Elisabeth Elliot and Charleston Christians Respond to Sorrow
Last Monday, a hero of the faith went home. Elisabeth Elliot had fought the good fight and finished the race. Almost 60 years earlier, she and her husband Jim, together with 4 other couples, devoted themselves to bring the good news of Christ to a remote people group in Ecuador. The Waoroni (or Auca) people solved disputes by savagely spearing one another. They abandoned inconvenient babies, and strangled children to bury with their fathers who were dying of spear wounds. “In fact, outsiders were not their greatest concern; killing within the tribe was so rampant that they were on the verge of annihilating themselves.” (Steve Saint) In the process of getting to know the Waoroni, there was a disastrous misunderstanding, and Jim and the four other missionary men were violently speared to death by Auca warriors.
How could God have allowed such a massive, tragic slaying of His people? Elisabeth’s response to this devastating loss was to go, by faith, along with Rachel Saint, the sister of another martyr, to live with the Waoroni, to learn their language, and to share the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ. Now, 59 years later, the Waoroni tribe has grown to 8 times the size it was in 1956, and about 1/3 of them are Christians. They are sharing the gospel of Christ through a clinic, pharmacy and school for their own people and as they host tourist groups in their region. (see this article on the Waoroni.)
“Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world.
There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal.”
― Elisabeth Elliot
― Elisabeth Elliot
Elisabeth spent seven more years in Ecuador, and then continued to share the gospel right here in the US for the remainder of her life. She immersed herself in God’s Word, and shared it with us through her writing and speaking. Her calm, quiet faith will continue to bolster the faith of believers into the future.
Last Monday Elisabeth realized the fulfillment of her faith, as she went home to be with her Savior. And just two days later, a gunman sat through a Bible study in Charleston, SC, listened without hearing the Word of God, and in an unexpected way, eerily similar to the Waoroni savagery, opened fire in a violent killing of nine worshipers.
How could God have allowed such a massive, tragic slaying of His people? Yet the response of the church to this devastating loss was, by faith, to extend the hope of forgiveness, and to urge a repentant response to the gospel of Christ.
“Sorrow is lent to us for just a little while,
that we may use it for eternal purposes.
Then it will be taken away
and everlasting joy will be our Father’s gift to us,
and the Lord God will wipe away all tears off all faces.”
– Amy Carmichael (one of Elisabeth’s heroes).
What impact might it have on our nation, and even on our world, to see this kind of response from the church to the senseless violence and destruction that evil imposes on us? This sorrow is a sacred loan, entrusted to us that we might use it for eternal blessing. We wonder how God can allow such tragedy. But perhaps the better question is, how can God use this tragedy for the eternal, long-term blessing of His people, and for His eternal glory?
God's timing of the events of our world
is engineered from the eternal silence ...
it is faith he is looking for,
a quiet confidence that whatever it is he is up to,
it will be a wonderful thing,
never mind whether it is what we have been asking for.
- Elisabeth Elliot
A wonderful thing? We cannot in anyway describe last Wednesday’s shooting in those words. But "Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves." (Joni Eareckson Tada) He hates the evil. But He’s at work redeeming what seems like unmitigated wrong to accomplish everlasting good. He desires in His people a trusting confidence in Him, though His ways are not according to our agenda.
“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love
that does not show itself in protection from suffering....
The love of God did not protect His own Son....
He will not necessarily protect us –
not from anything it takes to make us like His Son.
A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire
will have to go into the process.”
― Elisabeth Elliot
― Elisabeth Elliot
Elisabeth’s hope was not that her life on earth would be right and just and safe. Her hope was to be like Christ. She chose to respond to the sacred sorrow lent to her by God with words of praise and thanks, even through her tears, for His eternal, untouchable gifts. God was honored, and the hope of the gospel was on display.
The Emanuel AME Church of Charleston has responded to their sacred sorrow, lent to them by God, with words of forgiveness and a call to repent, even through their tears. A fixed focus on the Father’s eternal, untouchable gifts will empower them to continue to honor Him in their response to this sacred sorrow, putting the hope of the gospel on display.
Elisabeth’s tears have been wiped away. Her Father has replaced all the sorrow with everlasting joy. She’s home. "Last week," Goff (interim pastor of Emanuel AME) said, "dark powers came over Mother Emanuel. But, that's alright. God in his infinite wisdom said 'that's alright. I've got the nine.' "- CNN Those who knew the Lord are home with Him, all tears erased.
And the rest of us? We have a little while longer to use this temporary scaffolding of sorrow well; to display the hope of the gospel, to be purified and chiseled, and made like His Son before the loan is recalled and replaced with everlasting joy.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.