Saturday, 8 August 2009

Four Deaths, Two Very Different Legacies

Charles Darwin was unable to come to grips with suffering. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Two 19th century men unexpectedly lost some of their nearest and dearest. Charles Darwin’s mother died when he was eight and his eldest daughter Annie when she was ten.

In his misfortunes, Charles Darwin did not turn to God. Instead, he turned against Him, attempting to eliminate the Creator from reality. While his family had a long history of doubting the Bible, Annie’s death made him reject even the possibility of a remote Deistic God.

Darwin had a contemporary who experienced the same kind of grief but did not end up with a shipwrecked faith.

Joseph Scriven (1819-1886), who penned the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus , was born into a wealthy Irish family and was educated at Trinity College in Dublin. His later years were all but uneventful.

When Scriven was about to get married, his fiancée was drowned the day before the scheduled wedding. Scriven was 25 years old.

Misfortunes have caused many to turn away from God or even deny His existence but Scriven did the opposite.

For him, Jesus was not just a great teacher or prophet but much more. He knew what the Lord meant when He told the disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).

Swedish gospel singer Pelle Karlsson sings about the amazing love of the Creator of the Universe who in spite of His awesome greatness still loves little people. Scriven had discovered this same secret. He turned to the only one who could offer him real consolation in his sorrow and anguish: Jesus, His Saviour.

Afterwards, Scriven packed his bags and left Ireland for Canada. To forget his own troubles he used most of his time and energy to help others. He was called The Good Samaritan of Port Hope.

In Canada Scriven fell in love with a young lady but she soon died of pneumonia.

In 1855 he received news of her mother’s grave illness. He could not see her but sent her a little poem that is practical theology at its best. He never intended it to be published.

Most of us know the words:

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

The song What a Friend We Have in Jesus reminds us of our privilege of being able to take all our burdens to the Lord and be confident that He listens to us. He is present even when all others have left us.

In the midst of anxiety we can confidentially approach Him, since according to Hebrews 4:15-16 He is our High Priest who understands our weaknesses.

The Bible also calls Him Immanuel, ‘God with us’. Scriven understood that God is not aloof from us. The transcendent became immanent in Christ. He became our faithful friend.

While misfortunes caused Charles Darwin to loose his faith in God, Scriven took a more constructive approach. He knew he had a friend who would never desert him.

Joseph Scriven’s “little poem” has been a great source of inspiration for perhaps millions of people.


Keynes, Randal. 2002. Darwin, His Daughter & Human Evolution. New York: Riverhead Books.

Sanders, Roger W. 2009. Darwin’s Personal Struggle with Evil. Answers 4:1, 32-33.