Sometimes, life is overwhelming. It can feel like we’re not strong enough or smart enough for whatever trial has come our way. Such a feeling was familiar to Horatio Spafford, who wrote “It Is Well with My Soul” after dwelling on overwhelming events in his own life—the death of his children and financial ruin. The first stanza of that hymn reads:
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.
How could it be well with Horatio Spafford’s soul when life overwhelmed him? Can it be well with our souls too? Yes, it can. Scripture is full of promises regarding God’s presence with us and His enduring care for His people. One such promise is contained in Psalm 121, where the psalmist lifts his eyes “up to the hills” (v. 1). In the ancient world, one lifted his eyes up to the hills to look for help. The psalmist in Psalm 121 is expressing his fear about some terror pressing in on him. Where would help come from? In Israel, a hilly region by and large, it often came from the hills. The onlooker in a surrounded city or village would see the needed aid—an allied army or band of soldiers—come into eyesight over the crest of a hill, and he would be filled with relief. It would be well with his soul.
Yet in this psalm, things take a turn. The psalmist says, “I lift my eyes up to the hills,” and then he asks a question: “From where does my help come?” He asks himself this after scanning the world around him and looking for help. Then he remembers the Lord, and he says, as if to himself, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
Here, the psalmist’s eyes of sight become eyes of faith. He consoles his heart with the presence of God. God is with him, and so he will not be overwhelmed—regardless of what appears in the hills. He reminds himself that God is Creator, and thus He is sovereign over the whole universe. The psalmist goes on to recognize more things about God as he switches to using the word you, as though to speak to us who are reading directly: He won’t let you be moved (v. 3); He hasn’t fallen asleep (vv. 3–4); He will keep you and give you covering (vv. 5–6); He will preserve your life (v. 7); He will keep all your comings and goings (v. 8).
Where do your eyes turn when the overwhelming things of life prompt you to lift your eyes “up to the hills”? Where do you look when things seem to be closing in around you? Let us remember in such moments to look, like Horatio Spafford, on the unseen things; to remember our Creator, who is sovereign over all things, and who will protect us, preserve us, go with us, and never forsake us. He is always enough. God is where our help comes from—not the hills.