“Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the LORD GOD my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.”
(Psalm 73: 25-28 NASB)
“I have set the LORD continually before me…”
(Psalm 16:8a NASB)
Elisabeth Elliot is so much more articulate than I could ever be, so I’ll just put her explanation of the book’s premise here:
“The framework of the book is the story of five and a half years of loving one man, Jim, and of learning the disciplines of longing, loneliness, uncertainty, hope, trust, and unconditional commitment to Christ—a commitment which required that, regardless of what passion we might feel, we must be pure…
“If I can help some to avoid sin, I want to do that. If I can show others the message of the Gospel is the possibility of a new birth and a new beginning and a new creation, I want to do that.
“The love life of a Christian is a crucial battleground. There, if nowhere else, it will be determined as to who is Lord: the world, the self and the devil, or the Lord Christ.
“This is why I take the risk. My own love story might be of more or less interest to a few; the “Dear Abby” sort of letters and my replies might be amusing; but my chief concern is that readers consider the authority of Christ over human passion and set their hearts on purity.” (14)
Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of famed missionary and martyr Jim Elliot, who died evangelizing to the Auca tribe in Ecuador. This book is Elisabeth’s memoirs of her relationship with Jim, interspersed with personal observations on romance and Christianity.
How This Book Helped Me
Let me be vulnerable with you: for the majority of my life, I was a romantic enslaved to an idolatry of romance and the idea of marriage. My thoughts were perpetually bent on how I would find a great woman and have a perfect marriage, even from a young age. Even after I was saved and professed my devotion to Christ, the pursuit of a romantic relationship continued to be a deep-seated desire.
Passion and Purity was the most influential book to me in that respect. It forced me to come face to face with my idolatry and to see it for what it was. It taught me to ask questions that were both incredibly hurtful and wonderfully healing: who is Lord over my life? Can I place my desires in submission to God, or do I withhold them out of fear? What is important to me? What am I willing to let God take from me? Do I trust God to know what is best and to provide it?
One thing I really appreciated on my most recent read through the book was what Elisabeth Elliot had to say about the purpose of desires. We’re told to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rm. 12:1, NASB); what we often withhold from God, however, is our deepest desires. Elliot explains that these desires are given to us so that we can offer them to God in submission:
“If the yearnings went away, what would we have to offer up to the Lord? Aren’t they given to us to offer? It is the control of passion, not its eradication, that is needed. How would we learn to submit to the authority of Christ if we had nothing to submit?” (91).
Every time I read this book, I find myself challenged in contentment, in submission, and in single-minded devotion to Christ, and every time I reach the last page I find myself willingly and joyfully offering my life to God again, His worthiness being displayed so clearly.
* Length: The book is less than two hundred pages and is divided into two or three page bite-sized vignettes. Each chapter is weighty enough that I found a lot of value in reading just a chapter per day. You can finish the book at that pace in four to six weeks, or you can read it like a novel and power through over the course of one to three days.
* Readability: Elliot’s prose is exquisite. Maybe she was a fantastic writer, or maybe everyone had that level of eloquence sixty years ago; in either case, between the beauty of the language and the compelling way the book is written, the book is a true pleasure to read.
* This Book Is Good For: Anyone who has, or has had, or plans to have a romantic relationship during their lifetime; anyone who thinks they may have an idolatry of romantic relationships; anyone wanting to learn about contentment; anyone seeking to grow in a single-minded pursuit of Christ; anyone interested in missions; anyone who enjoys biographies or well-crafted prose. (Frankly, I’ve recommended this book at every opportunity. It’s worth a read.)