When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll
2023, Grace Publications Trust
What if the worst should happen? Four years ago, Brad Franklin lost his wife. Still in her 30s, and carrying their seventh child, she became unexpectantly ill. The baby was delivered, but two weeks later, Brad’s wife died. When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll is that story. It’s a story of immense loss and immeasurable hope.
Franklin’s book, named after Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn, uses the metaphor of a storm to guide fellow ‘’sailors’’ to the Lord through the torment of grief. The book is a memoir, but it is equally devotional. In each of the book’s three parts (“That Week”, “The Days that Followed”, and “The Longer Term”), there are ten or so short chapters containing stories, scriptures, and theological truths arising out of his experience. The book is also full of extracts from other Christian writings, liturgies, and songs that will provide readers with a rich and developed entry point into a more comprehensive study on loss.
Perhaps knowing that some of his readers will come to the book feeling hurt and broken, Franklin is pastoral and often asks and answers searching questions. Through this, readers will be led to the Lord, finding solace and comfort in the character and care of God amid grief.
What I found refreshing about the book is Franklin’s honesty. He doesn’t shy away from sharing the ways he was tempted to stray from the Lord and, through this, warns how other grieving saints might fall into escapism, “checking out” through “inadequate comforts”, playing “the tough guy”, or taking suffering passively – “doing nothing” and thereby being carried along “unthinkingly by grief”.
Recognising the brutality of grief, Franklin nevertheless urges his readers to “move towards God”, remembering that God is actively involved in hurting hearts, able to sanctify and grow us in Christ, even in loss.
The book’s final chapter draws on Psalm 107:28-30:
“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.’’
Franklin writes: “God does bring people out of their distress. He may do so in this life, or he may do so in the next. But God does eventually bring every storm to a ‘whisper’. He does bring his people into their ‘desired haven’- now or in eternity. One day there will be no more sorrows like sea billows.”
At times, I found the book agonising to read; who of us, truly, wants to look death in the face like this? However, it is also robustly hopeful, Christ exalting, and fear destroying. For that, I highly recommend it. Through the agonies of his loss, Franklin has given his readers a gift. He instils in us a “biblical direction on how to live with and through grief in a way that honours God”. He admits that he “needed help to grieve better” and, in this book, he has passed on that help to us.