(This is part two of a series of thoughts from Elisabeth Elliot on the Christian life. For the introduction to the series, see the first post.)
How does a Christian live “above reproach” in a world where there are different ideas about what God requires of us? Elisabeth Elliot’s observations of life among the Huaorani people (whom she refers to by term “Aucas”) of Ecuador give us some stimulating food for thought:
If it is a difficult thing to live above reproach in one’s society where values are judged at least similarly, how much more difficult it is in another culture.
Each society has its own way of expressing itself, and what looks like sin in one context may look like virtue in another. The Aucas were convinced, for reasons they themselves could not give, that outsiders were cannibals. Quite naturally, then, they were prepared to interpret the behavior of any outsider they might meet as characteristic of a cannibal. When five missionary men met the Aucas on a sand strip of the Curaray River, they tried in every way they knew to show the Indians that they were friendly. One of the missionaries put his arm around an Auca man, a gesture which to us cannot be understood in any way other than friendliness.
Years later I learned from the Aucas themselves that they had taken this to be proof of the foreigner’s being a cannibal. It was a gesture that had no meaning for an Auca, and therefore must be a gesture common to cannibals.
What looks like love to us looked like hostility to the Aucas.
Jesus’ love for common men led Him to eat and drink with them, and for this He was called a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.
“To the pure, all things are pure.” Clearly, it is not possible to behave in a way which would be understood by all, let alone accepted by all. God alone, who is above all and in us all, judges rightly, and therefore it is before Him that we stand or fall.
A sincere attempt to discover ways in which I might guide the Aucas in making moral choices led me to the realization that I had sometimes called things sinful which the Bible did not call sinful; and if I had imposed these on the Indians, I would have been guilty of the Pharisees’ sin of laying burdens too heavy to be borne.
It may take a new kind of courage for us to believe that God must interpret His Word to His people. We may find ourselves on the wrong side of some man-made fences, but this is part of the risk of following Him without reservation, of doing the truth, and of unconditionally committing our case to God.