When we face news that leaves us speechless with confusion and grief, and we realize we’re being led into a new path of intense suffering, what can we know to be true?
Elisabeth Elliot used to tell a story that has helped me. When she talked about our human inability as we grapple with our circumstance, and the pain we experience during heartbreak or suffering, she’d describe a scene she’d witnessed when visiting friends at their Welsh sheep farm.
Her friends knew sheep are vulnerable to parasites: parasites which harm them — unto death — if left untreated. So the shepherd, once a year, took his sheep, gathered them in his arms, and submerged them, one by one, in a vat of insect-killing antiseptic. He, wise and caring, knew that each terrified sheep could not comprehend the why behind their seeming drowning experience. He knew they’d not understand even if he tried to explain. So, from love, he, the wise shepherd, chose to do for each sheep what he knew must be done.
Elisabeth Elliot’s words:
“One by one John seized the animals. They would struggle to climb out the side and Mack the sheep dog would snarl and snap at their faces to force them back under. When they tried to climb up the ramp in a panicky way at the far end, John the farmer would catch them, spin them around, force them under again, holding them ears, eyes and nose submerged for a few seconds.
And as their lord and master was pushing their head under, drowning them at least as far as they could tell, their panicky little eyes would look up over the edge of the vat, and it was easy to see what they were thinking. What is god doing?”
Is suffering for nothing?
Is our suffering, and the panic we feel when drowning in sorrow or confusion, for nothing? Can God be trusted?
Elisabeth, whose first husband was speared to death by men he was trying to reach with the gospel, and whose second husband died of cancer, continues:
“I’ve had some experiences in my life which have made me feel very sympathetic to those poor sheep. There are times I couldn’t figure out any reason for the treatment I was getting from my great shepherd whom I trusted. And like these sheep, I didn’t have a hint of an explanation.
…There will be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of heaven to that age old question, “Why?” But although I have not found intellectual satisfaction, I have found peace. And the answer I say to you is not an explanation but a person; Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God.
…It’s He who was the Word before the foundation of the world, suffering as a lamb slain, and He has a lot up His sleeve that you and I haven’t the slightest idea about now. He’s told us enough so that we know that suffering is not for nothing.”
O beloved of God, when the panicky eyes of your heart look at God and you cry from your depths, “What are you doing?” and you’re befuddled at this new treatment from your great Shepherd whom you trust, cling to this: He continues His faithfulness to you. His goodness remains true. Even on this new, excruciating path, His forever and ever love purposes only good for you. Your suffering is not for nothing. He means these words:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
…you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you.
Lean into His arms. He is your peace.