I just finished this book, written by the same author who wrote a memoir of the Vietnam War that I read twenty years ago for a college class, A Rumor of War. I remember two things about that book: the descriptions of war were vivid, violent, and sometimes nauseating, and the author quit believing in a resurrection because the bodies he saw blown to bits in the course of battle were incapable of being resurrected. (This loss of faith seemed to me then to be unjustified since any God worth believing in would be capable of manipulating matter and energy and life in any way He chose.) In the novel Acts of Faith, set mostly in Kenya and southern Sudan, Caputo continues to explore the contradiction between faith in a good, powerful, and loving God and the reality of evil. Near the beginning of the book, a skeptical reporter tells a naive young evangelical Christian:
“Belief is a virus, and once it gets into you, its first order of business is to preserve itself, and the way it preserves itself is to keep you from having any doubts, and the way it keeps you from doubting is to blind you to the way things really are. Evidence contrary to the belief can be staring you straight in the face, and you won’t see it. No, not stupid. True believers just don’t see things the way they are, because if they did, they wouldn’t be true believers any more.”
The easy way to answer this objection to Christian faith is to say that not all beliefs are equal and that believing in truth is different from believing in a lie. However, what’s harder to do is to admit that there is some truth in the reporter’s words as they apply to Christian believers. I was in a Bible study last Wednesday night, and we were discussing why bad things happen to Christian people (not good people, there are no good people). I could only conclude that I often do not understand why God allows bad things to happen. However, I still believe He is in control because I settled that question a long time ago. One of my favorite Bible verses is Job’s statement of faith: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15a) Another is Peter’s statement in response to Jesus: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)
I know enough to believe that I have no choice but to believe. Where else can I go? What other belief even begins to make sense? Even when I don’t understand God’s ways, even when evil seems to be triumphant, I have already made the choice to follow Christ, the choice to trust Him. I don’t ignore evidence that contradicts my belief in a powerful and loving God; I simply know that such evidence is not the whole story. Jesus’s life and death and resurrection are evidence that God does care, that He does understand our suffering, and that He is powerful enough to defeat death and evil in the end.
I’ll have more to say about this book in another post. Caputo has written an excellent story with complex characters, some of whom are evangelical Christians. And he gets the portrayals of Christians and Christian theology right most of the time–with some notable exceptions. This novel of relief workers, Sudanese rebels, gun-running pilots, and Arab Muslim raiders is filled with questions that deserve thoughtful answers or at least careful exploration. I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in thinking about the complex interaction of good and evil within the human heart, with one caveat: the novel is explicit in its descriptions of both violence and sex. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.