When the Miracle Doesn't Happen

Hope based on a particular outcome can be smashed by events. Hope based in a loving God can endure.

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12), and as I write I hear the angry voices drifting in from the television in the next room. There are sick hearts tonight in Upshur County, West Virginia. When 13 miners were trapped a few days ago, initial hope of a rescue gradually waned. Then last night, 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 last night 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 riven by 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?'"

When not exhausted and tried by roller-coaster emotions, such a guy could probably list dozens of good things God has done for him. Anger is a brief distraction from grief, but within days it will wash back in, and families will once again look toward the God whom they had sought in the midst of the disaster. They will think about the particular man, or maybe still just a boy, whose voice is no longer heard in the kitchen and whose muddy boots are no longer by the door. Such a death is a risk in mining, and we hear that one of the victims had told his fiancée that he expected to die in the mines. But that doesn't make it any less agonizing for a relative or loved one to imagine that beloved face at last succumbing to the dark. The members of Sago Baptist Church, like Bible-steeped people everywhere, can draw on powerful resources to make it through the long nights ahead. The image of 13 men trapped in poisonous darkness is matched by the image of three young men in a fiery furnace; in the midst of death they were not alone, and the king who condemned them said, "I see four men.and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods" (Daniel 3:25). A century ago, when Sir Ernest Shackleton led two other men through a blizzard across the uncharted mountains of South Georgia Island, he too said that "it often seemed to me that we were four, not three" (a perception that his companions later confirmed). In fire, in ice, and in the depths of the earth, those who face down death may be comforted and companioned in ways we cannot know.

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