You don't always need a miracle to find light in times of darkness
Heartbreak is impartial. Tragediesglobal and personalstrike every day. Destruction, anxiety, and catastrophe have become our daily companions.
Over his long career, Robert Wise has been on the front lines of disaster. From the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11's ground zero to the bedsides of lost loved ones, Wise has stood on tragic ground and ministered to those who have lost seemingly everything. Each of those hurting people asked the same questions: Why do the innocent suffer? Why doesn't God deliver the light of miracles in the darkest times?
In the midst of his own questioning, Wise has discovered some surprising and encouraging answers. In this book, he shares those lessons, encouraging all those who struggle. You'll learn some unexpected positive benefits of pain and suffering, and see how God is always behind the scenes working for the ultimate goodeven when you can't see or imagine how.
"With transparency and compassion, Wise delivers numerous illustrations of God's incredible timing along with His grace, His mercy, and the unbelievable healing power of His love."
S. Bryan Hickox, Emmy-winning television producer
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About the Author
Robert L. Wise is an archbishop in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches and director of the Office of Ecumenical Relations. He has been awarded the title of Apostolic Representative for Christian Unity by Pope Francis. In addition to his work in ecumenism, Wise is the author of thirty-four books and many articles published in several languages. Wise also publishes under the pseudonyms Spencer E. Moses and Ed Moses.
Read an Excerpt
When There is No Miracle
Finding Hope in Pain and Suffering
By Robert L. Wise
Kregel PublicationsCopyright © 2016 Robert L. Wise
All rights reserved.
Where Do We Begin?
Seminary was just finished and I had come to my first church. Good people, a nice facility, and high anticipation for the future — a good start for right out of the gate. It seemed more than I could have expected. Then I discovered that I was following a nice guy who had gotten into trouble over the issue of prayer in public schools. An uproar had shaken the entire community. The congregation was in shambles, and the church finances were on the edge of bankruptcy. On my first Sunday, only twenty-five members showed up.
Didn't matter. I was ready to take on bears and lions. I felt I could tackle any problem. So I began vigorously calling on the membership and set out to create a new environment in the congregation. I knew I could count on the church's lay leader. Everyone liked Gene May.
Gene was a handsome, no-nonsense guy who walked with a cane even though he was only in his forties. I soon discovered the cane was necessary because he was partially blind as a result of an operation to remove a brain tumor. The slight indentation on the side of his head was a result of the procedure. Gene didn't talk much about the cancer, but I assumed it was taken care of, and we went on about our business.
I began to notice that the indentation on his temple seemed to be filling. I wasn't sure what it meant but I knew that this was not a good sign. Finally, his wife, Eloise, confided that Gene's remaining eyesight was failing. Another operation was not possible. The tumor had returned.
The Mays had two sons, and I knew the boys were struggling with what they could see happening. We talked, prayed, and kept hoping. The tumor kept growing.
Finally Gene made his last trip to the hospital. They called me to come quickly and offer the final prayers. As Gene slipped away in the darkness of that dim room, I knew I couldn't weep because I had to be supportive of the family, but the spiritual air was knocked out of me. My dear friend had died while only a young man, and I couldn't make any sense out of his death.
That's where this book began.
Staring into the Emptiness
A skeptical medical doctor recently observed that the church loves to talk about the times when prayers are answered, but they are silent about the times when nothing happens. While his remark does not negate the fact that multitudes are healed through prayer, his charge exposes our tendency to ignore the many occasions when nothing seems to have happened. These times of awful silence leave us bewildered and we'd rather walk away than talk about the emptiness.
But his comment also points to a problem in the Protestant church. With multitudes of plain crosses adorning church buildings and sanctuaries, virtually no one has a crucifix anywhere in sight. That kind of cross is for the Roman Catholics, we explain. We celebrate the resurrection, the empty cross, Easter. Well, that's a point in our favor, but it hides the fact that we don't like to visit the crucifixion. Our inability to grasp the full picture of the cross is part of the reason we have so much trouble handling the times when nothing keeps pain and death away from our door.
A prominent pastor and friend built a large, successful church. When I was visiting the congregation, I noticed there was not even one cross — adorned or not — in the entire multiacre plant. I inquired why there were no crosses. I was told the pastor considered the cross to be too negative. Everything had to be positive!
This pastor may have developed a congregation of up-and-onwarders, but there was no place there for the down-and-outers. The people who struggle with brokenness cannot live on clichés and enthusiasm. Much more is needed. Like a crucifix.
[In the pain and agony of the crucifixion, there are sacred secrets and divine discoveries to be made, which enable us to live through our own times of trial and trauma.]
The Roman Catholic Church has for centuries lived and worked with "the least of these." A host of saints have walked with the poor and destitute when nothing miraculous changed their situation. They have learned that in the pain and agony of the crucifixion, there are sacred secrets and divine discoveries to be made, which enable us to live through our own times of trial and trauma. We must draw near to discover what we may have missed.
We might find that the emptiness is not as empty as we thought.
Finding the Other Side
I know a great deal more about pain than I could have thought possible when I penned the first edition of this book. I have buried my grandparents, parents, and nephews. I have watched divorce ravage my family and seen some of my most cherished dreams shredded. I have had to walk through nights darker than I ever dreamed were possible. But I did get to the other side. Today, I no longer worry about other black nights that I am sure I have yet to visit. I can tell you with a greater certainty than at any time in my past that "underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27), and they do hold in the middle of the night. The God of which I write is still the Rock that does not move. Regardless of appearances, nothing can separate us from His love. We must examine honestly both the times when His love is real and when that same love is hidden. In the next few chapters we will attempt to do so.
It is surprising to realize how unexpected our discoveries can be. Here's an example. During my early days in a hostile seminary environment, I faced PhDs ready to slice up my young faith like a slab of bacon and serve me at the next faculty cookout. So I corresponded with Dr. Bernard Ramm, seeking insight and help with the Scriptures under critical scrutiny. Dr. Ramm was internationally known for his work in hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation. I searched to find his address and wrote the scholar, seeking his help. I told him I was going to be in a hostile environment and needed his insights. Much to my delight, he wrote back, and a relationship began.
Although we never formally met, Dr. Ramm kept his letters coming and sent books to help me grasp and argue for the veracity and dependability of the Bible. I often reflected that, without his instruction from afar, I might well have washed out and left the rough-and-tumble academic world an agnostic, or at least crippled and inept. His inspiration and instruction in defending and interpreting Scripture helped me frame my initial approach to ministry. Professors who held divergent viewpoints had to yield to the firm defenses that I made via Bernard Ramm.
I graduated from seminary, began a ministry, and lost contact with Dr. Ramm. The ministry prospered, and eventually I wrote When There Is No Miracle. Over a decade later, a letter came from Modesto, California, with the return address marked B. Ramm. I eagerly opened the envelope, wondering if this could be the same theologian. But why would he be writing me, a parish pastor? The letter was poorly scribbled, as if by someone with faltering penmanship. The longer I read, the more amazed I became. The thank-you note was indeed from my old friend and counselor, now at the end of his tether.
Six weeks earlier, Dr. Ramm had gone in for a routine and simple cataract operation. Everything had gone wrong. A week later he was permanently blind in one eye and rapidly losing all sight in the other. The ensuing weeks were painful and catastrophic. He was terrified! A theologian works with his eyes like a pianist performs with his fingers. Dr. Ramm was devastated.
But his wife had bought him a copy of my book. Together they plowed through the pages. Something was stirred in Bernard Ramm. While he had not had a miracle, his spiritual sight began to return, even though physically he continued with cloudy vision.
Barely able to see well enough to compose a letter, he wrote to tell me that doubt had moved into the bed next to him. For all of his theological expertise and personal brilliance, he had fallen into despair and depression. A voracious reader, he felt his mind was starving and his soul bereft of comfort. Eventually limited sight returned to his remaining good eye. A copy of my book had brought comfort. When There Is No Miracle was his first reading in weeks, and something very important happened as he laboriously worked his way through the chapters. Depression waned and faith returned.
Bernard Ramm had forgotten the name of the little seminarian with whom he corresponded years earlier. My name had merged into the multitude of students marching through his classrooms and out into the ministry. Although he didn't remember me, he wrote to say thank you for the help the book had given him.
I wrote back, "Thank you, old friend. You don't remember me, but without your concern and help years ago, I would never have written those pages and been available for you in your time of need." Bernard Ramm had found the other side. His spiritual eyes had prevailed.
Recovering Our Faith
The writer of Hebrews wrote, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Our task is to find a set of eyes that can pierce the invisible and see what has existed when the emptiness appeared to be all encompassing. We will attempt to discover how not to have our hopes dashed. Far from developing a blind faith that ignores the issues, the doubts, and the difficulties, we will quest after a faith that walks through the most obscure night — not fearlessly but with enduring confidence.
The following chapters are not a theologian's dissertation but the product of a pastor's daily rounds of hospitals, homes, and haunts of affliction. From my journeys I have learned that it is best to gain a correct perspective before we come to a crisis. Once we descend into the swirl of emotion and confusion, the dilemmas loom so large that we find it difficult to see beyond the question marks. I hope these insights will more adequately prepare you to recognize God's presence when turmoil raises a dust that will not allow you to open your eyes, and that they will also answer the issues of hurting people.
A PERSONAL CONVERSATION WITH JESUS
When I first encountered Jesus, His sense of destiny drew me even closer. Never had I seen anyone who showed such certainty and surety with His every action. This was a man who knew where He was going! The longer I listened, the more that verdict was confirmed.
One night at supper I asked Him about my own unanswered question. "Jesus, You have made sense out of my aimless life. Yet so much of what I have experienced seems to have no purpose whatsoever. Why can't I understand the final reasons for all that I have suffered?"
He picked up the loaf from the table and ripped the bread apart. Holding the torn halves, He stared into my eyes. "My Father does not let us see life from beginning to end. But we know that His loving hands hold even the pieces that are broken."
My doubts insisted on one more word. "But how do I know that His love holds the broken portions?"
He laid down the loaves and reached for my hand. His touch was warm and firm. His answer was simple. "You know me, don't you?"CHAPTER 2
The Assurance of Things Hoped For
When our physical eyes are failing, how do we maintain any spiritual vision? When our prayers aren't answered, how can we continue praying for what is precious to us? Somewhere within us we desperately anticipate that hope alone can keep us running, but what can we hang on to if hope is destroyed? We end up facing a quandary: How can we pray for and believe in miracles when they don't seem to happen?
Can we keep faith in a God of the marvelous when our petitions have not been fulfilled? Many people today think not.
The Times in Which We Live
Like it or not, we are all to some extent a product of the age we live in. Ours has become a time of secularity in which God is considered absent. Walk the streets of New York City on Sunday morning and you'll see an endless string of empty churches. It's even worse in England, where centuries-old churches are being turned into pubs and pizza parlors.
Not many people claim to be atheists. They don't care that much.
Relatively few are deeply hostile toward the church, but many feel that the church is not particularly competent. Secularism has made people fundamentally indifferent. They just don't care.
Only the desperate really reach out to attempt to touch the divine hand. End of story.
[Only the desperate really reach out to attempt to touch the divine hand.]
Consequently it may be difficult for us to talk about or reflect on tragedy in the context of an empty universe. In an age that explains away any possibility of a miracle, you might be thinking that I am coming at this problem of loss and grief by excluding any real divine intervention. Let's take a longer look at where we are in this moment in history.
Five hundred years ago, the medieval era came to its conclusion. In that earlier period, everyone believed in magic, superstition, and the miraculous. It was the womb from which our world was born. The Renaissance and Enlightenment that followed produced the advent of science and rationalism, which measured reality by the yardstick and compass. What was not demonstrable was not believable, and of course no devices existed to prove the existence of God. The age of doubt had begun.
In the twentieth century, war after war and the explosion of nuclear weapons clouded the terrain with cynicism and despair. The horrors of World War II birthed existentialism and slammed the door on any possibility of divine interventions. The Holocaust, destroying six million Jews who worshipped the God of the Old Testament, hurled multitudes into darkness. Night and day went black.
The twenty-first century has done no better. Tsunami has become a common word. America's presence in Iraq helped radicalize Muslim terrorists who continue to ravage the entire Middle East. This is the world we now live in. Should someone ask where God is in all of it, the contemporary answer would be, "Are you kidding?"
No one can help but be affected by skepticism in some way. When we start searching for answers to why so many suffer, we must recognize that doubt is not abnormal. Consequently, you may be surprised that I am going to make a radical departure from the spirit of this present age. Far from pandering to doubt, I want to affirm the reality of God at work in our worst times, for I have spent many decades living with divine interventions.
Bucking the Tide
I stumbled onto a divergent route through a severe mercy (as C. S. Lewis would have called it) that radically changed my mind. During my academic training, no one considered the idea of miracles or divine interventions beyond a hop, skip, and a jump over the fact that they were reported to have occurred in the past — the far, far distant past. Without giving it any thought, we went on to other subjects.
I was in my second year of ministry after seminary when I developed a difficult case of allergies. Believing I was capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, of course I did not stop working. Preaching on Sundays while running a temperature would surely prompt the parishioners to put a little extra in the offering plate. We all have to give it all we've got, I thought. So, feeling terrible, I kept plugging away. Finally a doctor at the church told me to see him the next day. I didn't look good, he said. That was an understatement; death was knocking at my door, and what followed is a story I have reserved for the last chapter. But here I want to share how pain brought me to an important spiritual discovery.
Lying on a hospital bed with acute renal failure, I noticed a crucifix on the wall. If I locked my attention on that dying form, maybe I could transfer some of the burning pain away from my body. I stared at the broken shape, trying to study the agony of Jesus, and to my surprise, I actually displaced some of the pain. It was an exercise in mental gymnastics, but it helped.
A week later I remembered the crucifix at St. Antony's Hospital and the help it had given me. In my wooziness and weakness, maybe I could in a small way identify with that wounded figure again. I stretched out on my bed in a cruciform position, closed my eyes, and tried to envision Jesus's moment of death.
In my mind, the crucified Christ began to emerge larger than life. Lost in the meditation, I could literally feel the wrenching agony of life slipping away from Jesus. And then, abruptly, I was on the cross with Jesus. I was in Him and He was in me! The passage from Galatians 2:20 raced through my mind: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." In some fashion that I could never grasp, I was living out that Scripture as my personal reality.
Excerpted from When There is No Miracle by Robert L. Wise. Copyright © 2016 Robert L. Wise. Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Where Do We Begin? 13
2 The Assurance of Things Hoped For 19
3 Play It Straight 26
4 The Paradox of Pain 32
5 The Profit from Pain 49
6 The Power in Pain 70
7 The Instigator of Pain 84
8 The Inevitability of Pain 103
9 God Speaks Through Silence 113
10 While Waiting for a Miracle 128
11 And a Miracle Is… 140
12 When I Lay Me Down to Sleep 151
About the Author 165
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In an age when we expect instant relief from what ever ails us, this book gives another prospective. The hardest question we can ask is “Why has God let this happen?” “When There Is No Miracle” takes the reader through twelve chapters that lead us gently into a better understanding of God, the Holy Spirit, ourselves and humanity at large. The author, Robert L Wise, acknowledges the evil in the world and that God is still in control. Also our anger and frustration when we do not see a way out of the situation and on into the future. Written clearly and simply with compassionate care and many illustrations of God's love, grace and healing power. This book was hard to put down and a pencil and paper soon became covered with notes. A book to read and reread as the truths of God's love sink into our inner being. *Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of “When There Is No Miracle” from Kregel Publishing in exchange for my review. All opinions are 100% my own.
"Why has God allowed this to happen to me?" is perhaps the hardest question Christians are asked. Whether it is from an unexpected death of a family member or friend, the loss of a job at the worst time of the year, cancer diagnosis for the first time or third time, or fill in the blank to any number of things you wish you had an answer for. So how do you answer any of those questions and still give someone hope? In the book, When There Is No Miracle by Robert L. Wise is a great place to start. I know for me, I have had my own share of questions for God and often times, feel when there is no answer and just never ending silence, it can seem as if God doesn't care or your prayer simply wasn't filled with enough faith. Yet as Christians we know that Jesus, as the very Son of God, had enough heartache to last an eternity. Not only did He witness it in the lives of the people He came into contact with day in and day out while He walked the earth, but even the brutality He, Himself, would face through beatings, the crucifixion and even His death on the cross. So where is God when bad things happen? Why do we automatically assume God is to blame for both good things and bad? You might reason that since God is Creator He could heal someone if He chooses or stop a terrorist from killing innocent people, so why doesn't He? Is it possible there is someone else to blame than God? Is there an answer when a miracle doesn't happen for even the most dedicated person of faith? The answer is a resounding yes to all of these questions. For me, this book was a great resource for my own prayer life in helping me to pray for things along the lines of God's will but in also helping me to understand God's expectations of us and what the greater purpose might be in these situations. I believe it should be a resource in any believer's library. Using the Bible, I can now help those struggling to find answers in the world we live in today and to accept the uncertainty we will face in some of those times. One thing is clear, God is always present in all of those situations. I received When There is No Miracle by Robert L. Wise compliments of Kregel Publications. My reason for wanting to read this book was a dear friend of mine was going through her cancer diagnosis for the third time. After battling this horrible disease twice and winning, it was heart-breaking to see this come a third time. Yet despite it all, the grief was real along with the many tears that followed, but the one thing that remains true is her undying spirit that God has NOT forsaken her, despite an incurable diagnosis. While she might not win this battle, she is looking for the purpose God is using this for. What a great example of getting through dark times, we simply need to turn to the Light and remember while we might not see the miracle this side of life, death is NOT the end for the believer. I easily give this book a 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend this to anyone wanting to know the "Why's" of life purpose when bad things happen in our own lives.