Friday, July 01, 2005

Elisabeth Elliot

Post-church camp, the conversations were awash with topics like love, romance, dating and matchmaking. Books were recommended to the interested, the two most touted authors being Elisabeth Elliot and Joshua Harris.

Many girls I know, especially those who were already believers in their teenage years, have always enthused about Elisabeth Elliot as "woman after God's heart" and their role model. Curious, I recently borrowed some books off RG.

The Mark of a Man is a book written ostensibly for her nephew, Pete. Didn't find it very helpful. Much of the book is taken up with her recounting with disdain and a lot of head-shaking, thoughts and behaviour which she deemed unacceptable. But there is a singular lack of well-argued points from the Bible why such ideas or actions are unacceptable. When she does quote from the Bible, her usage of verses is sometimes out of context of the originating passage. More ironically, as she exhorts men to be strong, to take the initiative and to lead, she prevents them from doing so by teaching them and having authority over them, ignoring the very practical injunction of 1 Timothy 2:12. Why then does she narrate with such surprise and derision that after she'd lectured them about being manly, the men she taught refused to listen to her?

Right, I thought. Perhaps she's much better at writing for the girlies. So on to the much-feted Passion and Purity.

Didn't expect it to approximate a schoolgirl's gushing diary: Jim Elliot's good looks, his wrestler's body, his smile, his little quirks, her squeals of delight at his attentions, his passing words to her treasured and replayed, the first date, the cute long conversations alone at the Lagoon…and I thought head-in-gas-oven Sylvia Plath was bad… Elliot's book traces her obsession with Jim Elliot and desire for romance from the time they met until they got married.

It's true that she does use pietistic words like "surrender", "wait upon the Lord" and "little deaths" and preaches God as Lord and master, but the focus of all this is still very much self-centredly on her and not God: her life, her love, her loneliness, her needs. She asks, "what's the will of God for me?" Or rather,"I know that I want Jim, give him to me". "God, speak to me", she asks. Yet, when Jim finally thinks that God "calls" him to bachelorship and not to marriage to Elisabeth, they continue writing love letters to each other.

Elisabeth does not demonstrate any palpable love for God as she does for Jim. There is no dwelling on His great and magnificent qualities and wonderful works as she is fixated with Jim's.

In that light, her exhortations to "pour at God's feet the treasure trove of one's love", or advice that "waiting upon the Lord requires the willingness to bear with uncertainty" seems more concerned with works than God's grace; a narcissistic convent girl's piety and mania for cleanliness and purity within herself than any acknowledgement of her own dirty sinfulness and need of the undeserved favour of God.

Even her choosing to go into the Ecuadorian mission-field seems to be more to do with Jim than with any interest in preaching the good news to the unconverted.

"What do men look for?" she asks, and answers that women should keep their distance so that they will be an intriguing mystery to the men. Sounds much more like The Rules by pagan New Yorkers (all of whom were consequently divorced) rather than anything from the word of God.

An interesting account of one couple's "love story": two sinners in a fallen world, struggling to live God's way. But they never admit that their ways are tainted with sin but in fact hold it out as path to be followed. Definitely not a book I would recommend to anyone.

It was unsatisfying. I needed Real Food.

The main point of any Christian book on the subject should surely be that marriage is just for this life (Luke 20:27-38). Don't obsess about it. Don't spend hours talking about it with pals trying to second guess if Girl A likes you or if Boy G is actually chasing Girl B. Getting married so that you can finally get laid is not God's plan for your life. God's kingdom and his glory is. Git off yer arse and git ye to work!

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