A Path Through Suffering (Elisabeth Elliot)


Elisabeth Elliot knows about suffering. When she was in her twenties, her first husband (Jim Elliot) was killed by Auca indians in Ecuador, where they were serving as missionaries in the 1950's. In the 1970's, her second husband (Addison Leitch) passed away from cancer. She has certainly handled some heavy blows from life.

It is because of her difficulties in life, and her relationship with Christ, that she has an expert's point of view to surviving the most horrific of circumstances. A Path Through Suffering carries a plant/growth theme, and is uniquely designed in that each chapter is preceded by a description of a certain characteristic of a plant or flower (such as the process of blooms bursting forth from thorns, the comparison of a bare tree in winter with a fruitful tree in spring, and the dandelion's death providing life elsewhere). She drew these from Lilias Trotter's Parables of the Cross.

My favorite aspect of this book is that it is mostly meat. Rather than being a fluffy, feel-good, blase book report on the Biblical standard for understanding suffering, Elisabeth Elliot's style is considerably more straight-forward. She provides Scripture, she uses few metaphors, and she provides reminders of the commands of Christ.
A few of my favorite quotations, which provide a nice summary:
  • "Each time the mystery of suffering touches us personally and all the cosmic questions rise afresh in our minds we face the choice between faith (which accepts) and belief (which refuses to accept). There is only one faculty of faith, and 'faith is the fulcrum of moral and spiritual balance.'"
  • Elisabeth's list for dealing with suffering of any kind: recognize it, accept it, offer it to God as a sacrifice, and offer yourself with it. Another list of dealing with suffering caused by other people: forgiveness (Mark 11:25), trust in God's sovereignty (Genesis 50:20), and having a view to eternity (Colossions 3:1-4).
  • "We are seldom shown in advance God's intention in a particular trial, nor the long term effect our obedience may have on others."
  • "...the best fruit will be what is produced from the best-pruned branch. The strongest steel will be that which went through the hottest fire and the coldest water. The deepest knowledge of God's presence will have been acquired in the deepest river or dungeon or lion's den. The greatest joy will have come out of the greatest sorrow."
  • "While angels wait and watch, our part is to be simple- simply to trust, simply to obey, and leave the complexities to the Engineer of the universe."
In an appendix at the close of her book, Elisabeth provides a list of many of the reasons we are asked to endure various kinds of suffering. The 4 categories include:
-suffering for our own sake (that we may learn who God is, to trust, to obey, discipline as proof of the Father's love and of the validity of our sonship, condition of discipleship, required of soldiers, we are being pruned to bear fruit, that we can reach spiritual maturity, to produce endurance and character, etc.)
-for the sake of God's people (that they may gain salvation, to give courage, because of death working in us, life may work in them, our generosity may bless others, etc.)
-for the sake of the world (that it may see love and obedience, etc.)
-and for the sake of Christ (we identify with him in His crucifixion, share His glory, etc.).

Elisabeth Elliott is a very different author than I normally prefer. Her style is 50 years old but her her message is timeless. Her words are succinct and not impressive, though they carry incredibly deep meditative meanings. This is a book to keep on hand, as a tool of comfort when we all inevitably come to our respective times of suffering.