At one time our good Lord said, ‘;All things shall be well’; and another time he said ‘You will see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well’. And from these two the soul drives different understandings.Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Joy; Long Text, Chapter 32.
The R.T Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said of these words “I think it’s become one of my least favourite sayings connected with Julian. It is the rather airy and superficial dismissal of suffering that can go alongside the trite repetition of Julian’s words. It can feel like a betrayal of the intensity and depth of her own shewings of divine love to use it to mean ‘things will turn out all right in the end’.”
One of my most tragic times in ministry was found in the last days of the life of a middle-aged lady with terminal cancer. Holding on for ‘her healing’ to the end, she died with no peace, never coming to terms with or properly acknowledging her illness. Precious moments with both family and friends lost, as in her last months of hospice care, any sense of God working in ways that did not bring her physical healing were dismissed. She died frightened and in anguish. So often too, I have found these words used in partnership with a rather victorian sentiment of ‘chin up old chap..it will turn out ok in the end’. I’ve never really found that to bring much comfort to the dying.
If we attempt to dismiss or diminish suffering, we simply run a very great risk divorcing it from the presence of the one who suffered the most, Jesus. Julian, however, wrote these words whilst deeply connected with her suffering, for it was through her acknowledgement of it that brought her connection with the journey that Jesus took through his. A journey that began in earnest in the Garden of Gethsemane, and continued onwards towards a resurrection life that came not from a dismissal, but from journeying with and fully embracing his cup. In this way, he opened the way for us to journey with him, embracing him in ours. This is not to diminish the truth that God is healer, it is simply to allow the breadth of that healing to span more than a singular view of physical, emotional or situational change, and allow us to wait well.
That we will see for ourselves that all manner of things shall be well, however, is profoundly true. As we bring our suffering to God, the mystery of his intervention can begin to unfold. Hope is not always found in a change of circumstances, but it can be found by deeply entering in to the one who can and will bring us both a taste of resurrection life now, and the fullness of resurrection life then. In the words of Anne Lewin’s poem:
“All shall be well”, she must have said that sometimes though gritted teeth, Surely she knew the moments when fear gnaws through trust, the future looses shape.
The courage that says ‘All shall be well’ doesn’t mean feeling no fear, but facing it, trusting that God will not let go.
‘All shall be well’ doesn’t deny present experience, but roots it deep in the faithfulness of God, whose will and gift is life.