“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
—St. Julian of Norwich
One Sunday after church my family and I ended up at a craft fair. Under the big trees were hundreds of white tents, booths where local artisans peddled their wares. The weather was fine, people were everywhere, sipping lemonade and licking powdered sugar from their fingers. Every few minutes we had to stop so our kids could pet a happy dog while its proud owner looked on. It was a good day.
We spotted one booth that boasted wooden signs and swings, hand painted with the words “All Is Well.” Flowery vines looped the letters. The signs were pretty. They looked like something you’d find at your grandmother’s house, or at a Cracker Barrel. But there was something about the cute little signs that bugged me. It more than bugged me.
It’s too easy on a perfect Sunday afternoon to believe the lie that “All is well.” All is not well. I wonder how the same words would feel if the sign hung on the wall of an Indian brothel? See the cruelty, the broken people, enslaved children? All is well. Or if the sign hung over a casket at a funeral? Sure, you’re grieving, but don’t worry–all is well. Empty words. They offer no peace because they’re so jarringly untrue, and our hearts know it.
But surely that Sunday afternoon the sentiment rang true, didn’t it? The sun was shining, our bellies were full. I had just eaten a glorious funnel cake. But when I saw the sign I couldn’t stop thinking of the brokenness of the world. It was as if the sign was nailed to a picture perfect cottage surrounded by a slum. The people feasting in that perfect cottage can tell themselves “All is well” as much as they want, but it won’t make it true. They’ve closed their eyes to the truth.
I’m not suggesting we mope. I don’t think we should stroll the park on bright Sundays with our faces dark, just because the world is fallen. To the contrary, acknowledging the great sadness of Creation makes us more grateful for the blessings when we see them. Sometimes at funerals people say things like, “Dying’s just a part of life.” That may be true now, but it wasn’t always, was it? In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and Adam and Eve had the world for a playground. But they broke it. Sin blighted the land.
But we are given the mighty blessing of living in the wake of Christ’s resurrection. We can see the beginning of the story, when all was truly well, and we can read of the darkest day when Jesus died, and the holy morning when he rose again. We live in the meantime, when the Church is charged with unraveling the curse, pushing back the Fall, proclaiming not that “All is well”, but that all shall be well again.
We shouldn’t mock the pain of the world by telling the wounded that everything’s fine. We remind them that if there’s pain, it points to healing; if Creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth, it points to a new Creation.
I was lucky enough to wander away from the craft booth before I opened my big mouth and hurt the artist’s feelings. I know she meant well. But on those days when the kids aren’t sick, the car isn’t in the shop, we haven’t lost our jobs, and all seems well, we must remember that it isn’t a picture of the way things are but a precious glimpse of the way they will be, forever, for everyone in Christ, when the Kingdom comes in its fullness.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.