Where Is God When
You Need Him?
Ellen White’s struggle with pain
By John Skrzypaszek
Of the many inspiring chapters in Ellen White’s classic on the life of Christ, The Desire of Ages, the one entitled “ ‘Lazarus, Come Forth’. ” The spiritual insights seem to emerge from the depths of an author who keenly understands extreme emotional turmoil, a time during which nothing matters or makes sense. Such moments inflame the soul with a thirst for God’s presence and for the touch of His guiding and healing hand. Here the yearning of the human heart stretches over the barriers of unexplainable circumstances, hoping to hear the voice of someone who says, “All is well: I am in control.”
In 1892, shortly after her arrival in Australia, Ellen White continued working on her major study on the life of Christ. On July 14 she wrote in her diary. “I am now writing on the life of Christ. I know that the enemy will make every possible effort to hinder me, but I shall cling to Jesus, for He is my dependence.”1
In the early stages of her life “down under,” she confronted a long season of adverse physical circumstances. “During the past four months of pain and infirmity, I have constantly importuned God for help.”2 The intensity of her struggle was horrendous. “I felt as if my body were being crushed. . . . I could hardly move any of my limbs. I did not know where I was.”3 “The past night was an almost sleepless one.”4 “The night has been long and trying. I lay awake from half past ten till half past two, so full of nervous pain that I could not rest.”5 “Last night I was perplexed to know what to do for my aching nerves and muscles.”6
The only known portrait of Ellen White while she was in Australia (taken in 1899), and the diary entry from
July 14, 1892.Moments such as these inevitably create perplexity and raise questions, and Ellen White was not exempt from such experiences. “I do not understand why I am lying here, unable to labor for the Lord.”7 “I hoped that my captivity might be turned immediately, and to my finite judgment it seemed that thus God would be glorified.”8 “I am anxious to present to our people the message that the Lord has given me, that Christ has made us His own, that He has bought us with a price beyond computation.”9“When I pray earnestly for restoration, and it seems that that the Lord does not answer, my spirit almost faints within me.”10 “When the affliction under which I have been suffering for several months came upon me, I was surprised that it was not removed at once in answer to prayer.”11
Beneath Are the Everlasting Arms
Examining her diary notes, letters, and manuscripts, I have found myself wondering, So where is God when one needs Him? How does one cope with the trauma of personal adversity? During her personal struggles Ellen White focused on God’s promises found in the Bible. She especially reflected on the story of Lazarus. “Of late I have been thinking much of Martha and Mary, and their experience at the time of the death and resurrection of Lazarus.”12 It is evident that even though the Bible was her source of strength, her thoughts and reflections unfold a tension between trust and hopeful expectations. She wrote: “When Lazarus became sick, they sent Jesus the word, ‘Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick’ [John 11:3, KJV]. There was no further word, no urgent message for Him to come. They fully expected that their beloved Friend would at once come and heal their brother.”13 Jesus did not come immediately, either for Mary and Martha’s sake, or for Ellen White’s. She wrote, “With heavy hearts the sisters prepared Lazarus for burial, all the while looking anxiously for Christ. They longed to see Him, and to hear His words of comfort.”14
Ellen White’s personal struggles with pain and her longing for healing are visible in the way she described Martha and Mary’s thirst for Christ’s presence. “Christ knew that as they looked on the dead face of their brother their faith in their Redeemer would be severely tried. But He knew that because of the struggle through which they were now passing their faith would shine forth with far greater power.”15 No wonder that her thoughts appear so authentic and convincing: “To all who are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God, the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest.”16
In the midst of her own struggles, Ellen White expressed her hope with passion and conviction: “I am not cast down, neither am I disquieted. I am cheerful and hopeful in God. I have faith that I shall receive strength. I am not free from trials and temptations; yet I feel that God is able to keep me.”17 Her faith and patience were rewarded with God’s sustaining grace. “Then I may be comforted in the long, painful hours of the night.”18
His Promises Assure His Presence
Space doesn’t permit a comprehensive examination of all the passages that detail the trauma of Ellen White’s early experience in Australia, but note these: “I do not understand why I am lying here, unable to labor for the Lord; but God understands, and that is enough for me.”19 “I am comforted with the assurance that although constantly suffering pain, I am never forsaken. I put trust in One who is too wise to err and too good to do me harm. He will restore my health. I shall yet speak forth His praise in the congregation of the saints. I am determined not to encourage feeling of despondency and gloom.”20
For Ellen White truth moved beyond descriptive assertion about God. Her understanding of truth about God developed progressively. It was bound to the experiential knowledge of God, namely, trust in His unfailing promises. Her trust in Jesus as “the Restorer, the One who alone could bring life and immortality to light” 21 had an experientially practical component. “Sickness and pain may test and try our patience and our faith, but the brightness of the Presence of the universe is with us and we must hide self behind Jesus.”22 ”Talk courage to the church.”23
At the end of her challenging experience in Australia, Ellen White wrote a letter to the leaders at the General Conference. “Since the first few weeks of my affliction, I have had no doubts in regard to my duty in coming to this distant field; and more than this, my confidence in my heavenly Father’s plan in my affliction has been greatly increased. I cannot now see all the purposes of God, but I am confident it was a part of His plan that I should be thus afflicted, and I am content and perfectly at ease in the matter.”24
How can one express so much courage at times of personal distress? The answer flows from the lips of one who knew God. “At times when it seemed that I could not endure the pain, when unable to sleep, I looked to Jesus by faith, and His presence was with me, every shade of darkness rolled away . . . the very room was filled with the light of His divine presence.”25
The depth of Ellen White’s spiritual integrity encourages the church she loved to confront the realities of life with an implicit confidence and trust in God.
1 Ellen G. White diary, July 14,1892, in Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1993), vol. 21, p. 125.
2 Diary, Apr. 22, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 109.
3 Diary, May 10, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 110.
4 Diary, May 22, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 111.
5 Diary, June 15, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 112.
6 Diary, June 19, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 114.
7 Diary, Apr. 22, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 109.
8 Diary, May 21, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 111.
9 Diary, June 20, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 115.
10 Diary, July 10, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 123.
11 Diary, July 14, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 125.
12 Diary, Apr. 22, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 109.
15 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1898), p. 528.
17 Ellen White to S. N. Haskell, July 17, 1892.
19 Diary, Apr. 22, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, p. 109. (Italics supplied.)
20 Diary, May 9, 1892, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, pp. 109, 110.
21 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 529.
22 White to Haskell, July 17, 1892, in Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring. Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 2, p. 37.
23 Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, Oct. 2, 1892.
24 Ellen G. White letter 2d, Dec. 23, 1892, in General Conference Daily Bulletin, Feb. 27, 1893.
John Skrzypaszek is director of the Ellen G. White Study Center atAvonadale College in Cooranboong, New South Wales, Australia.