“Passion and Purity” for a New Generation by Abigail Ruth Shah
(Book Review of Elisabeth Elliot’s classic book)
Passion and Purity starts out with Elisabeth, a senior in college, questioning God, asking Him why she was still single. She touches on the topic of the difference between singleness and virginity, her view on how each was equally important to her. Elisabeth first learns of Jim through her brother Dave. Through the next few years after their meeting they struggle with being apart, being together, loneliness, and self-control. Elisabeth shares her personal struggles through journal entries and letters between her and Jim. While she fights against loneliness, doubts in Jim and in God, Jim struggles with the more physical restraint side. She also talks about what men and women want in a relationship. Men want to chase, while women constantly want to be in control. Men want femininity and vulnerability, but upon further conversation with college men, Elisabeth finds that they do not really know exactly what they want, and neither do women. From here, she concludes that only God can truly know what is good for each person. After years of meeting up for short periods of time, Jim and Elisabeth finally do get married while on the mission field in Quito. Elisabeth makes a good point towards the end of the book about how passion and purity does not end with marriage. You are pure by staying obedient to God and doing what he wants you and your spouse to do. The main point Elisabeth tries to drive home is that God will bring you the right person when He is ready. Not when you want it or feel like you can’t handle the loneliness anymore, but when God knows you and your future spouse are ready.
I personally enjoyed when Elisabeth would bring up stories of desperate, single girls writing to her for help. Many of them cried to her of how much they wanted God to bring them their “prince charming” or how much they loved this one guy but he acted like she didn’t even exist or how terrible a break up was. While these stories were amusing and kind of funny, I did genuinely feel bad for them. It was also interesting seeing how girls and guys and the struggles they face really never change through time. Maybe modern technology and generational views add a variety to the types of struggles, but for the most part, kids back then struggled with the same stuff. For example, one that really stuck out to me was the common, age-old question of: “How far is too far?” While I have not had a whole lot of experience with this myself, I have been contemplating over this question for quite some time. Elisabeth is very blunt with this question… there is no answer. There is no line that is THE line to stop at.
While I agreed with most of this book, a few things did not sit right with me. Elisabeth talks of how women should never ever make the first move. Sure, I get it, let the guys chase, but Elisabeth goes as far as to say you can’t even ask a guy friend for a chill Chinese takeout date. She basically says if one day you marry the guy you asked out, and he is unhappy in the marriage, he will ultimately be able to blame you for an unhappy life. I feel like with times changing, it is a little more acceptable for a girl to ask out a guy. I do agree with the man being the spiritual leader and stepping up as the initiator, but nowadays I believe it is more acceptable for girls to sometimes make a move. Another part of the book that I am a little iffy about is where she draws the line on the physical aspect. Elisabeth and Jim don’t flat out say there should be no physical touch, but they talked about physical restrictions like they believed there should be zero physical-ness until marriage. While it does sound good, I don’t know where I stand with the absolutely NO physical touch. Of course I believe there should be no sex before marriage, but stuff like kissing and holding hands that Elisabeth condemns aren’t necessarily sins. I do believe that things like holding hands and kissing can lead to further, more dangerous things and couples need to be careful and know what they can handle personally. I also had a problem with how she portrayed being single in such a bad light. She talked of how it would be such a curse to live a life without being married. I feel like she was being a little over dramatic. I wish she touched on the topic of being happy in Christ even without marriage and being happy in a state of singleness. Yes, being married is great and all and it is a wonderful thing to have somebody that loves you just as much as you love them, but it is not the end of the world if you don’t get married. You should find your happiness in Christ instead of your soul mate. But for her theology, I agreed with her 100%.