Friday, January 06, 2006

When the Miracle Doesn't Happen?

Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). There are sick hearts this week in Upshur County, West Virginia and beyond. When 13 miners were trapped a few days ago, initial hope of a rescue gradually waned. Then miraculous news arrived: 12 of the men were still alive! Yet it was shortly followed by the shattering revelation that the toll was in fact the reverse, and only one had survived. And so what might simply have been feelings of grief have ricocheted from exultant confidence in miracle to resentment and rage.

During the crisis hundreds had gathered in the Sago Baptist Church to watch and pray. When the initial good news came through there was rejoicing and church bells rang. But when the gathering learned hours later that their miracle had not happened after all, “They didn’t know what to do. They began to holler and curse,” local resident John Casto told CNN, in a voice cracked by tears. “Just a few minutes before that, we was praising God.” What had been a place of united praise was now full of furious shouting.

Our pastor got ‘em settled down and he said, ‘Look to God in this tragedy,’” Casto went on. “I don’t believe in cussin’, but one guy said, ‘What in the hell has God ever done for us?’”

Why does God allow life to be this way? It's bad enough that 12 men died an excruciating death trapped below the earth. Why allow this sucker punch to their families? It makes no sense.

John Casto tried to explain, in an accent thick as the hills, how this works, how faith can make sense out of tragedy. “You know, I’m not kin to none of these people under that hill over there, but each and every one of ‘ems a brother to me. Each and every one of them.” He then looked toward the reporter and said, “Because you’re my brother,” and then turning to the cameraman, “and you’re my brother. The way I look at it.”

This was a deep moment of theological reflection made simple. It was a moment, in the midst of bitterness and turmoil, that Casto exposed the power of Christian faith in a cruel and skeptical world. “Because I love Christ,” he went on. This is not the sort of thing you usually hear on the news, and the camera was already pulling back. The reporter’s voice softly murmured “All right, John.” But Casto continued, “We’re gonna to pray for each and every one of these people.” At this point, the reporter patted him on the shoulder, with a “that’s enough, now” gesture. “We’re gonna pray that this community will leave today in peace and always be in peace, in the town of Sago,” Casto said.

At that point, the film ends. But John Casto got to say his piece. Hope based on a particular outcome is a flimsy thing; it can be shattered by events. Hope based in a particular Person (Jesus Christ) will endure. Whether a miracle occurs or doesn’t, we are never alone. “Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again; from the depths of the earth Thou wilt bring me up again” (Psalm 71:20).

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