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Monday, December 5, 2016

"When There Is No Miracle" (Robert L. Wise)

TITLE: When There Is No Miracle: Finding Hope in Pain and Suffering
AUTHOR: Robert L. Wise
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (168 pages).

Many people have tried to answer it. Many have provided it. Yet, the questions keep coming. At all times, through the centuries, and probably throughout the future as well. The question of pain, evil, and suffering continues to be asked in spite of the many answers. Why is that so? Perhaps, the most plausible explanation is that suffering is in itself a complex and unique one. Complex because there are no easy answers. Unique because every suffering is different from all the rest. Even the same person encountering suffering will have different moments of inexplicable pain, all of which are unique in themselves. Yet, the fact remains that even when suffering cannot be easily understood, one can still share about the experiences and difficult lessons learned.

For author Robert Wise, this question still grips him. First published 40 years ago, this book covers personal encounters with the pain of seeing a friend die of brain cancer. It also includes 40 years of reflections about the wars around the world, unjust killings, and the mayhem occurring all the time at different places. It launches Wise on a quest for answers to look for hope in the midst of pain and suffering. Instead of answers, he discovered something better: Working with the best answer during the crucial stages of our lives. In a nutshell, when there is no miracle, take what we know, and move from there. What we do not know we wait. What we cannot know, we trust. This book is essentially about his periods of discernment after each episode of pain and suffering. He begins with a personal description of what miracles mean and how God is absolutely free to work through both miracles, divine interventions or other means. He addresses the question posed in the book's title directly by urging readers to avoid any forms of self-deception that artificially covers the reality of pain and suffering. He summarizes the whole point of the book through his professor's words: "Rather, each of us takes the best answer we can find at the moment and just lives with it. As years pass, what can't really be explained has a way of working down into one's life pattern, bringing the unacceptable into some order of sanity and propriety. If we are blessed, we find a grace that will assure us that what couldn't ever be really explained was in the end redemptive." (30)

This lens is then used to view the fact that the presence of pain and suffering does not mean God is not at work. For all we know, God has already restrained it from getting worse. Not only the physical pain of natural calamities but also the emotional pain that comes through broken relationships. Instead of seeing pain as a pure liability, we learn that pain can be used profitably to focus on hope beyond the existing state. God can speak through silence. The main challenge is whether we are listening. Thankfully, he gives additional principles about how to deal with the silence while waiting for miracles or God's divine intervention. In not practicing wishful thinking, we need to avoid pre-empting what God should or not do. We should avoid trying to psych ourselves up for that has a measure of self-deception. We should avoid making bargains with God because it may make us seem like we are better than God. He concludes with a final essay on his take on what miracles are. The problem with our struggles with miracles lies not in what miracles are, but in our personal definitions of what miracles ought to be. Subtly, he asks if those miracle-seekers are more interested in miracles per se, or the Giver of miracles.

In a deeply honest search for answers and the struggle with silence, the author takes us through a journey of heartbreak after tragedy, disasters, personal loss, and places where suffering is not only real but heartfelt. Chapter by chapter, page by page, Wise deals with the question of suffering without mincing his words. At the same time, there is a tenderness of understanding what people in pain are going through. In fact, five out of twelve chapters are allocated to deal with this very complex reality. For pain is something we will all experience at some point in our lives. Better to be prepared now before it actually happens. This advice is a key reason why we should read this book. I believe that when the pain occurs, the discipline of thinking through before hand will be a great help for ourselves during a time when we are spinning in confusion and helplessness. Like earthquake or fire drills in schools, this discipline and knowledge will equip us to deal with the harsh situations when they happen. Frequent exercises make for good preparation of the heart. For all we know, it may save lives, both others and ours, or make our suffering relatively more tolerable. Wise is a good guide for a very important reality of life.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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