul is troubled, even to the degree of Horatio Spafford’s grief, I can bring all my anxieties to God, and in doing so find my heart and mind flooded with peace. Not peace from God, but rather the peace of God. I am not able to confidently quantify that difference, but I do believe it is precisely that distinction that makes this peace the peace that which transcends our ability to understand it.
I can no more wrap my mind around the peace of God than I can wrap it around God himself. Remember, this peace-giving God is the same God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20b).
Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7, BSB
God-Guarded Heart and Mind
This peace of God stands guard over our heart and mind. This guarding, φρουρησει, is very much a military term, one that describes protecting with a garrison of soldiers. As difficult as it is to do so, close your eyes for just a moment, and try to imagine the reality of the creator-God of the universe, the creator of all that exists, standing sentry over your heart and your mind. Given that reality, how can we possibly not be at peace?
It is entirely possible that the “divine sentry” guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus is what gives us the boldness spoken of earlier in the letter – “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God” (Philippians 1:27b-28, NASB).
Our Too-Big-To-Understand God
I will never be able to figure God out, and in an ironic way, I don’t really want to be able to do so, but I do keep trying. I have long maintained that anything I can wrap my mind around is not big enough to be my God.
It is not only the peace of God that is beyond our comprehension. It is much more than that.
- Our gift of salvation is “indescribable” or “inexpressible.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
- The “thoughts” and “ways” of God are far beyond our thoughts and our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
- The love of Jesus is such that it “surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:19)
In the same way, this peace of God, the guardian of our hearts and minds, is beyond what we can comprehend or understand, but it is freely given to us as God’s beloved children. We don’t have to understand it. Just enjoy it.
And ponder this for a moment as well – If this peace that is guarding our hearts and minds is so profound that it transcends our understand as Christ-followers, with the indwelling Holy Spirit, think what that peace must look like to those outside of Christ who are drowning in the raging tempest of the world system.
If we are unable to spiritually discern the peace within, those without the Spirit of God have no possibility of doing so (1 Corinthians 2:14). To them, it is just one more puzzling layer of Christian nonsense, but its reality is undeniable.
God’s Constant Protection
God never promised to keep us from trouble and turmoil, but rather to protect us through it. Indeed, Jesus was quite clear that we would have trouble from the unbelieving world (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, John 16:33, etc.). But in all of our troubles, according to the apostle Paul, we will be hupernikkomen, “super-conquerors!” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NASB).
I’ll leave you with these words of encouragement from God:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4, ESV
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
– Isaiah 43:1b-3a, NASB
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3, ESV