In 1956, while attempting to make missionary contact with the Huaorani people of eastern Ecuador, Elisabeth Elliot’s (December 21, 1926 – June 15, 2015) husband Jim was killed. This didn’t stop Elliot from serving the tribe members for the following two years as a missionary. After many years of spending time in South America, she returned to the United States and authored over twenty books, touring the country to share her experience with audiences of believers.
Her recently published book, Suffering is Never for Nothing, is a courageously insightful book which illuminates the deep and profound mystery of suffering as a Christian. Elliot’s testimony of a life lived on the foreign field of affliction is stunningly sobering, effective in its conversational simplicity (the work is a slight adaptation of a course of six sessions taught by Elliot at a conference), reintroducing the distinction of a writer and speaker, a woman of God who achingly loved the Lord.
Elliot ponders the terrible truth about suffering and how, as believers, we must endure the very consequence of our sin nature. She used her experience to point us to the conclusion that we suffer not for nothing, but for something: “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come to the deepest things that I know about God.”
She does not ignore that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which she’s learned an indispensable truth. Fully aware of the trite and tired platitude many of us ask about suffering—why?—Elliot answers: “And the question ‘why’ presupposes that there is reason, that there is a mind behind all that may appear to be mindless suffering. We would never ask the question why if we really believed that the whole of the universe was an accident and that you and I are completely at the mercy of chance. The very question why, even if it is flung at us by one who calls himself an unbeliever or an atheist is a dead give-away that there is that sneaking suspicion in the back if every human mind that there is somebody, some reason, some thinking individual behind this.”
Elliot encourages us to believe and to trust the Lord for His will in our lives—the suffering that is inevitable, especially. She reminds us that if we really believe that somebody loves us, then we trust them. She notes that we are not adrift in chaos in this life and urges us to remember: “He loves us. To me that is the most fortifying, the most stabilizing, the most peace-giving thing that I know anything about in this universe. Every time things have seemingly fallen apart in my life, I have gone back to those things that do not change. Nothing in the universe can ever change those facts. He loves me. I am not at the mercy of chance.”
Above all, she reinforces the three conditions to discipleship in Christ: to give up our right to ourselves; to take up our cross; and to follow Him.
In 1973, Elisabeth mourned the death of her second husband, Addison Leitch. Before his departure, Elisabeth summoned the strength the Lord provided her after her first husband had been speared to death in Ecuador: “I would awaken in those wee small hours of the night—which Amy Carmichael calls the hours when all life’s molehills become mountains—my mind would be filled with vivid imaginings of the horrible things that were going to happen to my husband between then and death.”
She offers the Lord her loneliness. “Lord, here it is. I can’t handle this.” Her consolation is obedience.
There is, in fact, no redemptive work done anywhere without suffering and in scripture, the metaphors for suffering involve pruning. The best fruit is borne of pruning, of suffering, of adversity. The purest joy out of deep sorrow. Elisabeth Elliot reminds us of a life tried in the hottest fires where the purest gold emerges.
For more on Elisabeth Elliot, read Devotedly, the Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. It is a sweet collection of correspondence between these two devoted followers of Christ and a look into their heart for the nations, their heart for each other, and their heart for the Lord.
I received a copy of this book from B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review. These opinions and comments are solely my own.