The current pandemic has caused grievous suffering all across the globe. How do we cope? We listen to the advice of those who have suffered before us. We lean into Scripture and the foundational truth that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We sing songs of the faith that remind us of God’s goodness, mercy, and rest in the knowledge that we will never truly understand everything that happens on this side of heaven. And we must remember the words written in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Elisabeth Elliot’s short book on suffering is worth the afternoon it would take to read. There is deep truth and practical advice found within its pages. Here are the seven takeaways that I found to be the most help to me during this time of global suffering:
First, suffering is necessary in order for us to grow in Christ. Elliot reminds us, “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest water and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.” If we never had to suffer, then we would not know the full emotions of joy and happiness. Suffering is a way in which we begin to realize just what Christ did for us on the cross.
Second, God is there for us in our suffering. Elliot explains, “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.” He often does not give us explanations for our present suffering, nor is he required to give those explanations. He is God, and we must simply trust both in him and his Word.
Third, we can ask God why we are suffering. “If your prayers don’t get answered the way you thought they were supposed to be, what happens to your faith? The world says God doesn’t love you. The Scriptures tell me something very different,” Elliot states. God may not answer our questions, just as he did not answer Job. He only reminded Job of who he is—the Creator and Sustainer. God can handle us asking him questions about our suffering.
Suffering is a way in which we begin to realize just what Christ did for us on the cross.
Fourth, in order to forge through suffering, we complete the next task at hand, whatever it might be. Upon the death of both her first and second husbands, Elliot remembers, “I really didn’t have time to sit down and have a pity party and sink into a puddle of self-pity. I did the next thing”. This was true of her daily tasks as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador and of her house chores in Massachusetts. We can apply this truth to our own time of suffering. Find the next thing to do, no matter how simple, and begin that task.
Fifth, thank the Lord, no matter what. Even if it’s for the fact that you woke up this morning, you can always find something for which to be thankful. Elliot exclaims, “We are totally destitute. Everything that we have comes from Him, and we have nothing to offer except what He has given us.” Pondering the truth that God is the one who gives us breath and life enables us to be grateful during all circumstances.
Sixth, we must offer our gifts to the Lord at all times. During times of suffering, the gift might simply be our brokenness. Psalm 51:17 declares “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, I will not despise.” Elliot uses this passage of Scripture to remind herself, and us, that God does not reject our broken offering. “I’m sure some of you have a broken spirit, a broken heart. God will not despise that offering if that’s all you have to offer.”
Finally, hymns are a comfort during our suffering. Throughout the entire book, Elliot references hymn after hymn that comforted her through her times of suffering. We, too, should lean into the comfort these songs of the faith offer. One modern hymn that I have found myself listening to over and over again during this pandemic is CityAlight’s “Yet Not I, But Through Christ in Me” whose second verse states:
The night is dark but I am not forsaken
For by my side, the Saviour He will stay
I labour on in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need, His power is displayed
To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley He will lead
Oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome
Yet not I, but through Christ in me
The third chapter of the book of Malachi alludes to Christ as a refiner’s fire. Gold must first go through a stringent process in which it is first heated to nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit before it can be considered pure. We, too, must endure times of suffering so that God can more fully reveal himself to us and conform us to Christ’s image. Thankfully, those who have gone before us and have left us with their words of wisdom so that we may know how to abide in Christ while suffering.
And we ultimately have Christ to whom we can run for refuge. As Elliot says about the cross and suffering, “The very worst thing that ever happened in human history turns out to be the very best thing because it saved me. It saves the world.” He who suffered, bled, died, and rose again knows of our pain and suffering and wants us to bring it to him. The Savior says, “Come, to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light “ (Matt. 11: 28-30).