By Elisabeth Elliot
I look upon suffering as one of God’s ways of getting our attention. In fact, C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I’d like for us to think about some of the things that God needs to say to us, for which He needs to get our attention. First of all, it’s interesting to me, it’s of great significance, that as far as we know the oldest book in the Bible is the book of Job. Of all the books in the Bible, it is this one that deals most specifically and head-on with the subject of suffering. You may recall that Job was called a blameless man, a righteous man. God, himself, said that Job was a blameless man. This is significant because the common understanding of morality those days was that a good man would be blessed and an evil man would be punished . . . so, Job’s experience seemed to turn that completely upside-down.
Job lost everything. His ten children were killed in a storm. His vast number of animals were killed. His household was essentially destroyed. This man who had been esteemed, wealthy by all accounts, was without all that signified wealth and blessing. Yet the destruction did not stop there. His physical body suffered as well with painful boils and disfigurement so significant that he was unrecognizable to some of his closest friends. All of this happened and Job did not know why. You may remember that there was a drama that went on behind the scenes that, as far as we know, Job was never given a clue about, where Satan challenged God in Heaven. And he said, of course Job trusts You. But does he trust You for nothing? Try taking away all those blessings and then see where Job’s faith goes. And God accepted Satan’s challenge. And here we have a mystery that we cannot begin to explain. In fact, it was God who called Satan’s attention to that individual, Job. And he gave Satan permission to take things away from Job.
And so he lost his flocks and his herds and his servants and his sons and his daughters and his house and finally even the confidence of his wife. And as he sat on his ash heap and his health had been touched by that time and he was scraping himself with potsherds and in utter anguish and misery, he kept silent for seven days as his friends—as they were called and had apparently been when times were good—sat there and looked at him and didn’t say anything either for seven days. And when Job finally broke silence, he howled his complaints at God.
We may often hear Job called a patient man but if you read the book of Job you won’t really find a lot of evidence that he was patient. But he never doubted that God existed and he said some of the very worst things that could possibly be said about God. And isn’t it interesting that the Spirit of God preserved those things for you and me? God is big enough to take anything that we can dish out to him. And he even saw to it that Job’s howls and complaints were preserved in black and white for our instruction. So never hesitate to say what you really feel to God because remember that God knows what you think before you know and certainly knows what you’re going to say before you even think it.
So for some samples of these dreadful things that this patient man, Job, said to God, how about Job chapter 3, verses 11, 19, and 20 where he says why was I not stillborn? Why did I not die when I came out of the womb? Why should the sufferer be born to see the light? Why is life given to men who find it so bitter?
You see Job here dialoguing with God. There is no question in Job’s mind throughout this entire book of the existence of God. He knows that it is God with whom he has to reconcile his circumstances. Somebody is behind all this, he’s saying. 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 of every human mind that there is somebody, some reason, some thinking individual behind this.
And then in Job chapter 10, Job addresses God directly. And he says, can’t you take your eyes off me? Won’t you leave me alone long enough to swallow my spit? You shaped me and made me; now you’ve turned to destroy me. You kneaded me like clay, and now you’re grinding me to a powder.
Anybody ever felt like that? Does that ring any bells out there? God is grinding me to a powder. He doesn’t even give me a chance to swallow my spit.
But what about his friends? His friends who were very religious. Well, they never say a word that is not theologically sound as they understand the ways of God. They begin to accuse him of foolish notions, a belly full of wind, they say. Job is utterly lacking in the fear of God and he is pitting himself against the Almighty, charging him head down like an angry bull.
When Job calls Eliphaz a windbag, this is, you know, the pot calling the kettle black. But his friends and enemies, he says, can’t hold a candle to God who “has shattered me; he also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces; he has set me up for his target, his archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; he pours out my gall on the ground” (Job 16:12–13 NKJV). Now can you top that when you are railing at God for the broken heart borne out of suffering? Would you dare to say such things aloud?
And then Job asks God question after question after question. And at one point he says if I ask him a thousand questions, he won’t even answer one of them. And he was right. Remember that when God finally breaks his silence, God does not answer a single question. God’s response to Job’s questions is mystery. In other words, God answers Job’s mystery with the mystery of himself.
And he starts right in nailing poor Job with questions. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world? Who laid the cornerstone when the morning stars sang together? Have you seen the treasures of the snow? Who enclosed the sea with doors? Have you walked in the great deep? Have you ever in your life commanded the morning and caused the dawn to know its place? Have you presided over the doe in labor? Tell me, where is the way to the dwelling of light? He goes on and on and on; question after question after question.
He knows the answers to these questions, of course. And he knows that Job most certainly cannot answer them. He is revealing to Job who he is.
God, through my own troubles and sufferings, has not given me explanations. But he has met me as a person, as an individual, and that’s what we need. Who of us in the worst pit that we’ve ever been in needs anything as much as we need company? Just somebody, perhaps, who will sit there in silence but just be with us. Job never denies God’s existence, never imagines that God has nothing to do with his troubles, but he has a thousand questions and so do we.
The above article is excerpted from Suffering Is Never for Nothing (B&H Books, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Elisabeth Elliot Gren. Used by permission of B&H Books. www.bhpublishinggroup.com. Pages 19-23. All rights reserved.
BIO: Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) was born Elisabeth Howard to missionary parents who were serving in Belgium. Upon their return to the United States they settled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey before she began college at Wheaton College. It was there that she discovered her love for biblical Greek, a love that would ultimately lead to her making the New Testament accessible to some of those for whom it had not been previously accessible. Wheaton College is also where she met Jim Elliot, who she later married in Quito, Ecuador, where they were both serving as missionaries.
Jim and Elisabeth had one daughter, Valerie, who was ten months old when her father was killed by some Waorani men who he, along with four other missionaries, had been seeking to develop a relationship for gospel purposes. Elisabeth continued working with the Quichua people of Ecuador when, through a remarkable providence, she met two Waorani women with whom she and Valerie lived for a year. They were the key to Elisabeth and Valerie going to live with the tribe that had killed the five missionaries. They remained there for two years.
Elisabeth and Valerie returned to the Quichua work and remained there until 1963 when she and Valerie returned to the U.S. Subsequent to her return to the United States, her life was one of writing and speaking. It also included, in 1969, a marriage to Addison Leitch, professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. He died in 1973. After his death she married Lars Gren, to whom she was married until her death on June 15, 2015 at her home in Magnolia, Massachusetts.
Elisabeth’s influence continues to span generations through her daily radio program on air for many years and now re-airing in many locations, her rigorous conference schedule, including still referenced messages such as those from the Urbana But it is through her books that her reach spread the furthest. With millions of copies of 21 books in print over the years, one cannot begin to fathom the influence this one surrendered life had on the choices, godliness, and overall sanctification of millions.
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