“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.
Good post, Andrew. I’ve sat here for the last 20 minutes or so trying to figure out how to articulate all that I’m thinking. I’m at a real loss for words, and I think it’s pretty much because there’s not much more one can add to this because you’ve said it so well. Thanks again.
Beautiful, haunting, and rings especially true now in light of the earthquake at Haiti. Something we all need to hear.
Thanks, Andrew. My thoughts as well.
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?
No, it wasn’t. It shouldn’t be now. I’ve just buried a parent, and every part of me knows this isn’t how it should be. Death is creation’s broken-bottle edge. It scrapes and cuts; it reminds how this isn’t what things should be.
I guess I look at it a little differently. That phrase means a lot to me. Frank Peretti wrote a book called “All Is Well” quite a while ago. I highly recommend the audiobook. In the book, “All is well” was on a Christmas ornament but the back of the ornament said “for unto us is born this day…a Savior”. In the midst of their circumstances, they had forgotten why all was well and needed to be reminded.
So it’s the irony that gets me. Is all well with me right now? Absolutely not. This year has been awful so far (and we are only 15 days in!). But because Jesus came (and died, that is a crucial part), it will be well. Because the end already determined, all is well. Doesn’t make all well right now, but it will be.
I can see how a cute little sign with that phrase would get you ruffled up. But if the rest of the story comes with it, that saying becomes much more powerful.
Cheryl, who got 3 bananas :)
Really, in the truest sense, we as believers in Christ can say “It IS well with my soul.” It might not all be well with my circumstances…but because I believe Romans 8:28 is true even for my circumstances, then I can say that for ME, all IS well. That said, I want to live my daily life in such a way that I can impact people’s eternal destinies so that all becomes well for THEM! As Andrew said, all is NOT well in our world…but…we have GOOD NEWS to share! May we be faithful to share it today!
The post made me think of a different sign. On the wall in my bedroom there is a wooden sign that reads “In Everything Give Thanks”
I have entered the room many days and thought, “I have to give thanks for this also?” Even when things are NOT all well, I have to find reasons to be thankful.
It is sometimes hard, other times not.
Thanks for the reminder that all shall be made well. In times of trouble and pain, that is one thing we can always gives thanks for.
As AP has put it so well, there IS a light in the darkness, and a end to the night!
Thanks be to God for that.
You know Andrew, it’s as if the fact that we aware that the glimpses are just that — glimpses — is what clues us in to the truth behind the statement that all is not well just yet. And in fact, I find hope in that. Because even the days in my picture perfect cottage leave something to be desired. It’s that desire that lets me know I’m alive, and that I was made for more than a glimpse. I was made for the real thing, like Lewis talks about in Mere Christianity. I have seen the spiritual death of folks who are lulled into thinking this is as good as it can get.
Thank you Andrew – your post reminded me of one of my favorite songs, “This Too Shall Be Made Right” by Derek Webb. A haunting song that speaks of hope in the midst of so much brokenness in the world.
This reminds me of your song “After the last tear falls”. I love how this song sings to me that there will be a last tear.
Nice post. I have had similar questions everytime I see the outdoor slogan slapped all over everything (t-shirts to bumper stickers) that reads “Life is good”.
What about life makes it good? Is it my current circumstances (financial, relational, location, etc.) that makes it good? The statement begs a deeper question instead of the simple stick man with a clueless smile on his face.
Thanks for those great words Andrew. How true that we live in such a divided place of the already and not yet. Circumstances in my life have made me think a lot lately about the struggle: the desire to be with Christ, but the desire to live. We were made to live, not die, AND we were made to be with Christ. Right now it’s either/or–to be with Christ is to be away from those we love (not that we would feel dissatisfaction in the presence of Christ). Someday it will be both–we will be alive with those we love AND with Christ AND we will feel no dissatisfaction. But it’s still someday. The hope we have, as Steven Curtis Chapman put it in his newest album, is that “spring is coming”.
Interesting that you ended with the Romans 8 passage as it has been in my mind thanks to Eugene Peterson’s wonderful “Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places”. Couple that with others like this one in Luke 19:
“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it”
Right after this other reference to the “groaning” of all of creation we have Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Couple that with His weeping on the way to raise Lazarus and you have a picture of the mind of Jesus (which we are called to imitate in Philippians 2). He knows He will triumph in both cases, He even foretold it, but the Fall’s devastation brings Him to tears — all is not well indeed.
There is a great elation at His coming on Palm Sunday but when He sees Jerusalem, the city of peace, He weeps for it saying:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
There is a time and place for that because the Kingdom is not yet or unrecognized.
But the Kingdom is also now thanks to the Cross of Christ and His conquering death. Therefore on that sunny Sunday day ‘all is well’ was fitting. Had you not felt that way, I’m afraid the very stones would have cried out at your insolence.
This afternoon at the prison we spent most of the time praying for the people of Haiti. We also listened to a couple of your songs. I challenged them to think beyond their own lives and needs, to others in need of prayer. I told them that they are at risk of spending their lives being self-focused and ultimately that will drive one mad. They are at risk of that because of being incarcerated – in other words, a self-centered focus, regardless of the repercussions for others, is often entwined with what led to their incarceration. Here is a chance to face that and consider what one wants one’s life to count for. I told them how many people in Haiti are documented on international news as praying to Jesus.
All Will Be Well is my favorite song of yours. We groan as we also confidently look forward to what lies ahead in Christ. Romans 8. love, Joy
I also was reading that passage you just used from Romans 8 with them, creation under subjection (Gen 3:17b). And Hebrews 12:26-27, how God will shake whatever can be shaken, “so that only the unshakable remains” as you quote in a song.
Beautifully articulated, Andrew. I find that this is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life for me – the brutal tension of living in a world where is all is not well while still clinging to the hope that all shall be well.
I just wanted to second what John said in comment 2. I just got done looking over pictures and a 60 minutes report on the devastation in Haiti. It brings up so much of the immense magnitude of the pain experienced in this world and reminds me how quickly death and judgment will come. We are all shocked by what has happened but my heart needs to believe that it points to hope and makes it more glorious in the contrast; it is impossible to see from where most stand, Christians included but it needs to be true. It just needs to.
Andrew, thanks for this post. I think it goes along with the other sort of “americanism” that I really can’t stand, you know the “Everything happens for a reason” one. Both statements are out of touch with a seriously broken world.
I love the Julian of Norwich quote, one I say to myself at times. Your post does a good job of how this is pointing to things to come, not usually things as they are.
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