Her life typified the beauty of glorifying God through suffering. She lost her first husband through martyrdom, her second to cancer, and through her final ten years she endured cognitive loss and frail health. But when I think of Elisabeth Elliot, I don’t think of a frail sufferer, I think of the strength of a woman deeply settled in peaceful surrender to God’s perfect and sovereign plans.
Elisabeth Elliot is one of my heroes. Her life’s example and her insightful understanding of God’s character have always been instructive and inspiring to me. If you’re not acquainted with her, I hope you’ll check out more about her life by clicking on this link.
In her book “Through Gates of Splendor” she recounts the brutal murders of her husband and his four fellow missionaries as they were attempting to open the way to take the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Elliot presents a challenging word to those of us who may attempt to “place God in a box” that would require Him to give us what we determine would be “our best life now.”
Elliot challenges us to consider that suffering may be what God deems is “our best life now” because whatever will bring Him glory is truly “our best life now.” Is God righteous in appointing seasons of intense suffering for His beloved children?
Is God righteous even in appointing the death of those five young men who were slaughtered because of their commitment to spread the gospel to those who would murder them?
Elisabeth Elliot, the young widow of one of those murdered missionaries, pens her answer to that question:
“We know that time and again in the history of the Christian church, the blood of the martyrs has been its seed . . . God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice. It is the same spirit that taunted, ‘If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this to five men . . .”
That “same spirit” of the evil one has whispered in my ear. Has he whispered in yours?
Within the book of Romans, we find the supreme text for carrying the believer through painful seasons and the harsh realities of living in a fallen world. You can use chapter eight as a spiritual marker when you walk through your own season of suffering:
[box]“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).[/box]
Paul is speaking of “future glory.” He invites us to lift our eyes above the present suffering and look beyond . . . to consider the reality that lies before us. We’ve not yet seen the end of the story . . . there is a magnificent future and we cannot even imagine the glory that it holds.
There is more in Romans 8 that will establish us in times of suffering, but for today I want us to consider the hope extended here in these words: The present suffering cannot be compared with the future glory.
Elisabeth Elliot now experiences that glory. She entered through those “gates of splendor” earlier this year. The suffering she experienced here is now past and could be considered a brief moment in comparison to the eternal glory that is her “new normal.”
She has finished her course. But consider how she responded to suffering and the legacy she left behind. Hers was not a story of complaining and bitterness toward God. She understood that within God’s sovereign plan lies present pain and mysterious affliction. Watching her response to personal loss fortifies us in our own seasons of pain.
What if she had chosen to reject God’s grace for suffering? What if she had chosen to wallow in self-pity or to criticize God? As she left the sufferings of this present time, she left behind an example of one who saw beyond the pain and looked to the reality of the future glory. And she worships now in the immediate presence of the God she served so faithfully here.
While she was here, she worshiped a God who is not confined to boxes of our own invention. He is not a God of our own making, not a God who we can neatly explain or easily understand. Yes, He has a purpose in suffering. But He is the God who entered our suffering in order to conquer it. And quite soon, we will experience the future glory He has prepared for us.
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