Suffering often leaves us wondering, “how is this all going to work out?” Suffering creates a sense of chaos; like the puzzle pieces aren’t fitting together.
Elisabeth Elliot relays an amusing story that’s helpful for us. Apparently, her husband Jim was quite the handyman. He had the ability to build many things from scratch. Elisabeth did not share her husband’s talent. She talks about, time again, standing over her husband’s shoulder as he's building a piece of furniture, asking, “What’s this piece for?” Or “where does this go?” (I’m sure Jim was infinitely patient with her). He would often reply, “You’ll just have to wait until I’m finished to see.”
In relaying the value of these moments to her suffering, Elisabeth says, "This brings about a very simple analogy: God is saying, 'Trust Me.' Accept it now. See later.”
Our lives are significantly more complicated than furniture, so it follows that there may be numerous pieces of our lives that leave us asking, “Where does this go?” Or “how does this fit?” In Genesis, Joseph waited a decade and a half to see where a number of his pieces fit. Be patient. “Accept it now. See later."
The famous missionary, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote a book, No Graven Image. It’s a story about a missionary who goes into the rainforest and wants to translate the Bible. At the end of the story, everything falls apart. The one man in the tribe who can enable her to do the translation and connect her to the tribe, she kills accidentally, and she’s expelled from the tribe. So, at the end of the book, everything falls apart.
Elliot once talked about that book and the response it generated. Numerous people wrote angry letters to her saying, “God would never treat a faithful person like that. God would never let those sorts of things happen.” She was even informed by the president of a seminary that he had purposely kept it off the best books of the year shelves to make sure fewer people would read it.
There’s an enormous irony in all of it because the book was based pretty much on what really happened. Many of you know her story. She and her husband Jim, along with four other missionary couples went into the rainforest to translate the Bible and reach the lost tribes of that region. The night before they went to make contact with the tribe, they sang a hymn that talks about God being our shield and our defender. The next day, Elisabeth’s husband, Jim, and the other four men were speared to death. They left behind wives and children. And there was no sense to it. Why did God let that happen?
Here’s how Elisabeth wrote about that incident:
“I dethrone him if I demand that he act in ways that satisfy my ideas. God is God. If he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere but in his will and that will is infinitely, immeasurably, unspeakably beyond my largest notion of what he is up to.”
In a different place, Elliot says it this way:
"Although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. The answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God."
It’s not a word we can define quickly or easily. We know God is glorious (Ps. 106:20; Jer. 2:13). We know we’re supposed to “glorify” God (Ps. 69:30). But what does it mean? Theologians have debated this for centuries, but one of the best directions to move in is consider what glory literally means: “weight.”
When something is “weighty” it’s important; or it matters. What is important to you possesses glory.
After The Lord of the Rings trilogy was published in the 1950’s, a woman named Rhona Beare wrote Tolkien and asked him about the chapter in which the Ring of Power is destroyed and the Dark Lord Sauron’s power collapses as a result. She found it inexplicable that this overwhelming power could be wiped out by the erasure of such a little object.
Tolkien responded, "The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the placing of one’s life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself.”
In other words, if we want to kill ourselves after losing something, we’ve given it too much glory; too much weight. To put it differently, the amount of glory you ascribe to something external to you creates the conditions needed for suffering’s impact to be significant. All it takes is for the loss of that thing to cause you to collapse.
So one of the many things God may be doing in our suffering is reestablishing himself as the one who is to be most glorious in our lives. Tim Keller writes, “Only if you make God matter most…will you have a safe life."