10 November 2015

No Graven Image, by Elisabeth Elliot

First published in 1966, No Graven Image is the only novel of the best-selling author Elisabeth Elliot.

Margaret, an intrepid twenty-five-year-old missionary, travels to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador to start her ministry. She sees little progress at first, but eventually things seem to be going well.

She works on translating the Bible into the Indian language and befriends a native and his family.

Then tragedy strikes, shaking Margaret's entire way of thinking.

The following are excerpts that spoke to me. All but the first one were spoken by Margaret, the main character:

The results which can be called good are few. And they cannot be the criteria for whether or not what we do is worthwhile. It is hopeless to try to weigh up the good, the bad, the futile, and the merely harmless, and hope there will be enough of the good to justify all the rest. Jesus told us to do what is true. I think the truth needs no justification, no defense.
   - spoken by Dr. Lynn, one of the characters in the book

. . . . . .
There was a time when "in vain" to me had meant that there was no visible spiritual result. A study of the life of Jesus convinced me that he regarded things differently, since comparatively few of his encounters with individuals or groups resulted in manifestations of true faith.

. . . . . .
Why this need to find meaning at every turn? Why do I struggle to sort out the material and the spiritual, to separate the failures from the successes? Well, if you're going to write honest prayer letters... That was what tormented me.

. . . . . .
If my task was far smaller in terms of the effect it was to produce, it was far larger in terms of my own life involvement. If there were times when I must be willing to pay any price for what was called the "advancement of the Kingdom", there were also times when I must let such a price - climbing a mountain, for example, in rain and mud and darkness - be paid in vain. This, too, was a place to glorify God.

. . . . . .
I do not write prayer letters anymore, for I have nothing to say about my work. It seemed, on the night of Pedro's death, as though FINIS were written below all I had done. Now in the clear light of day, I see that I was in part correct. God, if he was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, he was God, he had freed me. I find that I can no longer arrange my life in an orderly succession of projects with realizable goals and demonstrable effects. I cannot designate this activity as "useful" and that one as "useless", for often the categories are reversed and even more often I am at a loss to apply either label. The work, in the end, as well as the labeling, is God's.

. . . . . .
Who but God knew which were the victories, which the defeats?

. . . . . .
Once I had envisioned Pedro, highland Indian, Christian, translator of the Bible, soldier of the cross - because I, Margaret Sparhawk, had come. He was my project, he was the star in my crown... God had allowed Pedro to die or he had perhaps caused me to destroy him. And does He now, I asked myself there at the graveside, ask me to worship Him?

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015)

Review by Eternity Magazine:
No gimmicks or artificial situations to over-dramatize the slow, painful job of Christian witness in a primitive and alien culture. A magnificent book.

Review from intothebook.net:
Life is not always full of victories. God’s ways are not our ways, and we should not fit God’s plan inside of ours. We may not understand it, but it’s not meant for us to understand. This book is a great example of many missionaries’ lives, their victories and their failures. And it is a great reminder that we need to be willing to serve God, and know that His plan is perfect, whether we see it at the moment or not.

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