"When I was told that my first husband Jim was missing in Auca Indian country, the Lord
brought to my mind some words from the prophet Isaiah.
'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they
shall not overflow thee.'
I prayed silently, 'Lord, let not the waters overflow,' and He heard me, and He answered
Two years later, I went into live with the Indians who had killed Jim.
Sixteen years after that, after I had come back to the States, I married a theologian
named Addison Leitch.
He died of cancer 3 1/2 years later.
There've been some hard things in my life, of course, as there have been in yours, and
I cannot say to you I know exactly what you're going through, but I can say that I know the
One who knows, and I've come to see that it's through the deepest suffering that God has
taught me the deepest lessons.
And if we'll trust Him for it, we can come to the unshakable assurance that He's in charge,
He has a loving purpose, and He can transform something terrible into something wonderful.
Suffering is never for nothing."
Elizabeth is my wife and I would like to pray for her and for you before she comes to speak
Father, it is with grateful hearts that we come together.
We come from different walks of life, and we all come with needs that many times You
alone know about.
We are amazed that the word spoken can be applied in different areas in different circumstances,
but all according to Your way in working the best out for us.
So we pray for this evening, for Elizabeth, as she speaks.
You've prepared her and given her words to give to us.
We pray for your Spirit over it all, that we might gain from this the understanding
and knowledge we need through every circumstance of life.
In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
My husband's name is Lars Gren, G-R-E-N.
Sometimes there's a little confusion about my name and various husbands.
As I will be talking, I will be mentioning at least numbers one and two, so I would like
you to know number three as well.
This series is entitled "Suffering Is Not for Nothing."
When C. S. Lewis was asked to write a book on the problem of pain, he asked permission to
write it anonymously. Permission was denied as not being in keeping with that particular series,
and this is what he wrote in his introduction: "If I were to say what I really thought about pain, I should be
forced to make statements of such apparent
fortitude that they would become ridiculous if anyone knew who made them." And I would
echo those sentiments. When I hear other people's stories about their own sufferings, I feel
as though I know practically nothing about the subject myself. I'm in kindergarten, as
it were, compared to, for example, my friend Jan, who is quadriplegic and lies on one side
or the other 24 hours a day in a nursing home in Connecticut, or my friend Judy Squires
in California, who was born with no legs, or my friend Joe Bailey, my late friend Joe
Bailey, who lost three children. But if all I knew about suffering was by observation
alone, it would still be sufficient to tell me that we're up against a tremendous mystery.
Suffering is a mystery that none of us is really capable of plumbing, and it's a mystery
about which I'm sure everyone at some time or other here has asked why. And if we try
to put together the mystery of suffering with the Christian idea of a God who loves us,
we know, if we think about it for as much as five minutes, that the notion of a loving
God cannot possibly be deduced from the evidence that we see around us, let alone from human
I'd like to go back to some of my own home training. I grew up in a very strong Christian
home in Philadelphia where both of my parents were what I call seven-day-a-week kind of
Christians. We had a little brass plate over the front doorbell that said, "Christ is the
Head of this home, the unseen Guest at every meal, the silent Listener to every conversation."
We were taught that God is love. I suppose one of the earliest hymns that we were taught
was that little gospel song, "Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so."
When I was nine years old, my one and only girlfriend -- almost my one and only, I lived
in the neighborhood of 42 boys, but I had a friend who lived about six blocks away whose
name was Essie, and Essie and I were both nine years old when she died. When I was probably
three or four years old, we had a guest in our home who was on her way to China as a
missionary. Her name was Betty Scott, and she went to China, married her fiancé John
Stam, and a few years later, I'm not sure just how old I was, maybe six or seven, my
father came home one evening with a newspaper telling that John and Betty Stam had been
captured by Chinese Communists, marched almost naked through the streets of a Chinese village,
and had then been beheaded. You can imagine the impression this made on the mind of a
young child in view of the fact that Betty Scott Stam had sat at our supper table, and
had given us her testimony as she was on her way to China.
I also remember very vividly the newspaper stories of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's
baby, and I would go to sleep at night imagining that I saw a ladder coming up by my window.
My parents not knowing that I was concerned in this way didn't think to tell me that there
really wasn't a whole lot of danger that anybody was going to be interested in kidnapping a
child like me because we were not really what you might call "rich." Nevertheless, I did
have some experience of death as a small child, and just a few weeks ago, to bring it more
up-to-date, some friends of my husband's and mine called to say that their little four-year-old
child who was born with spina bifida was doing very well, but the mother was pregnant and
for various reasons had had some tests which had revealed that the child she's now carrying
is also spina bifida. And so they were calling just to say we're hurting; please pray for
us. And when I hear stories like that, it's what makes me think that my own experience
of suffering is really very little at all.
But the question is unavoidable for a thinking person, "Where is God in all of this?" Can
you look at the data and believe? And it's the question that was put to Alyosha by Ivan
Karamazov in Dostoyevsky's famous novel about the Brothers Karamazov. Recounting the story
of a little girl of five, Ivan said to his brother, "She was subjected to every possible
torture by her cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason
till her body was one bruise. Then they went to greater refinements of cruelty, shut her
up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn't ask to be taken up
at night, as though a child of five sleeping its angelic sound sleep could be trained to
wake and ask, they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother
-- her mother who did this. And that mother could sleep hearing the poor child's groans.
Can you understand why a little girl who can't even understand what's done to her should
beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and weep her meek, unresentful
tears to dear, kind God to protect her. Do you understand that, friend and brother, you
pious and humble novice. Do you understand why this infamy must be, and is permitted?
And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket," Ivan says, "It's not God that I don't accept,
Alyosha. Only I most respectfully return my ticket. Tell me yourself. I challenge you.
Answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making
men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential, and
inevitable, to torture to death only one tiny creature, that baby beating its breast with
its little fist, for instance, and to found that edifice on its on unavenged tears. Would
you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me. Tell me the truth."
And what I want to share with you is what I see to be the straight truth with no evasions
and no clear flat platitudes. It's very fresh in my mind, just this week, a picture that
I saw in Time Magazine of an inconsolable newborn baby whose mother was on crack cocaine.
Just to look at that picture brought down on my own head, as it were, everything that
I was planning to say to you in this series. I happened to be sitting on the plane yesterday
next to a woman who was reading a book called "Master of Life Manual," which according to
the cover, was about metaphysics, brain-mind awareness, human potential principles, and
this stunning statement, "Create your own reality now." And I thought I would hate to
be down to such an extreme that I was having to create my own reality in the face of the
data of human experience.
And so I would ask the question, "Is there a reason to believe that suffering is not
for nothing?" Is there an eternal and perfectly loving -- perfectly loving purpose behind
it all? If there is, it's not obvious. It doesn't exactly meet the eye, and yet, if,
or thousands of years, in the face of these stunning realities, this terrible truth, if
for thousands of years, people have believed that there is a loving God, and that that
God is looking down on the realities around us, and still loves us, and these people have
still continued to insist that God knows what He's doing, and that He's got the whole world
in His hands, then I repeat, the reason cannot possibly be obvious. It can't be because those
thousands of people were all deaf, dumb, blind or stupid and incapable of looking clearly
and steadily at the data that you and I are constantly having to look at. What is the
answer? F. W. H. Myers, in his poem "St. Paul," wrote these words: "Is there not wrong too
bitter for atoning? What are these desperate and hidden years? Hast thou not heard Thy
whole creation groaning, sighs of the bondsman and a woman's tears?"
The answer is not obvious. There must be an explanation somewhere, and it's my purpose
in this series to try to get at the explanation, and then to see if there's something that
you and I can do about this question of suffering. I'm convinced that there are a good many things
in his life that we really can't do anything about, but that God wants us to do something
with. And I hope that by the time I'm finished I will have made myself clear.
Now, the word "suffering" may seem very highflown, and perhaps much too dignified for your particular
set of troubles today. And I can look around this audience, and I don't know a person here.
I have no idea who might be watching the videos later on, but if I knew you, and if I knew
your stories, then I would know that I can't possibly speak personally to every need that's
here, to every kind of suffering. And I'm fairly sure that there would be some people
here tonight who would be saying, "Well, I really don't know any such thing as suffering.
I've never been through anything like Joni Eareckson, or Joe Bailey, or even Elizabeth
Elliott, and of course that's true, and I could say the very same thing if I knew your
story. I could say, "Well, I've never been through anything like that."
So I want to give you a definition of suffering which will cover the whole gamut from when
the washing machine overflows, or when the roast burns and you're having the boss for
dinner that night, all those things about which our immediate human reaction is, "Oh
no!" From that kind of triviality, relatively speaking, to your husband has cancer, your
child has spina bifida, or you yourself have just lost everything. I think you'll find
that the definition that I'm going to give you will cover that gamut, and I think that
the things that I'm going to try to say to you will apply to the small things, those
sometimes ridiculously small things that if you're anything like me, you get all upset
about and all bent out of shape about that matter not at all by comparison with the big
things. And here it is, my definition: Suffering is having what you don't want or wanting what
you don't have. Now if you can think of something that does not come under one of those two
headings, please see me later because I do want to hear about it. I think that covers
Now, can you imagine a world, for example, in which nobody had anything that he didn't
want: no toothaches, no taxes, no touchy relatives, no traffic jams? Or by contrast, can you imagine
a world in which everybody had everything they wanted: perfect weather, perfect wife,
perfect husband, perfect health, perfect score, perfect happiness. Muggeridge said, Malcolm
Muggeridge said, "Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world
would be because everything that corrects the tendency of man to feel over-important
and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He's bad enough now, but he would be absolutely
intolerable if he never suffered." Muggeridge gets at the heart of what I want to say. It's
not for nothing. Now how do I know that? The deepest things that I have learned in my own
life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest
fires have come the deepest things that I know about God, and I imagine that most of
you would say exactly the same. And I would add this, that the greatest gifts of my life
have also entailed the greatest suffering. The greatest gifts of my life, for example,
have been marriage and motherhood, and let's never forget that if we don't ever want to
suffer, we must be very careful never to love anything or anybody. The gifts of love have
been the gifts of suffering. Those two things are inseparable. Now, I come to you tonight
not like R. C. Sproul, who is a theologian and a scholar. I come to you not merely as
one who has stood on the sidelines and pondered these things, but as one in whose life God
has seen to it that there has been a certain measure of suffering, a certain measure of
pain, and it has been out of that very measure of pain that has come the unshakable conviction
that God is love.
Now, when my little girl Valerie was two years old, her father had been dead for more than
a year and I was beginning to teach her things like Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I
shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still
waters. He restoreth my soul." And I can still hear that tiny little baby voice saying, "He
leadeth me…beside…the still waters." And I realized when I heard her say that again
and I still have a tape of her saying that, I thought, "Where did she get that weird intonation?"
and I realized that she got it from her mother who was coaching her word by word. She'd say,
"He leadeth me," and I would say, "beside," and she would say, "beside." Anyway, she learned
it, and things like Psalm 91, one of my favorite psalms, "You that live in the shelter of the
most High and lodge under the shadow of the Almighty, who say the Lord is my safe retreat,
my God the fastness -- or the refuge, in which I trust. He will cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find safety beneath His wings. You shall not fear the hunters trap by night,
or the arrow that flies by day. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand close
at hand, but you it shall not touch."
Now, I want you to think of how a mother who is a widow tries to teach her little daughter
whose father was killed by a group of savage Indians who thought that he was a cannibal
what this psalm means, what the words of Scripture mean. She learned "Jesus loves me! This I
know," not because her daddy was killed; she didn't know it that way, but, "Jesus loves
me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so." She learned to sing, "God will take care of
me," and how was I to explain "a thousand shall fall at thy side side, and ten thousand
at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee." I tell you this because maybe it'll
help you to see that I've been forced, from the circumstances of my own life, to try to
get down to the very bedrock of faith, of things which are infrangible and unshakable.
God is my refuge. Was He Jim's refuge? Was He his fortress? On the night before those
five men who were killed by the Aucas went into Auca territory, they sang, "We rest on
Thee, our Shield and our Defender." What does your faith do with the irony of those words?
There will be no intellectual satisfaction on this side of heaven to that age-old question,
"Why?" but I have not found -- 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. And when I came to the realization that my husband was missing,
not knowing for another five days that he was dead, the words that God brought to me
then were from Isaiah the 43rd chapter, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be
with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee. And when thou walkest through
the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee for I am
the Lord thy God." And I realized then that God was not telling me that everything was
going to be fine humanly speaking, that He was going to preserve my husband physically
and bring them back to me. But He was giving me one unmistakable promise: "I will be with
thee, for I am the Lord, thy God." He is the one who loved me and gave himself for me.
And that challenge that Ivan Karamazov gave to his brother Alyosha echoed a challenge
that was given thousands of years earlier, the challenge flung at Jesus when he hung
on the cross: "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!
If you're the Son of God, come down." And then you remember how the religious elite
in derision yelled, "He saved others. Himself he could not save. He trusts in God; let God
deliver him now. He's a miracle worker; let him prove it to us now," because he said I
am the Son of God. And so we come back again to the terrible truths that there is suffering.
The question, "Is God paying attention?" and thirdly, "Why doesn't he do something?"
The title I've given to this talk is, "The Terrible Truths." And in answer to that third
question, "Why doesn't He do something?" I would say He has, He did, He is doing something,
and He will do something. The subject can only be approached via the cross, that old
rugged cross, so despised by the world. 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. And
so God's love, which was represented, demonstrated to us in His giving His Son Jesus to die on
the cross, is brought together into harmony with suffering. You see, this is the crux
of the question. And those of you who've studied Latin remember that the word crux, is the
Latin word crux for "cross." It's only in the cross that we can begin to harmonize this
seeming contradiction between suffering and love, and we will never understand suffering
unless we understand the love of God.
We're talking about two different levels on which things are to be understood, and again
and again in the Scriptures we have what seem to be complete paradoxes because we're talking
about two different kingdoms. We're talking about this visible world and an invisible
kingdom on which the facts of this world are interpreted. Take for example the Beatitudes,
those wonderful statements of paradox that Jesus gave to the multitudes when he was preaching
to them on the mountain and He said things like this, very strange things: "How happy
are those who know what sorrow means. Happy are those who claim nothing. Happy are those
who have suffered for persecution. What happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill
treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you. Be glad, then, yes, be
tremendously glad." Does it make any sense at all? Not unless you see that there are
two kingdoms: the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of an invisible world. And the apostle
Paul understood the difference when he made this stunning declaration. He said, "It is
now my happiness to suffer for you." "My happiness to suffer." It sounds like nonsense, doesn't
it? And yet this is the Word of God.
Janet Erskine Stuart said, "Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of
God." It's what the psalmist found in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. You remember
he said, "I will fear no evil." Now the psalmist was not naïve enough to say, "I will fear
no evil," because there isn't any; there is. We live in an evil, broken, twisted, fallen,
distorted world. What did he say? "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod
and and Thy staff, they comfort me." And when I stood by my shortwave radio in the jungle
of Ecuador in 1956 and heard that my husband was missing and God brought to my mind the
words of the prophet Isaiah, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,"
you can imagine that my response was not terribly spiritual. I was saying, "But Lord, You're
with me all the time; what I want is Jim. I want my husband." We had been married 27
months after waiting five and a half years. Five days later I knew that Jim was dead,
and God's presence with me did -- was not Jim's presence. That was a terrible fact.
God's presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a window and I expected to
be a widow until I died because I thought it was a miracle I got married the first time.
I couldn't imagine that I would ever get married a second, let alone a third. God's presence
did not change the fact of my widowhood. Jim's absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to
God, my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is, who He is in
a way that I could never have known otherwise, and so I can say to you that suffering is
an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth: "I am." "I am the
Lord." In other words, that God is God.
Well, I still want to go back and say, "But Lord, what about those babies? What about
that little spina bifida child? What about that -- those babies born terribly handicapped,
with terrible suffering because their mothers were on cocaine or heroin or alcohol? What
about my little Scottie dog, McDuff, who died of cancer at the age of six? What about the
Lindbergh baby and the Stams who were beheaded? What about all of that? And I can't answer
your questions, or even my own, except in the words of Scripture. These words from the
apostle Paul, who knew the power of the cross of Jesus. And this is what he wrote: "I reckon
that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendor as yet unrevealed
which is in store for us, for the created universe waits with eager expectation for
God's sons to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration," all those animals,
all those babies who have no guilt whatsoever, "the victim of frustration not by its own
choice, but because of Him who made it so, yet always there was hope," and this is the
part that brings me immeasurable comfort, "because the universe itself is to be freed
from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of
God." Where does this idea of a loving God come from? It is not a deduction. It is not
man so desperately wanting a God that he manufactures Him in his mind. It's He who was the Word
before the foundation of the world. Suffering is 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.