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Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Suffering is Never For Nothing" (Elisabeth Elliot)

TITLE: Suffering Is Never for Nothing
AUTHOR: Elisabeth Elliot
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2019, (128 pages).

Her first husband was killed by Auca Indians in Ecuador. Her second husband, Addison Leitch died of cancer three and a half years after she remarried. Not only that, she has to endure the cruel jokes about her being a jinx when it comes to marriage. Life is hard. Through her life, she has heard stories of other missionaries who were martyred for their faith.  These stories include a five-year-old girl physically abused; those paralyzed after and accident; natural disasters; etc. Such pain illustrate the puzzle of suffering. How do we understand the meaning of suffering? With great empathy and wisdom, author Elisabeth Elliot gives six lectures that share her journey and learning about the complex issue of suffering. Is there every a meaning for suffering? Here is where Elliot treads sensitively and compassionately. Having been through the paths of anguish and grief, she knows exactly how not to belittle the pain of suffering. Saying there is a precise "meaning" would question the ethics and morals of a Divine God. Avoiding it would pooh-pooh the reality of suffering. So Elliot plumps for the learning perspective. What could we learn out of the lesson of suffering? Is suffering ever that meaningless? Even Job Himself learned something through his personal trials.

First given as a series of six talks with the title of the same name as this book, the publisher has since released this in book form. The author passed away on June 15th, 2015 but her books continue to impact many young lives. With a foreword by Joni Eareckson Tada, and a beautiful preface honouring the life of the author, this book acknowledges both the powerful teachings of this late author-missionary-teacher as well as an exemplary Christian wearing an unshakable faith. It is easy for many of us to say that "Suffering is not easy." For Elliot who has known what it means to walk through fire and swim through storms, she comes forth as a trusted guide and compassionate pilgrim. After sharing her own journey of pain through the "Terrible Truth," she is convinced that while there are many things we cannot do anything about, God wants us to be able to do something about it. It is one thing to suffer, yet another to do something about it. Plus, we learn things far more profound through the crucible of suffering than any other ways. Not that we want to suffer for whatever reason, to be able to lift ourselves up from the cloud of gloom and to see with eyes of hope is what faith is all about. Suffering is never for nothing, as long as we learn to live with it and with Christ besides us. One might even venture to say that the reason why Elliot has become such a formidable testimony and teacher for Christ is precisely this very reason: She suffered and she learned to live with the scars that came with it. On top of her personal losses, her other scars include the murder of her trusted translator while in Ecuador and the theological problem of trusting God when it hurts. Perhaps, a key lesson when dealing with suffering is to simply shut up and submit to the sovereignty of God. This means "Acceptance" of what happened and the journey of carrying the cross. Suffering is not explained but affirmed. This means that while there are mysteries surrounding this complex matter, there is that gentle nudge to ask us to stop questioning but to trust and accept. In fact, people who ask why about suffering posits the existence of a Moral and Divine Being.

Elliot shares lots of wisdom from authors who had perceived suffering in profound ways. Amy Carmichael exhorts her: "But not of us this strength, O Lord, and not of us this constancy. Our trust is Thine eternal Word, Thy presence our security." CS Lewis famously writes: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His mehaphone to rouse a deaf world."Richard Baxter's comforting thought: "Christ leads me through no darker rooms than He went through before." Elliot writes her own poems of trust too. She exuberates acceptance, honesty, gratitude, and trust. In sharing her journey personally, she invites us to walk with God in our own personal ways.

My Thoughts
First, Elisabeth Elliot helps us counter the prevailing cultural thinking of the day. She compares the modern with the past: "An ancient man thought of goodness in moral terms. Modern man equates good with happiness. If it ain’t fun, it ain’t good." Some may accuse her of being a killjoy. I prefer to call it an orientation toward true joy, which is Christ. Suffering does takes away the fun but it also sharpens our awareness about our mortality. Our time on earth is limited. We are imperfect. We need to see life beyond our comforts and self-absorbed concerns. Life is not about fun. It is about learning to live life to the full. Life is not a problem that requires fixing. What if we run out of solutions? Would that make us failures? Neither is life a form of nihilism which makes us sadists and stoic philosophers. It is essentially about learning to live with what life throws at us. There is a time for acceptance and a time for resolution. With a presupposition that suffering has a lesson for us to learn, we would live forward more constructively.

Second, I like the way Elliot chooses "transfiguration" instead of transformation. By implying a type of glory that comes with transfiguration, we are reminded that one day, we who are in Christ will be glorified together with Him. There is joy. There is everlasting glory that brings about joy unspeakable. She goes back to the Cross and shows us that it is there that our salvation stories happen. Such is a paradox of denying ourselves in order to find ourselves; to take up the cross and not to avoid it; and to follow Christ even when the world around us despise Him and all who follow after Him.

Finally, see this book as Elliot's exhortation to put ourselves in our proper place. Suffering is real and we need to deal with it. There is often a message behind sufferings and it would be best if we learn from it. This might be tough but as long as we maintain a readiness to learn, the lessons will be clear. This does not necessarily mean an explanation to the very meaning of suffering, but the necessary responses we could have toward it, even when we don't have all the answers. Acceptance might very well be the sanest and most practical way to deal with this complex matter. The rest of the attitudes would enable us to grow in acceptance, gratitude, and trust. Above all, knowing that we are never alone in the journey of suffering brings tremendous comfort.

Elisabeth Elliot was one of the most influential Bible teachers in this era. She has been a missionary to Ecuador and a mentor to many through the journey of pain and suffering. Her most popular works include "Through Gates of Splendor," "Shadow of the Almighty," "Let Me Be a Woman," and "No Graven Image."

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of B&H Publishing and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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