Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Elisabeth Elliot on What to Do with Suffering

First of all, what is suffering exactly? In Elisabeth Elliot Gren's excellent book A Path Through Suffering, which I've read enough that I'm now on my second copy, and in many of her radio programs and talks in years past, she defined it this way:
The word suffering is much too grand to apply to most of our troubles, but if we don't learn to refer the little things to God, how shall we learn to refer the big ones? A definition which covers all sorts of trouble, great or small, is this: having what you don't want, or wanting what you don't have (56).
Mrs. Gren knows something of trouble, great and small. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was one of the Ecuadorian martyrs in the 1950s. He and his colleagues were killed by the very tribe they were trying to reach with the gospel. He and Elisabeth had a young daughter at the time.

Other trials, great ministry and relational losses, followed during the remainder of her missionary service. She eventually married again, and her second husband developed cancer, which in time left her a widow once again. Her third and current husband, Lars Gren, is alive and well at this writing, but he suffered serious injuries this spring in a car accident while they were traveling.

In other words, Elisabeth Elliot Gren has tasted suffering. She does not write about it from easy-chair comfort. Here is her advice, from the same book, on what to do with affliction:
How to deal with suffering of any kind:
1. recognize it
2. accept it
3. offer it to God as a sacrifice
4. offer yourself with it (141)
I appreciate the realism of the first part of her advice and the call to worship of the second. Worship is the end (telos, goal) of all our experiences, is it not? Another phrase from her talks which comes to mind is this: "See in it material for sacrifice." Everything God gives, the mournful and the rejoicing, is material for sacrifice. Following King David's thought, let us not offer God a sacrifice which cost us nothing. Suffering is costly indeed, but when we offer it to God He makes it as glorious as the risen Christ.

A more contemporary writer, Beth Moore, said in a video I recently viewed that whatever problem we may face today, it's not bigger than raising the dead. That thought helps me offer my suffering to God and offer myself with it. Our God is in the resurrection business, after all. That silent Saturday may last the rest of an earthly life, but Sunday is coming, friends.

I am praying with the apostle Paul this week "that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (that's us!), and His incomparably great power for us who believe" (Eph. 1:18-19a). Paul continues, "That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come" (1:19b-21).

May you know His incomparably great resurrection power for you in whatever suffering you face today, whatever you "have and don't want or want and don't have." May you know His face shining upon you as you recognize it, accept it, offer it to Him, and offer yourself with it, in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.

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