When God’s Sovereign Will Seems Inscrutable: Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth reached a number of solid conclusions about such incomprehensible developments: (1) Sometimes God’s sovereign will is inscrutable and defies easy explanation. Our “why?” questions may not be satisfactorily answered for a very long time, or perhaps not ever in this life, although they doubtless will be in eternity. (2) Such situations provide Christians with the opportunity to continue trusting and obeying God even in the face of incomprehensible, painful developments and stubbornly-persistent questions about them. 

Sometimes God’s sovereign will seems inscrutable, especially when it involves His allowing overwhelming trial or crushing disappointment. Or when He permits the thwarting of what consecrated Christians had become thoroughly convinced was in keeping with His plan and would bring great glory to Him.

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015), a prominent American missionary, writer and speaker, as well as one of the most influential Christian women in the second half of the twentieth century, experienced God’s imponderable sovereign will more than once in her life and ministry. To follow is an account of an early occasion when that happened to her. It has some important lessons to teach us about responding properly to God’s will in the midst of our own distressing, perplexing circumstances of life.

In 1952 Elisabeth went to Ecuador as a single missionary. There she joined three other single lady missionaries in seeking to minister to the Colorado Indians from a ministry base in San Miguel. The Colorado Indians lived nearby in the jungles of Ecuador’s western rainforest.

Elisabeth, a trained linguist, had as her primary objective there to render the Colorado language into written form. She needed to hire a Colorado Indian language “informant” who could patiently work with her in learning the vocabulary and phonetics of their native tongue. But none of the Indians she met had any interest in doing so. They were proud, independent and a bit disdainful of the white women’s presence in their world.

Elisabeth, however, was confident that God would answer her prayers and grant her success in learning the Colorado language, harnessing it into an alphabet, and teaching the Indians to read and write in their own tongue. They would then be able to read the Bible for themselves, thus facilitating their coming to saving faith in Christ and their subsequent Christian growth and service. Great glory would be brought to God.

The Lord provided an even better informant than Elisabeth could have imagined in an Ecuadorian named Don Macario. He had grown up on a hacienda with Colorado children, and was completely bilingual in Spanish and Colorado. He was a Christian and was willing to work with Betty for what she could afford to pay him.

The Colorado Indians called their own language Tsahfihki, “the language of the people.” Macario taught Elisabeth Tsahfihki vocabulary, vowel pronunciations, inflections, parts of speech and sentence structure. She created detailed notecards and charts as well as orthography (spelling) lists, using phonetic symbols that represented Tsahfihki sounds. For several months the language work progressed well.

Then suddenly, tragically Don Macario was murdered! He had been clearing brush on a piece of property when a group of men showed up, claiming the land belonged to one of them. When Macario insisted the property was his, one of the men pulled out a gun and shot him in the head several times at point-blank range.

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