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In times of trouble and suffering, we cry out to God . . . but sometimes it feels like he doesn’t hear. Has he abandoned us just when we need him most? In this new book, scholar, author, and apologist Gary Habermas walks us through what the Bible has to say about suffering and where we can find God in our own times of sorrow and disappointment, and he shares heartfelt personal insights from his own experiences. Why Is God Ignoring Me? gives us the freedom to ask our tough questions . . . And the wisdom to find ...
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In times of trouble and suffering, we cry out to God . . . but sometimes it feels like he doesn’t hear. Has he abandoned us just when we need him most? In this new book, scholar, author, and apologist Gary Habermas walks us through what the Bible has to say about suffering and where we can find God in our own times of sorrow and disappointment, and he shares heartfelt personal insights from his own experiences. Why Is God Ignoring Me? gives us the freedom to ask our tough questions . . . And the wisdom to find the answers. Tyndale House Publishers
Any discussion of God's silence would be incomplete without first entertaining the question of miracles and supernatural activities.
We might suspect that during biblical times everyone believed in the supernatural and witnessed its occurrence on a regular basis. Maybe the average person would have even said that he or she had personally witnessed many acts of God. But this hardly sounds like the picture we get when we really study God's Word. Take John 12:28-30, for instance:
"Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine."
In this text, when God spoke from heaven, the members of the crowd disagreed about the source of the voice. Some said they heard an angel, but others thought it was nothing more than thunder. Notice that the voice of God apparently wasn't one of the options. But note something else, too. Those who thought they heard thunder were not even thinking in supernaturalterms. Not unlike today, a common response in Jesus' day was to interpret events naturally.
So we must ask ourselves: Is it possible that God still performs supernaturally in our world today and we are simply missing it?
Though we've probably all heard reports of physical and emotional healing, it is often difficult to confirm the details or accuracy of the stories. But occasionally some reports can indeed be verified. One such account is that of Barbara. At only thirty-one, Barbara suffered from a rare form of multiple sclerosis that was attacking her body's organs. Her diaphragm was nearly paralyzed, and breathing had become very difficult. Tumors had developed on her hands and feet, and she had experienced cardiac and respiratory arrest three times. In addition, she also suffered from a form of chronic lung disease that resulted in a permanently collapsed lung. As the diseases progressed, Barbara entered hospice and began to prepare for her death.
One day, two women were visiting with Barbara, reading the cards and letters from well-wishers, and as they were talking, Barbara heard a third voice in the room. The voice clearly said, "My child, get up and walk." Although Barbara had not walked for two years, she did not hesitate. She stood up, started walking down the hall, and bumped into her parents, who were coming for a visit.
Barbara's legs had been atrophied from the lack of exercise, but now the muscles were firm and held her weight without difficulty. Her mother's first words evidenced her shock: "Calves! You have calves." Her father was so excited he danced with her around the room. Like a ballerina, Barbara stood on her toes, leaped in the air, and laughed for joy.
Although hesitant to spoil the party, Barbara's doctors reminded the family that MS is an incurable disease, and that in Barbara's case, it had progressed almost to the point of her death. But after running a number of tests to determine what was happening, even the doctors had to admit that Barbara seemed to have been healed instantaneously. The MS had completely disappeared, her lungs were now healthy and functioning, and the tumors on her hands and feet were gone.
Barbara became a surgeon's assistant. The physician she trained under had been one of her own doctors. He tells his classes, "She was a patient of mine. I said she would not live. I also said she would never walk again. Now she assists me."
Consider another example. Kate had recently been diagnosed with terminal stage 4 cancer. During surgery, her doctor found that not only was her cancer one of the most lethal varieties, but it had also spread throughout her body. Rather than try to remove the cancer, they simply closed her up and told her she had only a few months to live.
When requests for prayer were sent out, my family joined with many other believers across the nation praying for Kate's seemingly impossible recovery. However, as I prayed, I experienced that nagging feeling that it wasn't doing much good. And sure enough, though we prayed, the cancer continued unabated.
Then one day I received a call. Kate had suddenly begun to feel better-even to the point of needing no painkillers whatsoever. Thinking this was just a temporary lull, Kate waited for the pain to return. But it never did.
Although Kate's oncologist told her that brief respites have been known to occur in some cancer patients, a full blood scan, a CT scan, and another biopsy of the tissue determined that the cancer was nowhere to be found. Eight years later, Kate has never developed another problem, and she remains a living testimony to God's work.
My last example comes from a very close friend of our family. Several years ago, Fred and Lucy's young daughter died of cancer. Not long after that, Fred, too, was diagnosed with a rare but lethal form of cancer. Twice he submitted to a biopsy, hoping that the diagnosis was a mistake. Unfortunately, this did nothing but confirm the presence of the life-threatening cancer. Fred was told he needed surgery immediately.
In the days leading up to the surgery, Fred's family and friends were deep in prayer. Although no one voiced these words publicly, several of us wondered why the Lord would allow this to happen to Fred and Lucy after the very painful death of their young daughter. How much did God expect one family to undergo? Surprisingly, it was Fred himself who comforted us, telling us to have faith in God no matter what the outcome.
After the surgery, the family members waited anxiously for a report that did not come until three weeks later. Strangely, when the doctor saw them, he was wearing a bit of a smile. "Contrary to our two biopsies and all of our expectations, I have some excellent news to share with you," he said. "No cancer cells were found in Fred's tumor. Not a single one. I cannot explain it, but it looks like your faith has been working."
Today, almost six years later, no further signs of cancer have appeared in Fred's body.
Stories like these abound, like the tale of a young boy in Florida with leukemia whose church elders laid hands on him and prayed for his healing the night before his first treatment. When the boy went to the hospital the next morning, a blood test showed no trace of the disease. Thinking that an abnormality occurred in the testing, doctors ordered another blood test. Again there was no trace of the disease. That was many years ago, and the young man has had no problems since then.
Then there was a graduate student who prayed the night before he was to undergo surgery for a large cancerous tumor. When he finished praying, he ran his hand over the area where his tumor was growing and found that he could no longer feel it. When he reported to the hospital the next morning, he requested a checkup before going into surgery, but his request was denied. The surgery proceeded as planned. However, the surgeons found no tumor whatsoever and the procedure that was supposed to take two to three hours ended in just minutes. Years later, the cancer still has not returned.
There is also the report of Nita, a paralyzed woman in Sri Lanka who could not speak and had no feeling in either leg. She reported that Jesus actually appeared in her hospital room and healed her. Several witnesses were in her room, including two medical doctors, who confirmed that she had indeed been healed.
We've all heard stories like these. But often they are stories about other people. And even though the results might seem miraculous-clear evidence of God's presence in our lives-after a while, we start to question. Was it really God or just a coincidence? Did it even happen at all? And if it did, why doesn't He do something like that for me?
Questions like these are fine. But in my experience, Christians do know of healing accounts. Unfortunately, we usually allow the doubts to trump the potential miracles, even in the face of excellent evidence. Further, we often forget the positive cases and remember only the unanswered examples.
Years ago, my wife and I were part of a group of Christians who regularly shared prayer requests with one another. For two years, my wife and I kept a prayer diary, listing the prayer requests on the left side and the answers on the right.
Maintaining a rather skeptical attitude, I also kept a sidebar labeled "impossible prayer requests." In this space, I listed things that, even as I prayed, I pretty much assumed would never be answered.
When our study concluded, I tallied the results. Across the board, we witnessed answered prayer in about 67 percent of all the cases. And what about my "impossible prayer request" list? There we saw a whopping 60 percent answered!
Given such great odds, you would assume that my wife and I would never again question the efficacy of answered prayer. Unfortunately, even in the face of such amazing answers to our prayers, we continued to struggle with the same questions. I still have that list, but just a year or so after finishing the exercise, I could remember only two or three of the unanswered prayers on our list and only one of the answered prayers! Why is that? Since basically two-thirds of our prayers had been answered, you would think I could have recalled many of the incidents. I've always had a good memory.
How do we account for this? As humans, we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives and forget to be grateful for the positive things. I certainly found this to be the case with our prayer diary.
Adults often seem to think that their children are so ungrateful, but in the same way, we regularly forget God's goodness to us and then wonder what He has done lately.
Is there any way to verify answered prayer-and thus God's touch in our lives-more accurately? Perhaps. In a ten-month period between 1982 and 1983, cardiologist Randolph Byrd conducted a double-blind experiment on prayer in a San Francisco hospital, involving almost four hundred patients from the coronary care unit. Selected randomly, approximately half of all patients were prayed for, while the other half were not. Not even the physicians, much less the patients, knew which ones were receiving prayer and which were not.
The intercessors were all "born-again Christians"-both Protestant and Catholic-who did not personally know the patients for whom they were praying. The result was that the prayed-for patients did statistically better than those who did not receive prayer. In fact, they improved in twenty-one out of twenty-six monitored categories. The report concluded that "intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a beneficial therapeutic effect in patients."
Other experiments on prayer have also been performed, and in an attempt to incorporate a wider range of beliefs in those who were praying, most of the later examples utilized prayer intercessors from a variety of religious faiths. Arguably, none of the other experiments achieved such positive results.
Another study was then conducted at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. This was also a randomized, controlled, double-blind test involving about a thousand patients. Like the study in San Francisco, the prayer intercessors were Christians from a variety of traditions. These intercessors were mostly women who did not know the patients. The results supported the first study's findings, with researchers concluding that "remote, blinded, intercessory prayer produced a measurable improvement in the medical outcomes of critically ill patients."
I found the comments regarding the Kansas City study to be rather intriguing. One Georgetown University professor noted the significance of the agreement with Randolph Byrd's study in San Francisco. A Duke University researcher noted some crucial questions: Why didn't some patients do better? And does answered prayer work only for Christians?
Regarding this last question, it does seem intriguing that the studies involving only Christian prayer intercessors seem to have been more successful in terms of healing, while those where the praying was done by non-Christians seem to be rather unsuccessful. I believe that God is active in the lives of unbelievers as well as believers and that He answers the prayers of both, but even so, the results of these studies do make us think, don't they?
To be sure, prayer experiments raise some perplexing questions. Even some believers think they are wrongheaded. In such cases, I recommend the strategy with which we started this discussion: keeping personal prayer journals can be a more satisfying indicator of God's activity in our lives.
Granted, accounts regarding the purported appearance of angelic beings do not have the same force as empirical studies of healing and answers to prayer. But stories of God stepping into His people's lives through angelic visitations were probably more common in biblical times.
One well-known account is found in 2 Kings 6:14-17. When a foreign army surrounded the city of Dothan, Elisha reminded his fearful servant that they were protected by a greater army. But when the servant failed to see any such host, Elisha prayed that his servant's eyes might be opened-and the man saw many horses and chariots of fire.
A number of contemporary reports are reminiscent of this ancient story. Billy Graham relates the account of John Paton, a missionary from the New Hebrides Islands. Hostile natives surrounded his headquarters one night, intending to burn the building and kill John and his wife. Inexplicably, however, the natives suddenly turned and left. Later, the tribe's chief was converted to Christianity, and remembering that night, he asked Mr. Paton one question: "Who were all those men you had with you there?" When the missionary responded that no one else was present, the chief insisted that there had been "many men standing guard-hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands."
The writer of Hebrews 13:2 tells believers that we, too, could entertain angels without being aware of it. A seminary professor shares the story of a time when he and his wife were vacationing with another couple. As they were driving along the highway one afternoon, they came upon a woman standing alone by the road, so they stopped to pick her up, thinking she might need help. As they traveled, the conversation turned to the beauty and power of Mount St. Helens, and the professor made a comment about the return of Jesus. The woman responded that this event could possibly be closer than they thought. Immediately after speaking those words, she disappeared from inside the car.
The four friends were so shocked that they stopped the car along the highway for fear that something had happened to the woman. They looked around, but could not find her. Stopping by the police station in the very next town, they explained the situation to the sergeant on duty. He responded by telling them, "You're the seventh person driving through town to turn in a report like this in the last twenty-four hours."
A few New Testament texts hint that some of us-at least children-may have guardian angels. One interesting account concerns the family of a Denver juvenile court judge who died unexpectedly after a brief illness. It was a devastating loss to his wife, Gretchen, and their three children. Gretchen's chief concern was how she would raise her children without her husband.
One beautiful Colorado Sunday, Gretchen took a picture of the children for their yearly Christmas card. But when she saw the photograph, something seemed very strange. Standing behind the children was "a tall majestic form" with its arms "outstretched as though it was protecting them." When she went back to the company where the photos were developed, the negative clearly showed the same being. When Gretchen showed the picture to her pastor, he remarked that she now had a picture of the guardian angel that protected her children. Gretchen sensed that she was not raising her children alone.
Strange stories? Certainly. We must ask ourselves, though, especially in light of the many other supernatural phenomena available to us, if we are simply too close-minded when we hear such accounts. We do want to think carefully about these things and not just accept everything we hear. But we must also remember that if we have good reason to believe at least some of these stories yet constantly ignore or reject them, we may be discarding the very accounts that may indicate God's presence in the world today.
Admittedly, the topic of demons is a very difficult subject. As strange as it may seem in the twenty-first century, a plethora of evidential accounts are available that establish the existence of demonic elements in our world today. I am personally familiar with many such descriptions, though I refuse to relate stories that might seem to celebrate these phenomena without placing them in a biblical context.
Excerpted from WHY IS GOD IGNORING me? by GARY R. HABERMAS Copyright © 2010 by Gary R. Habermas. Excerpted by permission.
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Introduction: You've Got Mail ix
Chapter 1 Supernatural Activities in Our World 1
Chapter 2 More Love Letters from God 21
Chapter 3 Our Favorite Verses 37
Chapter 4 Just like Bible Times? 57
Chapter 5 Conditions for Answered Prayer 75
Chapter 6 The Place of Spiritual Disciplines 89
Chapter 7 What Do You Tell Yourself 105
Chapter 8 Putting It Back Together 125
Discussion Questions 147
About the Author 153
Posted July 17, 2010
Habermas is well respected as an apologist and historian, yet this book appears to be a personal journey through his unanswered questions rather than the cohesive scholarly look into difficult subject matter I had expected. In fact, the title is misleading. This book doesn't deal with the reasons for God's silence so much as it does with highlighting biblical and modern examples of God's appearance and "disappearance" to His people. Those who need that encouragement may get what they're looking for from this read, but those who want more should keep looking.
Despite Habermas' efforts to explain the balance between what God has allowed us to experience and what He chooses to heal, I felt his argument was circular, unorganized, superficial, and lacking divine wisdom. It also bothered me that Habermas lumps together suffering and persecution as they are not the same despite sharing a few attributes. And I felt the one chapter that really was most important (regarding telling ourselves positive truths), lacked the theological emphasis it needed to separate solid biblical truths from secular psychological principles.
Posted March 24, 2010
No text was provided for this review.